The Springers Solar Guide to 12V Electrics Part 8: Putting it all together
The installation is the last step in the process in ensuring you have enough power to sustain your life on the road
Over the past months we have looked at all the components that make up a 12V system for your RV, caravan or vehicle. There are a multitude of products to choose from and a huge number of ways that we use the power from our battery systems.
The 12V system
One definition of a system is “a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole” – this describes a 12V battery system very well. To get the most effective and efficient 12V battery system, all the components and uses need to be considered. If everything is high quality but connected with too small a cable, then the power loss will turn a quality system into less than an average one.
Adding an expensive lithium battery to an existing AGM system without changing other components may be next to useless. When considering a new van purchase or upgrading existing components, we need to ensure all the components match or we could be wasting money.
The power of a good match
As with all technologies these days, they keep improving and what was the bee’s knees last year, may only be the norm this year. If the battery system you installed met your needs last year, it should match your needs now. A good quality system should last for many years, so it’s a good idea to try a bit of crystal ball gazing before laying down your cash.
If you are buying a new van or RV, the standard battery system will often be very basic and suit someone with low power needs. It’s one way that a manufacturer can cut costs. An AGM battery system will be substantially cheaper than a lithium one. If an AGM system suits you now, consider choosing a charging system that has a lithium profile, so if you decide to upgrade in the future, you may only need to upgrade the battery.
A battery monitor will also be necessary if you upgrade to lithium. Checking only the voltage on a lithium battery will not tell you how much energy is left. Lithium and AGM work quite differently. Many lithium batteries now come with Bluetooth so you can check the state of charge (SOC) directly with the battery.
Talk to experts
Buying different 12V components online may save you money, but how do you know if they will all work well together, particularly if you are buying cheaper no-name brands? The best place to purchase components is from brands that install systems and repair them as well. The technologies are getting more complicated and it’s difficult to keep up with the latest changes.
There are a few major suppliers to the RV industry and they will offer good service as well as quality products. Look for products with good backup and those who give good online advice. I have found Redarc particularly good at providing this. Some companies such as Enerdrive can supply pre-built backboards with equipment attached, wired and custom-designed to fit into different locations for new RVs and for upgrades.
Companies like Springers Solar can assess current systems and upgrade them by providing equipment and installation. When installing large solar panels and 240V components, licenced electricians will be required.
Once upon a time, I did my own servicing for my vehicles, but these days even a basic service may require specialised equipment. I now leave it to the experts. Battery systems used to be fairly simple and straightforward.
The latest components and 12V systems are getting more complex as battery and monitoring technologies become more complex.
The new world of monitoring and control
One of the newest technologies is the use of one screen to replace multiple switches and gauges. This is where the wiring back-end gets more complicated as different circuits are brought to one place. All the more reason to get the installation done professionally. Redarc has its RedVision, while Enerdrive uses Simarine (also used in the boating industry). Jayco has JHub, which uses an Android device. This allows Springers to incorporate its management system into the JHub device using a Victron Venus GX. There are others out there as well.
Most of these new monitoring/control systems have smartphone apps which will replicate some or all of the functions in the fixed display. For people with mobility issues, these will be a necessity. For others, you’ll be able to sit by the barbecue and turn your lights on or off in the van while monitoring the battery and water levels. Certainly not a necessity, but nice not to have to move and miss the fireside stories. The new monitoring/control displays have easy-to-understand visuals. They are able to give us information that we didn’t even know we needed.
Suit the system to you
When you are getting a new RV or upgrading your current one, work out how much power you need. Then size the batteries, solar and type of batteries that will supply this for as long as you need to be off-grid, taking into account potential weather. Enjoy, and power on.