Ever dreamt of escaping the crowded caravan parks and venturing out on a camping trip off the beaten track with your caravan? If so, understanding how to power a caravan off-grid for extended periods of time is crucial. Off-grid caravanning comes with a unique feeling of freedom like no other, but it requires thoughtful preparation and some smart gear.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about off-grid caravan power, from solar panels to battery types and choosing the right appliances.
Caravan Off-grid Power Supply
A reliable power supply is essential when camping off-grid, as hooking up to mains like you can at a caravan park won’t be an option. Your caravan’s off-grid power supply will ensure you can charge your caravan batteries, allowing you to run your fridge, appliances, TV and lights even when you’re free camping or in remote locations. The more enhanced your off-grid power management system is, the longer you’ll be able to stay out. While you can charge your batteries through your car’s alternator when you’re driving, there are two main types of more long-term power sources available, solar panels and generators.
With solar power, you can stay off the grid for as long as you like and still be able to run your basic appliances and essentials, as long as the weather permits. If you want your solar power to run everything in your caravan (including power-hungry appliances such as air conditioning and all your power outlets), we recommend you invest in a larger system custom designed for you and your caravan. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, we can help you out!
Solar systems are the easiest way to charge your batteries and keep your caravan powered. Solar blankets are a good option, as you can easily move them around to chase the sun. Another bonus – caravan solar systems are a great sustainable choice and create no noise or fumes.
Many of our top-of-the-range caravan and camper brands, such as Wonderland RV and Patriot Campers, offer some of their vans and campers with solar included. This is one of the most critical aspects of going off-grid, and we can upgrade that system with more or higher output panels to keep you out there for longer – you can never have too much solar!
For a failproof power source, we recommend using solar as your main power source. The last thing you want is to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere with no power!
Generators, which run on diesel or petrol, can be a cost-effective way to power your caravan if you don’t go off-grid often. They also make a fantastic backup power supply to your main solar system and offer a way to run your appliances directly, rather than needing to wait for your batteries to charge.
Though older model generators can be quite loud, newer inverter generators are much quieter and have improved energy efficiency. Because they rely on petrol or diesel, as long as you hit the road with enough spare fuel, you can rest easy knowing you’ll always have power, rain, hail or shine. However, make sure you allow for the few extra kilos that a generator will add to your load.
If you choose to purchase a generator, it’s important you take the time to calculate what size generator will be right for you, based on your power needs. You can do this calculation by essentially adding together the total running watts of your appliances you intend to use, and the highest starting watts of each of your appliances. We recommend then finding a generator with a maximum output that’s a little higher than your calculated number.
To learn more about the type of generator that would be right for you, and how to make the exact calculations, head to our blog about how to choose the perfect generator for your caravan.
Your battery bank will store the power you collect (either from solar or from your generator) and allow you to run your appliances from the stored energy. A good deep cycle battery system will allow you to go longer without needing a charge, meaning if the weather’s cloudy you’ve still got a holiday! There are two main types of batteries to choose from, lead acid and lithium.
While lead acid batteries aren’t our first recommendation, they will do the trick for a basic setup, and only require a simple power management system compared to lithium batteries. There are various types of lead acid batteries, including flooded lead acid, absorbent glass mat (AGM) and gel lead acid, however, our recommendation out of these by far is the AGM.
Lithium batteries are the superior choice for advanced off-roading and smash lead acid batteries out of the park for weight performance and across all areas. They recharge quickly, and have a higher battery capacity—making them a great choice to use with solar panels—and are very efficient. They are also lightweight compared to AGM batteries – a big deal when it comes to your caravan! Batteries can be one of the heaviest items your caravan carries, so saving on weight here will be a huge plus. Another bonus? The typical lifespan of a good-quality lithium battery is about 15 years. The downside to lithium batteries, as you might have guessed, is cost. The initial investment for the system is higher than lead acid—but there’s an argument to be made that you’ll get that back in the money you save on your batteries lasting longer.
When it comes to caravanning, saving space and weight is crucial. Going over your weight limit not only impacts your fuel economy and safe towing, but can also void your insurance in the case of an accident or cost you heavy fines if you’re randomly inspected. A lithium battery can output nearly three times the amount of power for the same physical size battery, and weighs about 60% less than a standard AGM battery (still putting out 30% more power!).
Any weight you can save with the batteries will leave more payload and will make a substantial difference in what you can carry in your caravan – plus more power is never a bad thing! If you’re interested in converting your van to a lithium battery set-up, have a chat with us today.
Want to learn more about the different battery types available? We dive into it in our blog on Lithium vs Lead Acid Batteries.
Nearly all modern battery systems are a 12-volt direct current system, and your caravan’s off-grid power supply is no different. 12v DC is the easiest power type to store, in batteries, and also to generate with solar or your car’s alternator. While 12v power is great for running many things, such as lights, water pumps, fridges and some specific 12v appliances, normal household appliances won’t just run directly from your batteries.
Your house runs on 240v AC power, which is completely different from your caravan’s batteries. To use the average household 240v appliances such as a toaster, kettle, air conditioner, microwave, washing machine, etc. in your caravan, you’ll need a way to convert this 12v DC power to 240v AC.
This is where a good inverter becomes worth its weight in gold, and many of our Wonderland RV caravans and Patriot Campers come pre-built with a high-quality inverter to give you a complete 240v system throughout your caravan, powered by your 12v batteries.
An inverter converts the 12v DC power to 240v AC, which then runs that power to the regular house power outlets in your caravan. This means you can use appliances, charge devices and enjoy power just like at home.
If your caravan doesn’t have an inverter, it’s one of the best investments you make for comfort and convenience when you’re off the grid.
A DCDC charger will charge your batteries while you’re driving. This way, if you’ve been driving all day you can set up camp with fully charged batteries without needing access to the sun for solar power or switching on the generator. Having battery chargers will also offer you peace of mind in the event that you experience a few overcast or cloudy days.
If you’re unsure about the power output you’ll need, how to set up your battery management system, and other aspects related to your caravan solar panel system, have no fear – we’re here to help! Get in touch with our team to see how we can help you get set up.
Choose Energy-Efficient Appliances
A great way to lessen the drain on your power supply is to carefully consider what appliances you run in your caravan. When choosing appliances, from fridges to kettles, microwaves and even coffee machines, it’s important to prioritise energy efficiency for optimal power management.
Every appliance you select should be evaluated in terms of power consumption, which is typically measured in wattage. Consider investing in low-wattage devices and those specifically designed for caravan use. These appliances are tailored to function effectively while consuming minimal power. For example, LED lights are a smart choice over traditional lighting options, as are three-way fridges.
As a fridge is one of your most important appliances, investing in a three-way fridge which can run off three different power sources is a great idea. 240v when you’re on a powered site or using a generator, 12v for on the road and remote or even LPG. These fridges give you flexibility and help you save resources when you’re off-grid. If you’re opting for a compressor fridge you’ll need to account for the power usage from your 12v system.
Need a Hand with your Power Management System?
Electricity is one of the main factors that determines how long you can stay off-grid for, which means getting your power systems right is imperative. At RV Solutions our team of caravan and RV specialists are experts at all things to do with powering a caravan off-grid; get in touch with us today to see what we can do to get you off the beaten track!
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