Powering a van

Welcome to UKHIppy2764@2x.png

UKHippy is a long running online community and of likeminded people exploring all interpretations on what it means to be living an alternative lifestyle -- we welcome discussions on everything related to sustainability, the environment, alternative spirituality, music, festivals, politics and more -- membership of this website is free but supported by the community.

  • Hey guys!

    I'm fairly new to the forum - Just been lurking in the shadows :)

    Anyway, me and my girlfriend have recently purchased a van to travel in for the summer and then some, we are moving out the house, quitting jobs and building freelance businesses online.

    Anyway, my question is: How can we power the van to provide enough juice for laptops, phones, etc. We will probably require a little more juice than most here as we are both having a laptop each to work on.

    My thoughts:

    - A generator - Efficient way to provide power, but noisy for campsites and fairly expensive.

    - Solar - How well will solar work in the UK? Can it provide a reliable output? What is the average cost for van panels?

    - Leisure batteries - We already have two batteries in the van, but how do we keep them, reliably topped up? Do we need inverters, etc. (I don't know much about electrics!)

    - Campsites - 240v straight to extension cable using mains hook up to plug sockets - like this This would be fine as fairy cheap and reliable. But campsites are expensive for long term.

    As you can see, I'm fairly baffled so any help would be massively appreciated!



  • Welcome to the forum Greg.

    Have you looked at FitPC? They use very little power.

    Your leisure batteries should be charged by your alternator so if you are travelling then you should have power.

    If your PCs are mission critical then get a generator but don't skimp on quality. Get a Honda inverter gererator. They are quiet, reliable, last for ever, will not kill your charger or anything else.

    There are very few things I own that I would never sell and my Honda generator is at the top of the list


  • welcome!

    dont forget a cheap source of solar panels is the local poundshop, those solar powered path lights, thats your lighting sorted right they and i doubt you'd need more than 10...

    Campsites are not the only source of juice... get hold of arc welder and have a voltmeter connected across the earth and rod clamp - take it for a drive, its surprising what can be picked up and where :)... purely self-educational of course

  • if using laptops, buy the car laptop supplies, 12v to the laptop voltage, this is more efficient that using an inverter to get 240v then the laptop power plug to take it back to 19v.

  • By the time you've bought a couple of leisure batteries, split charger, decent inverter, meaty cables and possibly some solar panels...
    I'm starting to wonder if one of these little Honda gennies may be a better solution?
    Especially if you can rig it for (bulk tank) LPG.
    Just how annoying/ loud are they?

  • I have a 100w panel hooked up to two 100ah batteries which are paired up to charge via the alternator as well.
    Winter was okay as long as you keep an eye on it if you've had bad weather
    But as days are getting longer now I can't seem to use enough haha

  • Ok, alice, but what does db mean in real time? As dieseldog said, "the silent Honda... was so loud... returned to the supplier".
    What are you running off the batteries 4d?

    PS. Don't wanna hijack tutems' thread, but I'm thinking of power for my conversion as well... :thumbup:

  • I run a laptop via a 150w inverter (if I need to do work) or off a 12v car laptop dc to dc lead if im using it as a tv (they are pretty short)
    Then I run my lights as well which aren't led (yet) but usually only use these when cooking and cleaning as I usually use the stick on battery powered led lights instead. I'll be installing all led lights soon but sadly my fittings are wired up backwards and won't allow for them to work.
    Then I charge my psp/phone also

  • Hi Tutem

    I think most folks might be providing the solution before knowing what the problem is. You have listed a bunch of things you need to power up and, yes most folk have offered sensible solutions based on experience. Shame most folk have ignored wind generators as a potential alternative power source.

    However the first thing you need to is get a handle on your power needs and how do you want it supplied. It goes without saying that the more you can reduce this the cheaper it will be in the long run (LED lights etc). Also look at what they are, how long you will use them, the times you are likely to be using them, how you plug them in and is that the best way? For example phones happily charge on 12V cigarette sockets but you will wait forever to boil a kettle on 12V. The less you need to change power needs either 240V to 12V, or the other way round the less you will need.

    I have not gone into detailed costs because anything other than adding another leisure battery or two will require some work and without any idea of what you will end up with I would hate to give any indication, which could be way out.

    If it were me I would be starting at the lowest sensible point on the list below, depending on and the power requirements you set for yourself and seeing how you get on. Honestly that is the only way you will find out what really does work. Trying a good size extra leisure battery with decent sized solar panels/wind turbine route first, that way you may find you have to consciously manage your power, but you are totally independent and can park where you like. Based on that and assuming you already have hook up capability then it is not too costly to move to next option.


    Broadly Speaking

    Generator is the way to go if you want all the power you want when you want, as much light, heat, power for laptops, microwaves etc but that will cost you in fuel, space and weight. But may have to add some surge/spike protectors to protect things such as laptops.

    Also note you will have to carry cans of petrol and can still run out of fuel (and these are highly flammable and never 100% air tight so you stink of petrol). The honda eui2000 above has a quoted fuel consumption of 4hrs. @ rated load, 9.6 hrs. @ 1/4 load for a 0.95 gallon tank (call it 1 with spills). So on top of cost of purchase and petrol at roughly £6.50 a gallon running it will cost £1.65 - £0.67 per hour. How many hours a day do you think you will need it? Hook up costs vary but typically about £5 extra for all you can eat 24 hours at 10 amps

    You are free to park where you like, just remember to chain generator to van as they do get nicked. (Except for possible costs of trips to garage and maybe need to pack camp up to get it!)

    Electrical hookup but these are normally limited to about 10amps on campsites and you may have to switch things off at times in order to run other things or risk tripping it out. Some campsites have remote resets which means you have to go to office if this happens (to protect from poor electrical installations they say.) EG heater when you boil a kettle with the fan heater on, whilst nuking some food. Draw back is you have to pay what they want as well as site fees. £5 is fair, some buggers charge £10 or more. So you will have to manage what you have turned on.

    You are limited to sites and additional fees.

    Leisure Batteries and other methods of charging them (solar panels, wind turbines) are the stand alone option, you can have as many as you like but you run the risk of running out. However some things like laptops, phones have their own batteries so it is not as if you are going to suddenly be cut off. Lights tend to dim - either light candles or go to bed. Heating goes off - go to bed. If you really need - run the van to charge the batteries.


  • A split charger cuts in to gas mileage. I am only getting 18mpg in the transit ATM. So I am reluctant to go down that road.

    Plus I have six 75Ah leisure batteries (they cost me nothing, except having to carry them across the car park) too many for such a system.

    I tend to rotate the batteries between van and the shed on my allotment, using solar trickle chargers to keep them topped up.
    Three 4W panels, six batteries driving a couple of lights and a car stereo. Never run out of power yet!

    I am looking to charge the laptop and mobile phones direct from battery, so may need more solar power. But since I am still hooked in to the grid, A couple of battery chargers keep me topped up!

    I think OP needs to calculate what they absolutely NEED to keep running. Then compute the power requirements.
    Better answers will then be forthcoming.

    :beard: who has dropped his power consumption as low as he can, but is still looking to get under the bar.

  • AFAIK it depends how depleted the battery(ies) are. The more charge required, means the alternator has to work harder which adds tension to the fan belt, which then 'slows' the crank. We are talking very small amounts. But with my van at 18 and slowly dropping (It needs some TLC which is planned for the end of the month after the MOT) those tiny drops are more noticeable.

    Also depends on the alternator which is fitted, some are already making as much electrickery as is possible so adding ANY electrical kit could overload a heavily loaded circuit. Or not leave enough to actually charge a battery.

    YMMV (and I hope it's better than 18!)

  • Hey guys!

    Thanks for all the amped up advice!

    We current-ly have two leisure batteries hooked up to the main battery, which feeds them and keeps them topped up.

    We do have hookup cables sorted, so no worry there - I agree that £5 a night seems reasonable for all you can eat power.

    We have lights inside that run off the leisure batteries. We won't be running microwaves or kettles, so not worried about overloading too much.

    The main problem will be if we need to use a heater whilst the laptops are plugged in.

    In terms of usage, we would be using the laptops, mainly/only at night and when away from campsites or coffee shops.
    I'm not sure how to work out the actual usage we would need but here is a list of things I think we would need to power:

    Two laptops
    12v cooler box
    2x Phones
    heater from time to time.
    maybe a little 12v water pump

    We have a gas oven/grill/hob so cooking or kettle isn't electric.

    I have seen these solar panels on eBay - any good? - How effective would just one 100w be?

    Or 80w here

    Then could I just run an inverter to plug the laptops in? or is actually more effective to use the 12v as Grendel mentioned

    I'm all but put off from a little generator, just can't be doing with the noise outside and then the smell inside the living space.

    Sorry, I have a 1001 questions, but it's good to talk to people with experience other than random 'off the street' advice.

    I guess the thing is to work as you go along and work out what works best for our situation.

  • Post by ian52hants ().

    The post was deleted, no further information is available.
  • Post by ian52hants ().

    The post was deleted, no further information is available.
  • Post by ian52hants ().

    The post was deleted, no further information is available.
  • Tutem

    The figure here are rough but somewhere in the right magnitude and are only given for an idea. I have not got out the pedantic pencil and paper.

    It really is complicated but you need to do a list like this - ( I have rounded up values - over estimating things stay on, underestimating things go off)

    I am assuming a 12 Volt system

    Power Usage

    This is perhaps the easiest to relate to as any power not from an external source has to come from the batteries and you are essentially discharging the battery at that point.

    Power = Amps x Volts Amps = Power / Volts

    Quick search says

    your laptops will use 60 - 100 watts depending on make/screen size/cpu usage : 5 - 8.5 amps
    Cool boxes approx 80 Watts - : 7 Amps
    Phones pretty negligible at less than 5 watts : 0.5 Amps
    Lights about 100W : 8.5 Amps
    Water Pump Intermittent between depending on size 20 - 50 watts (intermittent use though) : 2 - 4 amps

    Heater - a stonking 2000 watts and not possible for 12 Volt (think of a gas one)

    So your total flat out power is (excluding heater)
    2x 100 = 200 laptops
    2 x 80 = 160 cool boxes
    1 x 100 = 100 lights
    2 x 5 = 10 Phones
    1 x 50 = 50 Water Pump

    So your Power needs are at a maximum of 520 watts. Known at the time - you have missed out stereo and tvs etc and fridge?.

    Next Graph Out the Usage

    Estimate the usage for every hour of the day. For the graph below it estimates a total power use of 4100 watts in a day approximately an average of 300 watts levels in the hours from 8am till 9pm with peaks. Maximum between 6pm and 9pm (cooking/cleaning water pump use - laptop personal use - cool boxes bringing temp back down

    Graph shows total use of all appliances in that hour, not each individually. Dunno where I lost 20 watts!!


    Broadly speaking based on that graph you would need at least 3 x 100w solar panels to meet you needs above EXCLUSIVE OF heating, tv, stereo etc to keep ahead of the game in the power stakes. In fact you probably need 4 or 5 to allow for dull days depending on the efficiency of those you buy.

    Battery Storage

    Battery storage is expressed in amp hours - That is how many amps can a battery deliver in a period of time. A battery delivering 1 amp for 12 hours needs to be 12 amphours, 2 amps for 12 hours 24 amphours etc etc. Similarly if you need 4 amps in 3 hours that is 12 amphours.

    Word of warning - only use those specifically marked leisure batteries for habitation purposes, never use a car (or starter) battery they are completely different in design and charge/discharge capabilities. Basically you will bugger them up if you do.

    The power need is only half the story though. Your leisure battery(ies) will be providing all of the power as the sun goes down and topping up during the day when you have peaks. If you assume all power from 7pm evening till 9 am in the morning is coming from the batteries then they need to deliver 1100 watts, or in battery terms deliver 91amp hours of power. In short it is best to double this so you need 180amphours of overnight storage. (people may quote lower figures but as batteries age they deteriorate, new healthy leisure batteries can be taken down to about 30% safely)


    On the above you need to be looking at a system with about 300 watts solar power and 180 amphours of leisure battery storage on what you have said.

    This does not include heating

    A proper camping fridge they use less power than cool boxes and are generally 3 way 230Volt/12 Volt/Gas and can be bought second hand cheaper than new cool boxes. (depending on how posh your cool boxes are even a new one can be cheaper than two)

    A gas heater either fixed or portable
    (Important note this needs proper ventilation and you should also fit carbon monoxide alarms if using this- seriously last year at an event I went to two people were VERY lucky and people found them just in time)

    Further Reading

    Fridge vs Coolboxes
    Leisure vs Car Batteries

    As a note : I said this wasn't a simple thing to do and in fact took me about 2 hours once I started, what with research and calculations, but more than happy to help - you owe me a beer!

    With regard to the solar panels you linked to not enough information really on the page. What size are they, what do they come with etc. And not enough experience with different makes of solar panels either tbh.