A forum for van conversions, van living and travel

Author Topic: Solar Install 12v vs 110v power needs  (Read 1377 times)


  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 1
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Solar Install 12v vs 110v power needs
« on: January 29, 2018, 04:31:23 PM »
Hello All, I am just starting out a conversion of a Ram Promaster into my ultimate adventure. van life, office vehicle

My biggest dilemma so far has come in the form of the solar system and power requirements. I have been bouncing back and forth between installing a Goal Zero system with a Yeti 1400 power unit or going with a Renogy kit that fits my needs.
I have more or less settled on the Renogy system I think (though any advice on this topic is appreciated.)

My question is regarding 12v and 110v needs and how to hook up 12v powered devices with an inverter based system. Would you just skip the inverter and wire them directly to the battery/ power supply?
With the goal zero system it is made pretty simple for you with 12v and 110v access on the front, though this is limited in both. On the flip side with a standard solar set up I obviously have 110v from the inverter but am a bit confused with where i could access 12v power aside from coming straight from the battery (which honestly just seems to easy to be true)
So any guidance on a solar set up would be appreciated.

I know this topic has probably been beaten to death so i appreciate your patience with my dumb question



  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 493
  • Karma: +15/-90
  • 20+ years of Life On Wheels
    • View Profile
Re: Solar Install 12v vs 110v power needs
« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2018, 02:16:30 AM »
Greetings & Welcome!

Let me start out by saying that I'm not a huge fan of solar panels...  Of the several systems I've had, none have worked satisfactorily without the addition of charging my house batteries while driving, and a generator.  In the end, I came to the conclusion that the solar was just an added expense that wasn't necessary. 

I work in the same town for about a month on average, and just do a normal amount of driving, to the store once or twice a week, out to eat a couple times a week, maybe drive down by a lake or river a couple times a week, or maybe a park, etc.  Not very much driving.  Still, my house battery always has plenty of juice in it.  The only time I ever use my generator is if I'm boondocking for over a week without doing any driving.

Let's talk about inverters...  Inverters are terribly inefficient, and should be avoided if at all possible.  Almost everything is available in 12 volt models these days, and they are much more energy efficient.  About the only thing that isn't available  in a 12 volt model is microwaves.

Most of the people who do this for any length of time learn to be very power frugal.  Heating, cooking, and refrigeration are accomplished by other means than electricity.  Cooling is usually 12 volt, but using methods that consume very little power. 

Now that we know what we're not going to use power for, we need to figure out how much power we need for we have to use power for.  A fan or two, a few lights, and charging for a laptop, phone, etc.  That should be about it for regular day to day use.  I can go for about a week on a single 100 amp deep cycle battery.  I actually charge it whenever I'm driving, probably averaging every other day. 

Goal Zero, Yeti, solar panels, etc. are rich people's toy's.  My total power system cost less than $100, and probably closer to $50.  You don't need tp throw a ton of money at it to have a much better system than those overpriced ready made ones.  Today I use a deep cycle battery from a junkyard for under $20, an $8 marine style battery box, a $5 battery terminal to accessory outlet converter, then a single plug to 4 outlet converter to plug into that.  I use double face foamm tape to attach that right to the outside of the battery box.  To charge it while driving, I use a male to male ciggy plug jumper cable, I think it cost $7 or $8. 

My home made generator is basically a go kart engine attached to a car alternator.  This is automatically optimized to charge either my house battery, or my starting battery if I ever need to.  If you must have shore power, you can add an inverter to this generator and have all the shore power you want.  I put a Honda scooter muffler on mine, and it is so quiet you can't hardly hear it running.  The generator itself cost me about $60 to build, a $20 used go kart engine, a $10 junkyard alternator, and a $5 belt to connect the two.  I don't remember what the board I mounter it all to cost, but the muffler was $17 new.  If you want an inverter, those prices vary all over the place.  I picked up a used 3k one, and a 600 watt one for a total of $50.  Unless I'm powering stuff for someone else, I never use my inverters. 

Alternatively, you could buy an inverter generator, and just use a standard plug into the wall battery charger with it to charge your house battery(s).  It will cost more, but it's an off the shelf solution.  Some people recommend expensive Honda generators,  I'd buy a cheapy but quiet one if it were me, I've seen them as cheap as $99 on sale.  It's not really going to get that much use, so I'd stick with cheap ones.

Done smart, power can be both cheap and easy, but done wrong it can be a huge headache, and an absolute money pit.  Today, I spend under $20 every 5-6 years for a new to me junkyard battery.  When I had solar, I had two $350ea. batteries, that needed to be replaced every year, and I still spent more time without power thaan I did with it.  Deep cycle batteries are typically good for 100-200 cycles.  With solar panels, you are cycling then every day, or almost every day.  That's why they rarely last more than about a year.  I currently only charge my house battery every several days when I'm driving, so this greatly increases the batteries life.

Figure out what your average power use is going to be, being as power frugal as possible.  Then we can give you better answers for what the best system will be for you.

Good Luck & keep us posted!

My negative karma ratings reflect the number of spammers,
scammers and bad advice that I've exposed, feel free...


  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 3
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Re: Solar Install 12v vs 110v power needs
« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2018, 06:53:57 PM »
Check out our electrical build thread http://xtremeadvanture.com/lets-get-wired/ We went with the Renogy 300w starter kit on our build. We have 3 means of charging up our house batteries. Solar, Engine alternator, and shore power connection. There are times we need to flip the switch to have the engine alternator to help with the inverter when using an electric coffee maker, but that about it. Everything else pretty much runs directly off the solar energy including our 12v fridge and 2 Maxx air fans all night.