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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am trying to make some decisions on the electrical system for my 2020 Ford Transit, HR EL. I plan to live in the van year round and expect to be in some snowy environments throughout the winter. I'd like to have solar and alternator charging, and am considering shore power as well. I plan to have DC appliances: fridge, espar heater, maxxair fan, composting toilet, lights, fan(s), phone charger and AC appliances: laptop charger, blender... I want to leave room to expand as needed, and still on the fence about induction vs propane stove. Electrical engineering is not my strong suit so I'm looking for some advice and review of my selections. Open to any suggestions anyone is willing to share!

Solar Panels:
  • 2 x 210W Newpowa 210W 12V Monocrystalline Solar Panel
  • I have the vent mounted in the front position, these would be mounted in parallel side by side directly behind the vent (thinking of using VHB)
Battery:
MPPT Controller/B2B Charger:
Inverter and Charger:

Whaddya say?
 

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I have a similar setup that's been working well for us for over a. year. We have avoided having an inverter so far and if we did put one in we would likely power it only when the engine is running. For shore power I am using an NOCO 10A on board charger that keeps the system topped off. We are just roadtrippers and not full time. Here is an overview of our electrical system.

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Xantrex is a much better inverter than the others that you mentioned.

For full time living, you need much higher reliability than a weekend setup.

2 of those batteries are sufficient to support a 1 kW inverter, but will be struggling to deliver the necessary amps for a 2 kW version unless run right to the ragged edge of the BMS spec. (never a great idea) In that case, 4 are needed.

There are various opinions about this, but IMHO, if you are going to use LiFe batteries in a van, then you need to be mentally committed to keeping the inside van temperatures within the normal operating range 100% of the time. Roughly 40 F on the low end and ~ 110 F on the upper end. To me, a battery that cannot be charged is little more than a pretty brick.

If you are not fully committed to this idea, then perhaps use AGM instead, as they are much more temperature tolerant.
 

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You might also look at the Magnum inverters. I run them at home (off the grid) and have been very happy with them. Not the cheapest option but as pointed out if you are living in the van then reliability is very important.

As to LFP battery temps, I think that locating your batteries where waste heat from your heater can keep them warm coupled with good insulation will keep that from being a problem. I would go with propane for cooking and if you do then I would go propane for heat too.
 
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Have you worked out your exact power needs? Lots of good resources around. I like Nates: How Many Batteries are needed in a DIY Camper Van Electrical System but also everything at FarOutRide - and they are powder chasers as well. Don't skip this audit step because we all have different definitions of 'roughing it vs. being comfy'. Short Winter days with low sun change your factors/situation significantly. Lots of folks worry about propane in a van but if you do a legit install it is very safe. RVs everywhere have propane & yachts have it and they have the huge risk of accumulated propane in the bilge. Its very energy dense, easy to find. Many more qualified folks on here to add to your questions. Happy planning.
 

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I'll second @Ranger Robin on the benefits of propane and the importance of a detailed energy audit. Its easy to spend $'000s on electrical stuff.

5V USB for has become the standard for charging mobile consumer electronics (phones, laptops, kindles, sound-bars, lights etc). Our van has 8 x 5V USB outlets and one OEM 12V and these cover all of our charging/power needs.
 
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The MPPT solar charger to which you linked says

Max. Solar Input Voltage : 25V
That's a single 12V panel (which might have an open voltage of ~20V).

You can make that work, but it means that you'll put your 2 12V panels in parallel, and at 400W you'll have a current of ~20A. Alternatively, you could get 2x 24V panels, and put them in series. Your voltage would then be ~80V, and your current would be ~5A. Crucially, the power loss in the cables running from your panels to the MPPT would be 1/16th, not 1/4th, as the power loss in the cable scales with the square of current. (obviously these are example numbers for ease of math, but they're not far off)

If you plan to have the panels permanently fixed to the roof, you can make this problem go away by using heavy gauge wire. But if you want to be able to relocate your panels (e.g. park the van in the shade, put the panels in the sun 100 feet away) then you're going to need a lot of heavy expensive wire to avoid excessive power loss. Personally, I'll be buying an MPPT that supports at-least 100V input voltage, which would allow four 12V panels or two 24v panels in series.
 

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The AIMS AC-DC converter charger has a very weak current regulator knob. I broke it off on the first day I brought it home from Home Depot. I returned it the same day.
That's good to know. Did you happen to look at whether it could be replaced (and relocated)?. I'd like to have a control dial that is easy to access, and the charger buried. In theory that's easy - I can just buy a heavy duty potentiometer with the same resistance range, and solder some leads on to the board. But it would be hard if the thing is hard to open, or the board is buried away. (I'm assuming the current running through the pot' is tiny)
 

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If your 2020 has CCP2, it'll put out quite a bit of power for charging batteries (~170A max - call it ~120A to be safe? or ~1,5kW). If going year-round (especially in snow), it's likely there will be a lot of days without sun. I'd make the most of that CCP2 and focus first on getting that charging going instead of the only having half that. IOW, that's where I'd spend my money first. To do it DC-DC can be expensive; and doing it DC-AC-DC is expensive as well - ideally, it would work better with a solid inverter-charger. But do the math both ways and consider; consider it with no MPPT and no panels initially as well. All about the math. And worth considering whether Renogy is a good full-time solution or if Xantrex / Magnum / Victron / etc are better for that level of usage.

My friend who's running Renogy MPPT and Renogy DC-DC (separates, not combo, as there are limitations on the combo) and a 200Ah 12V battery hasn't installed the solar panels because the 50A charger is doing fine for now. But as he ups the usage for water heating, he's going to want more input. Doubling the DC-DC is still a pretty easy way to do it.

I'd be sure to leave room for an additional battery as well. Depending on what happens with your usage, you might find needing to charge it more than you want. But... I'm a go-big fan on power and storage. YMMV. 🤷‍♀️
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
2 of those batteries are sufficient to support a 1 kW inverter, but will be struggling to deliver the necessary amps for a 2 kW version unless run right to the ragged edge of the BMS spec. (never a great idea) In that case, 4 are needed.
Is this truly the case for a 206aH battery that I listed? I based a lot of this of Will Prowse's guide and he suggests 200amp hour lithium battery with 1100 - 2000 watt inverter?

Thanks for your additional advice!
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
The MPPT solar charger to which you linked says



That's a single 12V panel (which might have an open voltage of ~20V).

You can make that work, but it means that you'll put your 2 12V panels in parallel, and at 400W you'll have a current of ~20A. Alternatively, you could get 2x 24V panels, and put them in series. Your voltage would then be ~80V, and your current would be ~5A. Crucially, the power loss in the cables running from your panels to the MPPT would be 1/16th, not 1/4th, as the power loss in the cable scales with the square of current. (obviously these are example numbers for ease of math, but they're not far off)
Really good point, thanks. I was planning to put them in parallel and deal with the heavy gauge wire, with the assumption that this is a manageable cost, as I do plan to keep the panels fixed to the roof. Wiring the panels in parallel seems to give the benefit of combatting partial shading as well. Even so, I worry this MPPT would limit my upward potential if I wanted to add panels, is there an MPPT you would recommend that allows a higher solar voltage input? My guess is I would then lose the b2b charger combo, but based on some others comments I may want to take a different approach anyways.

Do any of the Victrion ones seem better (https://www.batterystuff.com/files/...argers-non-isolated-specification-sheet.pdf)? I'm interpreting that as 10-17V solar input, so my guess is no.

Last, I came to the conclusion that trying to fit my needs with a goal zero/jackery or similar system just isn't going to work out due to their limitations on max input from solar, not to mention this will be more modular and more fun. Let me know if I'm missing something here.
 

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Is this truly the case for a 206aH battery that I listed? I based a lot of this of Will Prowse's guide and he suggests 200amp hour lithium battery with 1100 - 2000 watt inverter?...
Maybe good to think of stuff in watts instead / in-addition-to amps. 206Ah @ 12V = ~2.5kWh of storage. And healthy / safe charge discharge is probably best to think of half the kW - IOW, stick to charging or discharging @1.2kW max (0.5C) - some say more like 0.3C or ~800W. Disclaimer: this is sort of in the "best practices" category as it is possible to charge and discharge at 1C (2.5kW) but it seems the general rules of thumb are 0.5C or less charge or discharge for safety and longevity.

Meaning you shouldn't run more than a 1kW inverter, really. Or charge faster than 1kW, more or less.

I'd go with more battery and more inverter. But that's me. Nothing wrong with doing less.


Really good point, thanks. I was planning to put them in parallel and deal with the heavy gauge wire, with the assumption that this is a manageable cost, as I do plan to keep the panels fixed to the roof. Wiring the panels in parallel seems to give the benefit of combatting partial shading as well. Even so, I worry this MPPT would limit my upward potential if I wanted to add panels, is there an MPPT you would recommend that allows a higher solar voltage input? My guess is I would then lose the b2b charger combo, but based on some others comments I may want to take a different approach anyways.

Do any of the Victrion ones seem better (https://www.batterystuff.com/files/...argers-non-isolated-specification-sheet.pdf)? I'm interpreting that as 10-17V solar input, so my guess is no.

Last, I came to the conclusion that trying to fit my needs with a goal zero/jackery or similar system just isn't going to work out due to their limitations on max input from solar, not to mention this will be more modular and more fun. Let me know if I'm missing something here.
My take on the MPPT stuff at this point is that the whole point of MPPT is to use the high / variable voltage on the panels and convert down for the batteries' needs. By comparison, the old PWM units didn't do it quite this way. Anyway... basically, higher voltage panels would be better / more efficient . You can even go 24V panels and then go parallel - best of both worlds, really.

If you're willing to spend the money on the Victron stuff, it's pretty nice. All the potential fanciness of an integrated setup (if you go with all Victron parts) in terms of config and reporting and all that. But hardly necessary; there are alternatives.

BTW, that Victron you linked to is a Orion-TR, which is a DC-to-DC unit used for charging batteries directly from the truck typically, not an MPPT solar controller. Here's an example of a 30A 12/24 Victron: https://amzn.com/B073ZJ3L13 With that unit, you could handle ~360W of panels at 12V or ~720W of panels at 24V. Same unit - twice the power in 24V.
 

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Is this truly the case for a 206aH battery that I listed? I based a lot of this of Will Prowse's guide and he suggests 200amp hour lithium battery with 1100 - 2000 watt inverter?

Thanks for your additional advice!
In all battery types, there are trade offs of capacity and ability to deliver amps continuously vs intermittently.

In the case of all LiFe batteries, one of the throttle points is the BMS. The higher the capacity of the BMS, the more volume it occupies and the higher the cost.

Relatively few internal BMS units on the market commercially can sustain 100 amps and many are really 50 or 75 amp rated. As you run them near the max rating, they get hot and burn up capacity and sometimes quite a bit. The typical internal BMS is buried deep inside of plastic, so there isn't a good thermal path for this heat to escape. They can also fail, especially if there is a surge that takes the power up near the limits, even well within the published limits of brand name batteries. (guess how I know)

For cost and completion reasons, especially for LiFe battery related items, there is a tendency to push these ratings numbers right to the limit of the data sheet. Electronics items, especially those not being run in an air conditioned room need to be de rated by ~ 40 - 50% if you want them to be reliable in van use.

What this means in practice is that when you look at any given battery, look at the continuous discharge amp number (example 100 amps) and cut this to 50 - 60 amps. Design around this number, not the other optimistic numbers. (50 - 60 amps ) x (12 volts) ~ 600 - 700 watts. For a 2000 watt inverter, then (2000 watts) / (600 watts / battery) ~ 3 - 4 batteries.

The capacity is like a fuel tank size - how far can you go.

The ability to deliver amps is like a fuel pump - how much power can you deliver to the engine.

Will Prowse does a lot of good for the community, but my view is that he is too optimistic about how hard a battery should be run, especially in a mobile environment.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Okay, I've gone back to the drawing board, here's my latest thinking:

I'm expecting to use on average ~70aH per day. Planning to live in the van full time, and chase some powder in the winter. Will be using propane for cooking, Espar M2 B4L vented gas heater, Maxxair fan is installed in the front. Other appliances will include: natures head composting toilet, fridge, lights, wall fan(s), and charging of phone/laptop.

Battery: 12V 206Ah LiFePO4
I have purchased the aforementioned 12V 206Ah LiFePO4 Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery Pack,PRE-ORDER, so I will be building around this. I anticipate the potential need for adding a second battery, but looking to start with just 1 for now.

Solar Panels: NewPowa 210W 24V MONO
I am thinking of moving forward with 2x 210W 24V MONOCRYSTALLINE SOLAR PANEL wired in parallel, fixed to the roof. The 24V panels seem like the way to go. Same size, same price and more efficient. It will help me keep the amperage down and play nicely with the controller, with room to add more solar panels in the future.

Controller: SmartSolar MPPT 100/30
I'm ditching the idea of using the combo controller/b2b charger due to the limited solar input voltage. I figure 17.5a coming out of the 2x 210W panels in parallel, so 30a controller should be sufficient, not sure I can justify going up to the 50a, but open to thoughts if there is a worthwhile benefit.

So, that is the start of the electrical system. I forgot to mention earlier that the 2020 transit I have is up-fitted with a ~110V 150W AC outlet. I do not have any plans for appliances with the need for AC, so at this time I am planning to go forward without an inverter. My thinking is in the meantime, if I need to, I can run something off of the existing outlet with the vehicle on, but will go DC for everything else.

That leaves me wondering how to recharge the house battery off of the vehicle, which I am considering an essential. @gregoryx mentioned CCP2, which I have started to do some research on but don't fully understand how it is different than B2B charging, if it all, or by what mechanism I would facilitate it. First I need to make sure my vehicle even has the capability.

Last, I consider shore power charging to be a nice to have, but it seems easy enough to incorporate. Perhaps I could also kick this can down the road and think about adding it with a charger/inverter, or as a solo piece as needed.

One other question I'm wondering about is BMS. I'd like to understand the benefits and some good options. I do plan to include the Victron Smart Shunt, but I realize that is just a monitor. I want this system to be robust, and am willing to invest the money up front to do it right.

Some answers, lots of questions - getting closer! Appreciate everyone's feedback
 

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The BMS is inside the SOK battery. So you're good there.

A shunt helps know the actual charge state of the battery more than anything else. It does this by tracking amps in/out of the battery - regardless of what the voltage is. This is both good and bad, since voltage changes with loads but load-levels change the actual capacity of LFP batteries. But a shunt is the best way to have a pretty close idea of capacity expressed as a 0-100% setup.

Charging from the alternator is a great way to go. You'll need a DC-DC charger - the voltage on the van isn't high enough to charge LFP batteries and it must be delivered at the correct voltage. Plenty of options there. Victron's OrionTR Smart units max at 30A; I wouldn't go that route with an alternator that will easily provide 3-4 times that with the right charger - doesn't seem right for ~$250 to me. You can get as large as 120A from Sterling; but that's borderline too large for a single 200Ah battery - ~$400-500 for 60A. Renogy maxes at 60A; but at least that's ~$220.

CCP2 is a "protected" battery/alternator connection in the 2020+ Transits. It's fused at 175A - so that's your limit using it. It is shut off by the van when the van isn't running and if the van determines that it can't or won't run correctly with it on ("load shedding"). Unless you're pulling over ~170A from the van, that's the connector to use for DC-DC charging.

Here's a buddy's rig: Renogy 60A DC-DC, Giandel 2.2kW inverter, 200Ah 12V battery. He runs everything you mention plus an espresso machine and computers (hence the inverter). He hasn't installed his solar panels, so that Renogy MPPT is un-used currently (hence only two wires going into it). The DC-DC has been working well enough for him. Not sure what his daily usage is; but to compare his setup to your proposed ~70Ah daily, that's quite a few days without charging. Then a little over an hour of engine running for every day that passed. He's not in a hurry to put up the solar panels (though he already has them). He's running a cheap shunt (like ~$30) with a basic digital display that shows SOC (percent of charge). Not sure exactly, but call it ~$800+ for everything? With cabling? (But not the battery.)

FTR, I spent a LOT more money for all my cool gear; but his works great for him. And he climbs and fishes as much or more than I do my stuff; so if that's the metric, he's doing great.

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I want to leave room to expand as needed, and still on the fence about induction vs propane stove.
To add one data point: a one pound tank of propane (costing ~$3) contains the same amount of energy as 6 kWh of electricity. Obviously you can't charge your phone on propane, and when you try to convert that energy to electricity you loose 80% to 90% of it, but if your goal is to produce heat, it's hard to beat that energy to weight ratio.

Personally I like to cook outside, sometimes away from the vehicle, so I'll be cooking on propane for sure.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
To add one data point: a one pound tank of propane (costing ~$3) contains the same amount of energy as 6 kWh of electricity. Obviously you can't charge your phone on propane, and when you try to convert that energy to electricity you loose 80% to 90% of it, but if your goal is to produce heat, it's hard to beat that energy to weight ratio.

Personally I like to cook outside, sometimes away from the vehicle, so I'll be cooking on propane for sure.
Yes I am definitely going with propane for cooking.
 

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Point of reference: We recently installed two of the SOK 100Ah batteries. Each has the same 100A discharge rate as your 206Ah battery. Our largest draw is the microwave at 1,100W, which plays nicely with our Xantrex ProWatt 1800W inverter.

Recently, SOK communicated directly to a friend that the 100A discharge rate is conservative, but I see no advantage in pushing it.

Too late for you, since you have purchased your battery, but it appears to be wiser to purchase two 100Ah than one 206Ah unless you are building a larger system.
 
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