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pre-log EV transit RV conversion [van life]

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i'm starting this thread to help myself plan for a future conversion of a cargo van to a RV [van life] i don't have a van yet so some aspects here will be hypothetical. there is no guarantee that a EV transit will be the chosen vehicle but ford is currently the leader in EV vans so...

some minimum goals:
  • EV, the van will have an electric only drive train
    • minimum 200 mile real world range, preferably 300-500 mile range
  • lots of PV panels for both comfort and charging the van [1k-3k watts]
  • high level water reclamation/filtration system
    • minimally reuse shower water for more showers
      • hopefully also reuse shower/sink water for more shower/sink use
  • mini-split heat/AC
  • separate battery system 3-10 kWh size pack
    • both 120v and 240v outputs
      • 240v minimum output of 4000 watts, 6000+ watts preferred
  • stealth camping
some lofty goals:
  • pulling water from the air system
  • 100% water reclamation/filtration with tiered outputs [drinking, dishes, shower]
  • self driving option
  • onboard AI system to record/respond to people outside van when owner is not available
undecided goals:
  • signage on the side of van to pretend like its a commercial work van [stealth camping]
    • large e-paper panels to change what is displayed on side of van
    • permanent option "<last name>'s electric van"
timeline:

looking to buy/start conversion in 4-8 years. there are a number of variables that go into this projection the two biggest ones are "retirement" and van availability [currently there are no EV van options with sufficient range]. other factors that could come into play would be if start a relationship between now and then.

checklist and rough sequence
  • body/floor modifications
    • mini-split: false wall and possibly floor cutout
      • given the difficulties of mounting the condenser unit, i think i will give up some of the inside of the van. ideally i would like to cutout part of the floor so i can lower the unit minimizing how much of the inside is taken up. if that is not possible then i would like to add enough ventilation below the unit to help with air flow.
      • i think it would be best to put close to a wheel well, for load balance it would be best in front of the tire, however, for best air flow place unit behind the tire. also for load balance on the passenger side would be ideal but then the fan and noise will face the side walk which might impede stealth camping
      • i think i can use the wheel well to help with air flow. this would require a filter with sufficient air flow yet durable enough to block debris from the tire. alternatively, a removable barrier [preferably one accessible from inside].
      • placing the unit behind the tires will give it vent access at the wheel well and at the rear of the van.
      • air space clearances of the condenser unit below, however, the snow covers seem to violate these minimums so i think there is some wiggle room. i assume too much air gap clearance restriction will decrease the maximum power and possibility the efficiency. most of the units stated that if there more clearance on the bottom the other clearances can be decreased. while facing the fan, summary of various minimum air space clearances units i've looked at had, in inches [brackets are preferred gaps] [[driver side placement] [passenger side placement]]
        • 8-14 [20] on the right [[vents to rear of van] [vents to wheel well]]
        • 4-6 [10] on the left [[vents to wheel well] [vents to rear of van]]
        • 4-6 [10-20] back, false wall will need to accommodate this and taper up...
        • 16-20 [40] on top, ...to also accommodate this, large vents will be on the side
        • 2-4 [10-18] bottom, either exposed to the outside or ventilation in the floor
        • lots in the front, cut hole in wall and make fan grill flush with wall.
    • water tank; if possible either make a floor cutout or mount the tank directly under the van leaving enough room to insulate around it so that it can be partially heated by the interior.
  • ceiling modifications; i would like to make the cuts before putting anything into the van but it would be easier to wait until the insulated ceiling is going in for best fit but also don't want holes in the roof for an extended period of time
    • ceiling fan
    • skylight; shallow dome window [two ply] that would only extend above the van roof top by an inch or two. need to make sure there is enough gap between solar panels, however, the skylight will be positioned in the middle of a solar panel so it will have more room. a removable insulated panel will cover the skylight on the inside and be flush with the ceiling. i'll make this cover large and mounted with magnets. when removed the magnets on the ceiling will then be used by the shower curtain.
    • roof rack mounts for solar panels

  • insulated floor
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Discussion Starter · #41 ·
i did some comparisons of frig/freezers. comparing a 5.1 cubic foot chest freezer [running as a frig] to isotherm's 5.7 cubic foot frig only model, the chest freezer uses 2.5 times less energy, however, if i have a 3.5 ft^3 chest as a frig and a 2.5 chest ft^3 as a freezer and compare it to isotherm's 5.8 ft^3 frig/freezer combo it is only 20% more efficient. both options are about the same weight but the two chest freezers take up a little more room [but can be separated]. the two chest options will be about $1000-$2000 cheaper and can be fixed/replaced just about anywhere [eg bestbuy, lowes, home depot, target, amazon, etc...]. the two chest option also have double the freezer space and if needed can both be run as frigs or freezers. the only issue i'm worried about is durability. i might need to provide some support for the compressor unit to protect from road bumps. the cooler/freezers are even less efficient. note, the kwh column is kwh per year

brandmodelkwhsize litersize ft^3top/frontfreeze/fridgecompressorsingle/dual
dometiccfx3 35106321.2topfridgeDanFosssingle
dometiccfx3 45110451.5topfridgeDanFosssingle
dometiccfx3 55IM132461.8topfridgeDanFosssingle
dometiccfx3 100168993.5topfridgeDanFosssingle
NewairNPR080GA00214752.6topfridgeLGsingle
CostwayEP24413/24413-CYPE205501.7topfridge?single
Whynter BEF-286SB182812.86frontfridge?single
ICECOJP50 pro148501.8topfridgeSecop(Danfoss)dual
ICECOJP40 pro118401.4topfridgeSecop(Danfoss)single
ICECOJP42W190421.5topfridgeSecop(Danfoss)single
ICECOVL60proS200602.1topfridgeSecop(Danfoss)single
ICECOVL45proS186451.6topfridgeSecop(Danfoss)single
ICECOVL74GSN152742.6topfridgeSecop(Danfoss)single
ICECOVL45GSN127451.6topfridgeSecop(Danfoss)single
ICECOVL90proD240903.2topfridgeSecop(Danfoss)dual
isothermCR130 drink1461304.6frontfridgeBD 35Fsingle
isothermCR130+freeze1531304.6frontfridgeBD 35Fdual
isothermCR160 drink1871605.7frontfridgeBD 50Fsingle
isothermCR165+freezer2191655.8frontfridgeBD 50Fdual
isothermCR320 drink38032011.3frontfridge2*BD 50Fsingle
isothermCR320+freezer41932011.3frontfridgeBD50F+BD80Fdual
isothermCR90F228903.2frontfreezerBD 35Fsingle
energy star20 degrees F1721445.1topfreezer?single
energy star33 deg F1011445.1topfridge?single
energy star40 deg F561445.1topfridge?single
energy star20 degrees F152993.5topfreezer?single
energy star20 degrees F137712.5topfreezer?single
 

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That's a lot of fridge space!
I'd figure out what amount of space you need for 1 week's worth of goods, and go from there. Let the stores use THEIR energy to keep stuff cold long term, and venture into town once a week for provisions.

It's more work, but one option I've seen is to just have a freezer and re-freeze ice packs and put them in a cooler that works as the refrigerator, rotating the ice packs/bottled water as they thaw.
Someone else mentioned that they use a countertop ice maker to keep their cooler stocked with ice (no freezer option for this setup unless stand-alone). The icemaker thing would require carrying or access to water.

Thanks for doing all these calculations down to cold, hard numbers.
 
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Discussion Starter · #43 ·
That's a lot of fridge space!
I'd figure out what amount of space you need for 1 week's worth of goods, and go from there. Let the stores use THEIR energy to keep stuff cold long term, and venture into town once a week for provisions.

It's more work, but one option I've seen is to just have a freezer and re-freeze ice packs and put them in a cooler that works as the refrigerator, rotating the ice packs/bottled water as they thaw.
Someone else mentioned that they use a countertop ice maker to keep their cooler stocked with ice (no freezer option for this setup unless stand-alone). The icemaker thing would require carrying or access to water.

Thanks for doing all these calculations down to cold, hard numbers.
thanks, i don't think it is a lot of frig space, the isotherm 130 seems to be a popular choice and that is 4.6 ft^3 or about the size of dorm fridge. i'm looking at 5.9 ft^3 total with 3.5 ft^3 frig and 2.4 ft^3 freezer [so about the same as an isotherm 165] but if i have too much frig space, i can turn off one of the chest freezers and use it as storage. so i will have plenty of food storage potential but the space will not go to waste if i don't have a lot of food at any given time. i'm also planning on having a keg system so my frig storage will drop to 2 ft^3 unless i modify it to get another cubic foot out of it or use a 5 cubic foot chest freezer. i looked at counter-top and under-counter ice makers but that would be a hassle and they are the least energy efficient route, however, if you only need ice occasionally then it might use less energy than a frig/freezer combo unit since you can not turn off the freezer, but since my freezer is separate i can turn it off.

this system will be the cheapest by far, $300-500 vs $1000-2000, the most efficient and the most versatile. the down side is a possible ruggedness issue which could be overcome but they are easily and cheaply fixed or replaced. while slightly more space required, the net space is not anymore than a smaller frig setup. if i need the food storage then it is not wasted space and if i have less food i can use the space for something else.
 

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I know someone who had a home 120vac dorm fridge in their RV for YEARS without any issues. I haven't looked into the reason why a compressor fridge/freezer made for RVs is "better" than one designed for home use, but had heard it's the way the compressor is mounted so it won't shake around as much. Seems like an easy DIY thing to reinforce the compressor mount in a home fridge.

If someone knows the actual differences, please share.
 
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Discussion Starter · #46 ·
I know someone who had a home 120vac dorm fridge in their RV for YEARS without any issues. I haven't looked into the reason why a compressor fridge/freezer made for RVs is "better" than one designed for home use, but had heard it's the way the compressor is mounted so it won't shake around as much. Seems like an easy DIY thing to reinforce the compressor mount in a home fridge.

If someone knows the actual differences, please share.
i double that question, anyone have experience with residential fridges in RVs?
 

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Discussion Starter · #47 ·
if anyone is wondering why a cheap residential chest freezer being used as a fridge is 2-3 times more efficient than even high end RV/marine/off-grid units costing 10 times more, i know or can guess at a few reasons: 1] 120v is more efficient than 12v in most applications especially for motors, generally the higher the voltage the more efficient the motor, EVs run 300-400 volt motors. i might even take a trip up to canada to get some 240v chest freezers. 2] top open is more efficient than side open, maybe not a lot but definitely measurable. 3] thicker insulation? i'm not sure about this but it stands to reason an RV/marine fridge maker is bound to worry about space whereas a household unit does not need to worry. so even 1/2 or whole inch extra will make a big difference. 4] economy of scale? also not sure about this since it can go either way. many times going smaller is more efficient but if the parts are so small the unit is under powered then it is likely to not be more efficient. compared to residential units RV/marine units again are concerned with size and weight so that might be a factor? for example, check out the data page for isotherm fridges, they have 4 different sized compressors arranged in a dozen ways. whereas residential units tend to have very little variability in components to keep costs down. they don't care a lot about weight so they can buy one size fits all. so even if they put a compressor into a fridge or AC unit that is twice as big as needed its fine, because bulk order of larger parts will be cheaper than getting a bunch of different sizes. as a bonus the smaller units with over sized parts will have better longevity which improves the companies image. so good PR by saving money? win-win. i don't have a lot hard facts on this latter part but it seems reasonable?
 

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Discussion Starter · #48 ·
additional insights for onboard power [eg power for fridges, lights, AC, ...] at the beginning of this thread, which i hope to update soon, and elsewhere on this forum i've stated that a DIY system is not a good idea and using power-station/solar generator would be easier, simpler, safer and about the same price. for the most part that is still true but i've learned more things, which is why i started this thread, and i need to add more info now. the DIY systems i was originally referring to are the build it from 'scratch' approach, with lots of individual parts often times from different source locations [ie batteries, inverter, solar charge controller, BMS, fuses, etc...]. i still think that is not the best way and i've made a lot of them in the past. now i'm leaning towards more or less complete off-grid systems as these also have come a long way in the past 5-10 years. there is still a lot i need to learn [eg can these residential systems be used in a vehicle without an earth ground?] but they seem promising and a lot cheaper. the only places i've looked thus are are this store and this youtube. for example, you can get a all in one system that can handle any solar input you could possibly fit on a van and put out 3000 watts for $700 or 6000 watts for $1200. and 5.1 kwh battery blocks are $1500. if all goes well i could get a system that would be 1/3 cheaper than what i originally thought it would cost.
 

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What a fun and fanciful read of all of the above. Kudos on you rustythorn for actually thinking about the efficiencies that might be employed in a van conversion to meet your needs and desires. Probably will not be that long before evolving chemistries for energy storage will likely increase the probabilities of your many insights. Some think that hydrogen hybrids will be brought into the mix of options for vehicles that you envision. Keep it going and feel free to disregard the blatant idiocies that abound as demonstrated by post #22. Nonsensical blithering should be relegated to the appropriate bin whether it be a dust bin or manure pile.
 

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Discussion Starter · #50 ·
What a fun and fanciful read of all of the above. Kudos on you rustythorn for actually thinking about the efficiencies that might be employed in a van conversion to meet your needs and desires. Probably will not be that long before evolving chemistries for energy storage will likely increase the probabilities of your many insights. Some think that hydrogen hybrids will be brought into the mix of options for vehicles that you envision. Keep it going and feel free to disregard the blatant idiocies that abound as demonstrated by post #22. Nonsensical blithering should be relegated to the appropriate bin whether it be a dust bin or manure pile.
thanks, since i don't have post #22, i assume it was from the only person i've blocked [which i did back in the single digits], sounds like i made a good choice.

i will admit to being 100% against hydrogen a few years ago, but i've changed my stance to about 50% against hydrogen. until we are able to find a much more efficient way to produce hydrogen, using it for most of our transportation is a bad idea. an ICE is about 4-5 less efficient then a BEV and a FCEV is about 2-3 times less efficient than a BEV, however, hydrogen does have a place in some transportation. fuel cells would be a good transition technology for airplanes, boats, distance trucks and space craft. hydrogen would also be a good heat source instead of natural gas. the sad thing i see now is a push to replace gas stations with hydrogen stations. this bad for lots of reasons, 1] we would just be replacing one big monopoly with another, 2] as i just stated FCEV waste a lot of energy 3] it would be 30% more efficient to make a WEV [water EV] that is have a car with small tank of distilled water, have onboard electrolysis to make hydrogen from the water, compress* that hydrogen with membrane technology [this is lighter and more efficient than mechanical compression] then use that hydrogen to power the car [and that would recreate the water]. we have all the tech to do this and the long term cost of the car would be the same as a FCEV but you could "charge" the WEV at home or at any of the existing EV charging stations. no need for hydrogen fill stations on every corner. i did a paper on this for my work with space force through AFRL [air force research labs]

*the onboard compression would be at a lower pressure which is safer and more efficient. most FCEVs have a tank that will give the car 200-400 miles, using lower pressure would reduce that range to 100-200 miles but you can "re-charge" the tank with hydrogen by plugging the car in like an EV. a WEV would charge about half the rate as an EV. overnight charging at home could give up to a 200 mile range and charging at work could give another 50-100 mile range but if needed the WEV could also fill up at a hydrogen station.
 

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Discussion Starter · #51 ·
pop-ins or inside flares.

being above average height my van bed layout is more challenging. for a transit the max inside width is 77 at about half way from floor to ceiling, which is a great place for a bed and enough room for sleeping, however, once i add insulation it will be too narrow. so if i want the bed to go from wall to wall i will either need flares or use very little insulation. i would like to avoid flares because of the cost, aerodynamics and the lack of stealthiness but i don't want to give up my insulation either. i briefly thought about making custom pop-outs for more room while sleeping but it would be a pain to make and again stealth issues.

more recently i've been looking into using a reflective barrier [eg reflectix] and air gaps for a large chunk of the insulation, assuming this approach will provide equal insulation vs other methods [ie fiberglass rolls, EPF]. at the ends of the bed area, i could make section where the wall could be pushed in [i'm calling it a pop-in]. while the section is not pushed in it will be the traditional setup of reflective layer-air gap-van wall thus being an effective insulation. but while pressed in it would push the reflective layer against the van wall and mitigate most of its insulation capacity. which would be bad for heating/cooling efficiency, but not as bad as one might think. first the section will not be very large so not much loss will occur. also i plan to do the bulk of my heating while sleeping with an heated mattress pad so the amount of heat loss will be greatly reduced. furthermore, in the summer i will prefer to be in arid/elevated climates so night time temps will normally be cooler than the inside of the van, thus while sleeping the pop-in section will help keep the van cool.

thus a pop-in will give me the insulation i need while not sleeping, the room i need while sleeping and will have yearly net energy loss of zero or very small.
 

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Discussion Starter · #52 · (Edited)
i've been looking into chest freezers some more there seems to be a bit of inconsistency with power ratings. there are several larger units using less energy then the smaller ones. it could just be the testing methods, or that energystar is running a bit behind from both covid, supply chain issues and the previous administration deliberately hamstringing government groups like that. the various manufactures could also be tweaking their units to make some seem better by comparison by making other worse. this is just speculation but the data does seem a bit odd. regardless, one of the patterns that will be helpful to me is a small plateau around the 5-10 cubic feet size chest freezers. this means many of the units in this range are using about the same amount of power regardless of size. the average power use for 5 cubic feet is 190 kwh/y with a range from 172 to 196. whereas, there is 9 at 201, a 9.6 at 206, 10 at 211, 10.2 at 214 or 10.6 at 218 [cubic feet at kwh/y] so the first one is a 80% volume increase in size for only a 5.8% increase in power use and the last is a 112% volume increase in size for 14.7% more power.

however, i'm leaning towards a 8.8 cubic feet unit that uses 198 kwh/y; it is a 4.2% power increase for a 76% volume increase vs a 5 cubic feet unit. as a bonus, the 8.8 unit is the smallest chest freezer that can fit a half-barrel keg [15.5 gallons] without modifications that keg plus CO2 tank and lines will use about 3.8 cubic feet leaving me with a 5 cubic feet fridge. basically, in terms of energy use, i'm getting a free keg-o-rater.
 

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Discussion Starter · #53 · (Edited)
my quest for power has been evolving. at first i assumed i would just build my own house battery system from scratch: charging system [both shore, van and solar], battery management system, inverter, monitors, fuses, safety, etc... however, the 'portable'/backup battery power systems market has exploded in the past few years and there are lots of options out there and what's nice is they are complete systems. i would have a hard time beating the prices with my own custom system [unless i had used parts]. as i have continued to look at options, i've found the 'off-grid' solar systems are an even better option for my needs. but at every step there were/are unexpected pitfalls.

my needs are a dual 120/240 VAC with a 4000 watt output minimum [preferably with more watts]. the first system i looked at was the ecoflow max split phase setup, however, i was surprised to learn that it could not do 120 and 240 simultaneously. luckily a similar bluetti system could. from bluetti i could get a 10 kwh system for about $11k or a 12, 18 or 24 kwh for $12k, $16k or $20k respectively. one small issue with either ecoflow or bluetti is that the split phase system requires a paired but separate twin setup and my solar array would need to be evenly split between them to keep the two separate battery packs at the same levels. not impossible but challenging nonetheless.

but now looking at a an 'off-grid' setup [eg LV, MPP, EG4, growatt] i can get what i need for far less money. for example i could get a split phase 6000 watt output all-in-one from either EG4 or growatt for $1.2k and units of EG4 5 kwh batteries for $1.5k each and maybe $300 for some fuses, connectors, etc... thus a 10, 15, 20 or 25 kwh system would be $4.5k, $6k, $7.5k or $9k respectively. less than half the price. however, the split phase all-in-one units will only take 240vac from the grid so i would not be able to do any charging from a 120vac outlet. while that is not a huge deal it would limit my options.

so now, i'm thinking about just getting a non-split phase all-in-one unit that only does 240v and adding on a step-up/step-down transformer. i could stay with an all-in-one split phase unit outlined above and just add a step-up transformer to charge from 120vac but doing a 240v only system will be cheaper, lighter and smaller. the all-in-one split phase units are really heavy. the EG4 6000 watt is 79 lbs and the growatt 6000 watt is 120 lbs. and i would still need to add a 15-20 lbs transformer. by comparison the 240v growatt 5000 is 30 lbs and half the price and a step-up/step-down transformer is the same weight and price as a step-up transformer. i need to do a little more double checking but i should be able to run the bulk of my electrical devices off 240vac and use the step-down transformer to run the remaining 120vac items. luckily the transformers are very efficient [96-99%] so i won't waste much power especially since i will mostly have 240v items [ie mini-split, induction cooking plate, tankless water heater, etc...] the only things requiring 120vac will be the fridge, lights, pumps, fans, etc... i could even get 240v versions for some of those [eg fridge] but i will need to either do a special order or go up to canada. i think i will run a couple of 240v lights so that i won't be in the dark if my transform breaks. i could do all 240v lights but they are more expensive and i can't replace them with a trip to the local hardware store. i've just started looking into transforms and the ones on amazon are cheap, i can get a 2000 watt up/down for $100. not sure if i will need a high end model? i might just get two transformers and leave one in step-down mode and the other in step-up mode, this will make my life easier and i'll have a back up. otherwise, i would need to shut off all the 120v items while getting shore power. i could put in extra wiring bypasses to use shore power for both charging and running the 120v items but an extra transformer is cheap, not too heavy or big and i like having a fail safe, plus simpler

*** still not sure about which way to go, while a 240v only is lighter and cheaper, they are alot harder to use safely with 120v systems so i might stick with the 120/240 split phase units, however, i still have a year or two before i need to pick one so maybe there will be more options
 

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Discussion Starter · #54 ·
for those folks who don't need 240vac, the 120vac 'off-grid' all-in-one systems are also cheaper and lighter and you can charge from 120vac shore power without an issue. however, there is no built in 12vdc so if you want that you will need a transformer for it. even though a lot of RV items are still built around 12vdc i recommend thinking about how to so an all 120vac van. you will find that the items are cheaper and more efficient than the made for RV stuff.

another aspect to consider is tax rebates. i don't know if you will be able to claim a 'solar-generator' [eg ecoflow, bluetti] for the 30% tax rebate? maybe you can but the 'off-grid' solar items will raise fewer eyebrows
 

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Discussion Starter · #55 ·
ideally i would like everything on the van to serve two or more functions so as to maximize the potential of the van, to that end here is one idea about how to have a movable divider between the front seats and the rest of the van and put that divider to work. the divider will have three sections two 24" wide and one 20". the first 24" section behind the drivers seat will be fixed in place and i don't think i'll have a swivel drivers seat unless i can get one that also swings over be next to the passenger seat. the middle section is the other 24" piece and it swivels backward so that the hinge is on the inside and not accessible from the front. the last piece is 20" or so and is behind the passenger seat. the 20" will swing like middle piece. i'll frame out a bulkhead on the top, bottom and passenger side. i'll minimize the bulkhead at the top and bottom as much as possible to avoid tripping or banging my head but still have enough to securely latch the door from the inside. the bulk head by the passenger side will be 2-4" inches. to the frontward side will either be aluminium or hardy plastic sheeting, something that suggests work van and does not look like it will be easy to get through. behind that i'll have .5 to 1" of EPF insulation and on the inside of van i'll have some kind of easy to wipe down surface, maybe sterile board since that will be form the inside of the shower.

Product Rectangle Font Material property Parallel
 

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Discussion Starter · #58 · (Edited)
insulation

there are several camps here and i'm still gathering info. the summary below is by no means comprehensive it just highlights items of interest and points relevant to me:

TYPEPROCONFIX / IMPROVEMENT
spray foamhighest R per inchnot-environmentally friendly, might trap moister, could warp metalonly use 1" layer to avoid warping, don't block drain holes.
radiant barrierlight and takes advantage of dead space [which is also required]might be less effective behind other insulation? will act as heat sink if touching metalput down thin later of foam insulation on ribs before radiant barrier is attached there.
external radiant paintcheap [hy-tech], maybe putting on ribs inside will prevent them from becoming heat sinksmost effective on outsidedon't apply where solar panels will provide shade
synthetic fiberglass [eg thinsolate]there are recycled options but none that i can find in USAhighest cost / R-value ratio
EPSrigid, some recycled options existrigid

school bus reflective paint
 

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Discussion Starter · #59 · (Edited)
large solar array on a van

there are few vans with large solar arrays and most have a complicated semi-automatic deployment system. i can see the appeal for this approach; its cool and it might seem as the easiest way to deploy more solar soaking surface area than the roof can provide, however, there are several downsides to this approach. adding stacked layers of solar panels on the roof will increase van height, decrease aerodynamics, make the vehicle top-heavy and make it harder to drive in cross winds. the increased weight on the roof might exceed the safety limit of the van and require additional support. while a fully automatic deployment system is an option it will compound the downsides of the system. semi-automatic deployment systems typically require two people and still require a fair amount of labor to setup.

the alternative is to store extra panels inside the van and manually deploy them. this approach is not much more labor intensive and is easier to design for one person to setup. furthermore, since a sizable large array will have most of its panels in the deployed part parking the van in the shade is not a large loss of solar potential. an independent deployment method allows the additional panels to be setup away from the van in the sun while the vehicle remains in the shade. at most 1000-1500 watts of solar can fit on the roof, however, going much above 1000 will result in panels hanging over the sides and being to far forward for ideal aerodynamics. thus most large solar arrays will have 2-10 times more watts in the deployed section.

therefore, right now i'm leaning towards storing the deployable panels inside the vehicle during transport instead of building an elaborate semi-automatic deployment system. it will make the vehicle safer and more efficient, save money/time and provide more parking options. this would even allow for some limited 'stealth' camping. some to all of the mobile panels could be set up away from the vehicle in a hidden area. the van could be parked on the street but the panels could be moved to a better location away from the street. if you are 'stealthing' then you don't want to tilt your roof array and to keep the whole array better balanced the remote panels will also be placed flat so hiding them becomes easier [eg flat in a ditch or behind bushes, on top of near by building]

most of systems i'm considering have two independent non-balanced solar inputs. this would allow the roof panels to be shaded or angled differently than the deployed panels. this would also allow for two different types of panels. i'll try to use the same panels for both but if needed the roof panels could be different than the deployed panels. using the same for both has a couple of advantages, it will allow me to order in 'bulk', although, 8 to 12 panels only sometimes qualifies for discounts. i could also rotate out the panels that live on the roof every couple of years to maximize their life span. right now it looks like 400-550 watt panels will be the best solution, however, the tech and products are constantly evolving and i don't need to order them for a couple more years. one of the more recent developments is half-cut cell panels, i don't know if it is the method itself or just better/newer manufacturing methods but the newer panels in the 400-600 watt range are relatively lighter and smaller than older designs. for example the 430 watt half-cut cell panel that are lighter than most of the 300-400 non-half-cell panels. yielding a watt increases of 25-33% with only a 5-10% increase in size. things are likely to change in the near future but right now the REC Alpha REC430AA PURE-R seems to be the best option, i can fit two them easily long ways on the roof. rotating them 90 degrees i could put three up there if i wanted to deal with some overhang on the sides. i'm hoping there are some 500+ watt half-cut cell panel options soon that will allow two to easy fit on the roof without overhang. alternatively maybe some half-cut cell panels in the 300-400 watts range that would allow four panels on the roof.

another factor is the bifacial designs. these would be good on the roof of the white van [after they are tilted] but most of my deployed panels won't get a lot of reflected light from behind.

i'd like a total of at least 3000 watts, so if i can get 500+ watt panels that work i can put two on the roof and only have to setup four when parked and since the weight is likely to be around 50 lbs it should be an easy setup, however, if i can only get 430-490 watt panels then i'll need 7-8 total, with the likelihood of requiring 6 panels to setup.

the all-in-one 'off-grid' solar systems i've seen thus far have a high minimum solar array input voltage. most have 120 vdc, the EG4 6500EX-48 starts at 80 +/- 5 vdc and the MPPT starts at 90 vdc. i will need to watch this closely because it will be tricky to get high voltage on the roof alone. two REC Alpha REC430AA PURE-R have a nominal voltage of 101vdc at STC [1000 w/m^2] or 95.2 vdc at NMOT [800 w/m^2]. there is a good chance that two future 500+ watt panels will have nominal voltage above 120 vdc but while they are laying flat and hot [eg NMOT 800 w/m^2] on the roof they might not be able to get this high? some other panels in current consideration are the Solaria PowerXT 400R-PM and the Solaria PowerXT 370R-PD. three of these panels might fit nicely on the van but it will be very tight, three of each has 127.2 / 120 and 120.6 / 111 [STC/NMOT]. so the 400 might put out 120+ vac laying flat but the 370 will not. unfortunately, solaria's upcoming new panels, 420 and 430 watt, will be too long and surprisingly lower voltage

the EG4 6500EX-48 is a nice and affordable system. not very heavy remote view screen, wifi phone app, plenty of power, etc... however, it is 120 vac only. i could get a 120 vac 20 amp cable and charge at 2400 watts or get a 4000-6000 watt transformer and use my 240 vac 16 amp cable [3.9 kw] or try to use the cable that comes with the transit [7.7 kw] and see if it doesn't try to destroy my system. but all of that is only if i want to "fast charge", i can also use my leaf's 120 vac 11.5 amp cable. i could run that cable 24/7 in the summer under ideal conditions with a 20+ kwh house battery buffer. it will fully charge the current e-transit in 48 hours and 72 hours for a transit with a bigger battery but i would not have any power left over for anything else [no AC, cooking, fridge, etc...] using a 120 vac 20 amp cable while the sun is up would still get the current e-transit charged in 3 days [ideal summer conditions] and i would still have enough power to enjoy my stay. i could even use a timer so i don't have it charging at night. there are smart timers but i doubt i can easily tie it in to my solar system to shut down if the solar input drops or the house battery gets too low but i could make a simple photo sensor relay so that it only charges when it is sunny out.
 
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