To say that things are progressing slowly would be an understatement. We have 6 months of work left to do and under 3 weeks left to do it. But...things also begin to feel like their speeding up. One area that has been progressing nicely (thanks to a little help from a friend). Is our electrical/solar system...and we couldn't be more excited!!
We researched the best people to install, the best components, etc for months and while several of the installers fell through and backed out when it came down to it, it became clear that one of the most trusted set of components available was Victron. Their Lithium batteries are highly regarded and one of the greatest benefits is that they make the other components (solar charger, battery management system, etc) so there's no fear of incompatibility issues between pieces of the puzzle.
The only possible drawback for us was cost, but after really diving into other systems it's tough to say if the components were really any more expensive, and when factoring in the time/research savings by having more of a "kit"...we finally made the plunge.
Our setup will be centered around two 160AH batteries. That's the biggest cost (and weight) in the system by far. The charge controller controls the flow of power from solar power into those batteries and the BMS (battery management system) makes sure those batteries
Lithium batteries don't love to get cold. Technically...they don't mind being cold, but if you try to charge them while cold you can damage to the batteries. Given the nature of our next trip being almost entirely in the snow and freezing temps... we also needed to have a cold temp disconnect, which shuts off the power flow to the batteries under a certain temp.
They also make a (really pretty sweet) inverter/converter that will manage everything from your solar to converting the 12V power to 110V (a regular outlet so you can run your blender and normal household appliances) and allow shore power from campsites. But...that is a high dollar (and very large) piece of equipment for inside the van, and in all our years of vanliving we've never needed or wished we had a shore power connection. We are also ramping up quite a bit our solar panels as well as our battery bank...so hopefully finding power will no longer be an issue for us. Instead, we opted for a "normal" Xantrex power inverter, which will allow us to keep that blender (or more likely the espresso machine/coffee grinder" running. This is a newer/larger version, but very similar to what we installed in the bus before our mexico/central america adventure and we never had any issues.
Laying out the electrical also made it clear that we needed wall panels to cover the hundreds of feet of wiring that will crisscross all over the inside of the van...
Panels are complete (though still need to be finished) and we're pulling wires and figuring out where everything will live. The weather in portland isn't helping as ice/snow have shut down the shop and forced us to work in the street with doors closed and literally tripping over each other inside the cramped quarters...but we've never been so happy to have the heater and a conditioned workspace to keep the project moving forward!
We finally got everything in place took more than a few deep breaths and the fired up the system. Drumroll please! Okay, it was all actually very underwhelming as only a single light blinked showing us we were live. We plugged in the monitor and did some minor programming/setting changes and could actually see what power our batteries held.
But the moments that followed, where we started adding devices to our fusebox and seeing them come to life...was astonishing. One by one we watched the LED strips on the floor start glowing, the indicator lights in various devices start blinking to let us know they were alive and even tested our outlets to make sure we could charge our devices. Remarkable.
After weeks of work the van transformed in minutes to from a dark cave to lighted home. Images of cavemen dancing in the night as flame first got discovered passed through our heads and we may have done a bit of dancing on our own... We now have power, and lights, and all the makings of a modern home (well, other than a bed and cabinetry and... okay back to work) ;)