Electrical overview and wiring diagram
We wanted a simple system, but also wanted to be able to monitor easily, spend several days in the bush without moving, even with a few cloudy days, and with enough oomph to keep our beer and cheese cold. I don’t think it can be called simple any more, but hopefully it will be simple to use and to monitor once it is all set up and running.
If you are looking for our progress update about electrics, and don’t want to read about all our components, you should check out ‘Cables, wires and more cables….‘ instead.
As this is quite a lengthy post already, we will just add images of the components and provide a link to each of them where possible so you can read more about them on the official websites if you want more information about a particular component. For information and images of Victron components, have a look on their website. Or drop us a message in the comments and we will get back to you.
We have split this post up in two sections – the electrical (mostly Victron) components and al the electrical equipment we have in Lara (the loads).
To determine which electrical components we were going to need, we needed to list our loads, and determine how much power they would use / need to run, and how long we estimated them to run each day. That would give us an indication of the size of the system we needed.
We created two tables. One to calculate our usage on a day-to-day basis. The other one was to see how much she would use when we parked her up for a couple of days to go hiking for example. Leaving just the fridge running and the toilet fan, as all other electrical components wouldn’t be used. The basecase was almost like a worst-case-scenario as we assumed the fridge would be running for 24 hours a day which usually is only required when it is really hot outside. And then we also had the webasto heater running for an hour, that is a lot of hot water used in one hour. Running two fans for 3 hours each is also probably only ever needed in super hot conditions and as we are not really planning to use the toilet much (only in emergencies), we are hoping we won’t actually need the toilet fan on at all most of the time. Having lights on for 4 hours a day, as well as charging the laptops 4 hours a day is also hopefully quite an unusual situation. We should usually be able to charge the laptops in the cab whilst driving. Only on some days will we need the laptops longer and might we charge them in the palace. But, having said all that, it is good to know how much you can expect if you are using everything a lot. In our case it would be 150Ah.
We also made another table, based on exactly the same as above, only the hours used per day would drop to zero for everything but the fridge and the toilet fan. Assuming the fridge would also need to run less (12 hours) if we don’t open it at all, we then came to a total of 45Ah per day. This is what we can expect on days when she is parked somewhere and we are out hiking, biking, kayaking or having some other adventures.
This formed the basis of our decision on which components to get for our electrical system.
We run a Victron system in our palace. It consists of:
- Lithium battery 330Ah
- 2 DC DC chargers (30A each)
- 2 MPPT solar chargers
- 2 solar panels (flexible thin and lightweight – 185W each)
- solar blanket (foldable, lightweight – 235W)
- lynx distributor
- cerbo connected to a GX Touch 50 display
- BMS (battery management system)
- 800W inverter / charger
- Smart shunt
Then there are the various battery protects, breakers, fuses and a kill switch added to the system. It’s best to have a look at this diagram which shows how things are connected in our setup. Jude made this diagram using draw.io. It is a free, open-source program similar to Visio. You can use it online, or download a version onto your laptop. It works a treat and you can add your own components to the scratchpad if you want to use the actual components that you are using in your diagram.
This diagram is close to the finished setup, but Jude will update it to fine-tune a few things that were changed in the last few weeks whilst doing the actual work as some things just didn’t work in practice (until this sentence has been removed, the below is not the final diagram, get in touch if you would like a copy of the final one sent to you as soon as we have updated it).
Victron smart lithium battery 330Ah
When researching batteries, this one stood out for various reasons. It packed a big punch (330Ah), but was considerably lighter (in kg) and smaller (in cm) then you might expect based on similar batteries. It seems this one belonged to a new generation that weighs less per Ah. Sounded perfect to us.
It ‘only’ weighs 30kg (the 300Ah smart Victron battery weighs 51kg), and the dimensions are 265 x 359 x 206 mm (the 300Ah battery is larger in all dimensions – 347 x 425 x 274 mm). So not only did we get more Ah, we also needed less space and would add less kg to the overall total. Win-win-win in our book.
We checked with Jared and he could order one for us, 500 of them were already en route in a container from the Netherlands (the first to arrive in Australia), they would take a few more weeks to get here, but that was worth the wait we thought.
DC DC chargers
We usually drive almost every day, unless we go for a long hike for example. But in that case we would only have a fridge running and nothing else, so hopefully our solar panels can keep the battery topped up enough during that time. So for us charging the battery from our car alternator made sense.
We decided to go for two DC DC chargers as our car alternator is 150A, which hopefully means that it has enough oomph to give a meaningful input to both our DC DC chargers. We bought the Orion-Tr smart DC DC charger, both capable of producing 30A. If they both run at full capacity, we can top up our batteries quickly. Time will tell if we have set it up the right way.
MPPT solar chargers
After first toying with the idea of not installing solar at all, in the end we went for both solar panels on the roof, as well as a solar blanket we can plug in and place in the sun a few meters away from Lara if we are parked in the shade somewhere. It is a good option to have in case we are stationary for a while and not driving from one place to another.
One of the MPPTs is 100/50 which will get its charge from the 2 solar panels on the roof, and the other one is 100/30 which will only get a charge when we plug in our solar blanket. Both are Smart MPPTs from Victron.
We decided to put two lightweight solar panels on the roof. This is a weight issue, but also a height issue for us as we need to make sure we can still get into a HC container when we ship her across oceans. They are mounted with a gap underneath to allow air to circulate and hopefully that way keep the solar panels cooler (and working better). And both the junction boxes are mounted underneath the panel, keeping height to a minimum.
We are mounting them in series, giving us hopefully a better charge with the new smart system as the MPPT can put 50A per hour into the battery if the panels would provide us with that much. But maybe in the future we can upgrade our panels and then we don’t have to upgrade our MPPT. The solar panels are equal in size and are 185W each, giving us 370W of solar on the roof. Not bad for such a small area. They are Sunman eArc 185W semi flexible solar panels.
One of the reasons we didn’t want solar in the beginning is the fact panels don’t give you any charge when they are parked in the shade. As we intend to mostly spend our time in nature (forests are a big part of that), we hope we will be able to find shady spots to park Lara. And when we do, there won’t be any charge coming in from the solar panels on the roof. So initially we planned to just carry a solar blanket that we could lay open on the roof if we were parked up in the sun somewhere, or, if we were parked up in the shade, we could set it up a few meters away from Lara and catch the sun there.
We ended up adding the solar panels to the roof after all, but definitely wanted to have a solar blanket which we can place in the full sun nearby (hopefully). We opted for the Sunman eArc 235W solar blanket and bought it from solar4rvs. It is super light weight and fits into our seat box. let’s hope it will be used a lot.
This is a new fancy-pants busbar from Victron with spots for the fuses safely protected and out of the way. We thought it looked neat. In theory you could even see which fuse is blown, but I think you need to have other components of the lynx distribution center set up with it (which we don’t have) so the lights on our fuses won’t work. So instead of a busbar we have our lynx distributor. We connect our inverter to it, the MPPTs, the DC DC chargers and the loads are powered from here. And of course the battery is connected to the lynx so it can be charged and we can take the power from it to feed all the loads.
Cerbo and GX Touch 50
The cerbo is the communication system of everything. It actually maximises the performance of the system and allows us to monitor the battery, the charge coming in and the power consumption. The display unit that goes with it is the GX Touch which means we can check everything in real-time by just glancing at the screen. Ours will be mounted near the entrance so we can even peak our heads inside to check on it all.
Battery Management System (BMS)
We opted for the VE.Bus BMS. The Victron smart batteries have integrated balancing, temperature and voltage control to protect the cells against over voltage, under voltage and over temperature. The BMS will protect the battery by shutting down or disconnecting the loads, reducing the charge current, and shutting down or disconnecting any battery chargers when necessary. Let’s hope it does a good job as we need to make sure our expensive battery remains healthy.
In the end we settled on the MultiPlus 800W inverter / charger from Victron (MultiPlus 12/800/35). It can be set up so we can plug in at a friend’s place and steal their electricity. When hooked up like that, it can put 35A into the battery every hour. The only reason we have an inverter really is to charge our laptops when we are stationary. We don’t know how often that will happen, but at least we have the option for it. Previously in the white Defender if we ran out of power in the laptop at night, we would have to wait until the next day to charge it again whilst driving. This is luxury for us.
A shunt is something every system needs as it keeps track of how much goes into the battery and how much is taken out. It’s kind of a gatekeeper. This smart one doesn’t have a display, but allows us to read the in and out of the battery on the GX Touch 50. For this to work the shunt needs to sit between the battery and everything else on the system so it knows exactly what is happening. We have the SmartShunt 500A, more than enough for us.
On the load side we have:
- 75 liter fridge
- 4 external lights
- 2 reading lights
- 2 fans
- toilet fan
- 2 power boards
- water and air heater
We also plan to add an ARB air compressor that we want to hard-wire into the car battery so we can pump up tyres when we need to. And we have also added a rear-view video camera, which is also hard wired into the car battery.
There are so many options for a fridge in a campervan, it is hard to know where to start looking. We previously had a 45 liter Engel fridge and were very happy with it. It has always kept our beers and cheese cool and it never missed a beat.
The only downside about the Engel fridge we had, is that it opens from the top. Great for keeping things cool, but not so good when it comes to building it in as it always needs a space above it to be able to open the lid, or you need to put it on runners so you can pull it out.
When you open a standard fridge door (like the one in your house), all the cold air falls out to the ground. This is because cold air is heavier than warm air. This doesn’t really matter when it is plugged in to a 230V socket and can run all day without any worries about draining a battery. So, despite the fact that doors that open to the front might be handy to see everything that is inside the fridge, we saw two problems with it in a campervan setting. One is the above-mentioned loss of cool air every time you open it. And the other one is that things standing on a shelf might tumble out after a rough road when you open that door. There is nothing stopping them from sliding against the door and you won’t know until you open it and that beer that is so nice and cool smashes onto the ground, leaving you still without a cool beer at the end of the day….
So we didn’t like the front opening door, nor did we want another fridge with a lid opening from the top. The only other option we had was a drawer fridge. It still keeps most of the cool air inside the drawer when you open it and it is easy to build in as you can have something directly above it.
When we were doing the research we looked at many, many fridges and their reviews. The Vitrifrigo was one that consistently scored high. We also liked the look of it, and had friends with one. They seemed to like theirs. We then tried to find out our options. They have a whole range of different drawers. They vary in size, but also in closing mechanism and their ability to be either a fridge, or a freezer, or a fridge as well as a freezer depending on your needs.
We spent quite a bit of time trying to decipher the different models based on the information on their website, as well as Camec’s website (the shop where we were ordering our fridge). We even called in the help from Ann (the super helpful lady in Camec) and Michele who works for Vitrifrigo HQ in Italy. Eventually we worked out that we wanted the version that could only be used as a fridge and had the slam lock (DW70 OCX2).
The slam lock was so we wouldn’t have to remember to close the two pins every time before driving off as that was a sure recipe for disaster in our books, and the fridge only version because the newer fridge / freezer version was a lot heavier. We did contemplate the heavier fridge / freezer option as it has a digital read out of the actual temperature inside, but we figured with a separate small temperature gauge we could achieve the same, and save us the 10kg weight difference (we are always concerned about weight!).
Ann (from Camec) ordered the fridge for us, and we confirmed with Michele in Italy that it was the correct model number (very ambiguous on the different websites). And then we waited…. In the end it took about 5 months for the fridge to arrive in Camec and we could pick it up.
As you could see in the update on our cabinets, we have already added the fridge into the palace. It will have to come out before we start painting all the cabinets, but we are very happy with how it fits into our palace and we hope one day we can offer you a cold one from it, somewhere on the planet….
We only have two lights hard-wired into the palace on the inside. They are our reading lights that we can reach when in bed, but also when we are sitting on our seats inside the palace. They are simple reading lights, but they do come with the additional bonus of having a USB charging outlet built in the base. It will make it easy to charge our phones or something else from that location.
We do have 3 or 4 built-in lights on the outside of the palace. Currently 3 have been installed (rear, passenger side and driver side), as we are still pondering where the front one might be mounted and how to run the cable back inside.
The external lights are not really for day-to-day use as they are super bright LEDs and we are more oil lamp and warm candle light kinda people. But they are wired in so we can flick them on in case we want to know what is happening outside during the night. We can basically light up the whole area around the car if we need to. The cables for those lights are all run into the ducting we had built-in to the Styromax walls. It means the cables can run in the wall and then pop out in the seatboxes from where we run them to the switch board near the palace entrance.
This was an easy component. It took about two months before they arrived, but as we knew what we wanted it wasn’t hard to make sure we had them on time.
We have bought two Sirocco II fans from Camec. Everybody we know has them, they are well-built, can swivel in any direction and you can even blow the air the other way completely. They come with a built-in setting to automatically turn off after 3, 6 or 9 hours and can run at different speeds.
Perfect, exactly what we wanted.
We used a fan inside the white Defender 110 too, well, we used it in the Taj Mahal roof top tent (Hannibal) when it was too hot outside during the night. It was a life saver during our first few months in south east Asia. That one fan ran on batteries so to have the luxury of having not one but two fans hardwired into the palace battery will be amazing on those super hot nights when it just doesn’t cool off after a scorching day.
We also have a toilet fan that we can run if the toilet has been in use. It is a small fan that we built into the cabinet where the toilet lives. It vents the air directly to the outside of the palace.
To charge our laptops it is handy to have something to plug it into. We used to have a mini inverter that plugged into the cigarette lighter and then we could plug the laptop in whilst driving.
The setup we are going for this time is much more sophisticated. From our inverter we run one cable to a fixed power outlet (GPO) with two sockets, that will have to be done by an electrician as it is 230V. This is the same kind of power outlet you see in your house. From there we plan to run two power boards.
One will run into the cab, allowing us to charge our laptops whilst driving. The other one we will install inside our laptop drawer above the table. The drawer above the table is the only one that we plan to make from wood, so we can build the power board into the back of it and leave the charging cables plugged in, ready to go when we need them.
We have built in a 100 liter water tank into the palace. One of the reasons we have kept it inside is so there is minimal chance of pipes freezing when we are in a cold climate.
From the tank we run pipes to the tap in the kitchen box, as well as to the shower and the hot water heater in the back. We use the same filter we had in the white Defender 110, a Seagull IV, and it will only sit on the line that goes to the tap in the kitchen box. We don’t need the water of our shower filtered….
We have bought a Shurflo water pump. And despite the fact we can buy Shurflo water pumps here in Australia, this one was also imported from the UK as in Australia you can only get the 3.8 and 11.3 liter per minute pumps. We do want to be able to have a shower so the 3.8 liter per minute was a bit marginal, but having the pump that has enough pressure to allow us to have a shower churn out 11.3 liters per minute was a bit much, we only have 100 liters, so that would be empty under 10 minutes! Not that we plan to have 10-minute showers…
Water and air heater
In the white Defender 110 we used the radiator heat to give us a hot shower. It worked a treat, but it does mean you need to have your shower within a certain timeframe after stopping the drive. This time we are opting for more luxury – hot water whenever we want it.
And whilst most campervans and caravans in Australia have a gas hot water system, we didn’t want to use gas at all. Gas is not practical overseas, in some countries it is almost impossible to get, or the connectors just don’t fit. It wasn’t worth the hassle in our opinion. It also means we don’t have to have a vent in the door, which means our palace will remain dust free (we hope).
So, what did we pick?
Diesel. We bought ourselves a Webasto diesel heater that heats water as well as our inside of the palace with hot air if we need to. We figuredthat as we carry approximately 120 liters of diesel fuel with us anyway, we could tap a little hose into that tank to keep us warm and give us our hot shower if we want one.
We have the Webasto EVO 05, and we’ll tell you if it is any good once we have used it!
Jude got a 12V oven from our good friends Rob & Robyn, Guy & Cheryl, John & Ann and Miles & Marina for her birthday. It is a 12V Travel Buddy marine oven, which can heat up to about 190 degrees C. We are hoping it will increase our repertoire for cooking on the road, allowing us to make our own pizzas, muesli bars, bread rolls, almond cookies and maybe even bake a banana bread. We are very excited about the oven and hope it works as well as advertised.
That pretty much sums up all our electrical components. Sorry for the super long post, but we figured if somebody is interested in knowing all the details, then they don’t mind the long post. Let us know if you have any questions about our setup.