The Van Build: Electric

Electric seems to be a thing that people go absolutely nuts with.  While I am really impressed with DIYers building out extraordinarily complicated systems, there are a few things I find concerning about this:

  1. Batteries, even on the scale of a phone, are actually very very dangerous. There are many ways to mess up a battery, and with the size of the batteries being used in a van, the risk goes way up.  
  2. The electoral systems being installed in the vans typically include AC inverters.  This is a fairly significant piece of hardware that in most settings, would not be touched by the average non-electrician.
  3. The sheer number of people inquiring about what AWG to use is scary.  Not knowing what wire to use is  clear indicator that one is not ready to put together a fairly complex and powerful electric system.  

While I do have some electronics experience, I have enough experience to know that this sort of DIY install was out of my league.  I thoroughly believe that a custom electric setup should be done by an electrician.  So not wanting to do that, I would go with a drop-in system.  

Looking at a few options, I looked at offerings from GoalZero, Jackery, and a newer player on the block, Bluetti.  Bluetti seemed to be the most competitive in this category, and made a number of drop-in offerings that would work very well for a van.  I ended up choosing one of their smaller capacity but feature rich featured offerings, the AC200P.   

  1. Battery system: Bluetti AC200P
  2. Wiring: Powerwerx (mostly)
    1. General supplies
    2. Primary switch panel
    3. Rear pillar switch panels
  3. Appliances and lighting
    1. Fridge: Dometic CFX3 45
    2. Water pump: FloJet (03526144) Triplex Automatic Water System Pump
    3. Overhead lights
  4. Solar: Cascade 4×4 VSS SYSTEM

Battery system: Bluetti AC200P

Link: BLUETTI AC200P Portable Power Station | 2,000W 2,000Wh

Review:

The Bluetti AC200P ticked a lot of boxes for me on paper, and the price point and reviews were positive enough to draw me away from the brands I was more familiar with, GoalZero and Jackery. The AC200P is ultra-simple to drop in compared to a piecing together cells and components. It is also removable, which is a great feature if you want to use it somewhere outside of your van at some point.

The 40Ah capacity is “tight”, just enough to power the refrigerator and other small accessories for 3.5 days. However, it can be expanded to 160Ah with two Bluetti B300 expansion units. This is not a low cost option, but it is super super easy, contained, and safe. 160Ah is still not enough for folks trying to run legitimate appliances, but it will keep the lights on and the food cold for a good amount of time.

The only downside I knew I would have to deal with was that I would not be able to fully hide away the battery in a wheel well storage box if I wanted to maintain easy access to the control panel. The AC200MAX allows for bluetooth control, but that doesn’t replace having a nice control panel on the wall.

Pros:

  • LiFePO4 cell, which means it’s got a ton of cycles and doesn’t need much babying
  • Built in 12V/25A DC outlet with overcurrent protection
  • Built in AC 2000W inverter with overcurrent protection
  • MPPT solar charge controller built in
  • DC charging built in for easy charing off the alternator and AC charging unit for shore power
  • Portable (I can easily pull it out and charge it)

Cons:

  • Relatively small capacity of 40Ah. (Scaleable up to 160Ah with 2x B300 expansion units.)
  • Power button and screen need to be fairly readily accessible.

Overall: A

Wiring: Powerwerx (mostly)

Wiring in the van was a serious breeze, and I can attribute a lot of that to the Bluetti power system mentioned above.  The overcurrent protection negated the necessity of a fusebox, so I used very user friendly power distribution blocks instead.  I used the Anderson Powerpole connecters throughout the entire DC system, making everything very modular.  This turned out to be an extraordinarily low cost job, and was a relatively easy installation of just a few hours.

General supplies

Powerwerx carries a great supply of Anderson Powerpole supplies.  My biggest suggestion here is to get a crimp tool that is specifically made for Anderson Powerpole connecters.  I bought quite a few cheaper ones on Amazon that were not specifically made for Anderson Powerpole connectors and they all did not crimp the contacts in a shape that allowed them to robustly clip into their housings.  

Powerwerx also sells custom length cables for anybody who is not comfortable to do their own cable work.

Primary switch panel

The switch panel took a little while for me to determine what would work best.  I went for simplicity, especially because I wanted to have something that I was going to drill directly into the countertop.  I also wanted to be able to charge a few USB devices on the counter after a day out.

Rear pillar switch panels

I wanted to have easily accessible was a nightlight switch and USB charging port on each side of the bed.  I used the (very difficult to originally locate) OEM face plates for the rear pillars, and mounted a switch and USB port onto them.  This made for a very clean look, and didn’t require any complicated cable routing.

Appliances and lighting

Fridge: Dometic CFX3 45

Link: Dometic CFX3 45

Review:

Pros:

  • Extremely energy efficient
  • Removable storage baskets are very convenient for loading and unloading
  • Tried and true system

Cons:

  • The 45 size is tight for more than a couple days. (See the CFX3 55, 75, or 95)
  • No separate freezer compartment. (See the CFX3 55, 75, or 95)

Overall: B+, the CFX3 55 seems to be superior for about the same size and price

Water pump: FloJet (03526144) Triplex Automatic Water System Pump

Link: Flojet Triplex Automatic Water System Pump

Review:

Pros:

Cons:

Overall:

Overhead lights

Review:

Pros:

Cons:

Overall:

Solar: Cascade 4×4 VSS SYSTEM

Link: MERCEDES-BENZ SPRINTER (3RD GEN | 2019+) VSS SYSTEM™ – 90 WATT HOOD SOLAR PANEL (TWIN 45 WATT SYSTEM)

Review:

Pros:

  • Adds zero height clearance requirement to the vehicle
  • Does not require drilling through any body panels
  • Looks cool (in my opinion)

Cons:

  • Harder to route cables from the engine bay than straight down through the ceiling

Overall: A