12V Guru | Powering your off-grid caravan adventure: Part 1 - Caravan World Australia

12V Guru | Powering your off-grid caravan adventure: Part 1

Written by: David Bayliss; Photographer: Supplied

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In this first of a two-part series, David explores the basic power systems you’ll need for getting off-grid.

Whether you’re setting off on the Big Lap with the kids for a term, moving into retirement and looking for something a bit more interesting than staying at caravan parks, or maybe getting away with mates fishing in remote Queensland … embarking on an off-grid RV adventure is an exhilarating experience. 

However, to fully enjoy the off-grid lifestyle, you’ll need a reliable power system that can meet your energy demands while keeping you self-sufficient. At BMPRO HQ we receive heaps of email requests from RVers wanting to set off and explore, asking questions about upgrading their current systems to be able to tackle the bigger trips. When taking ownership of your new campers or caravans, keep in mind they are normally only set up with basic power management systems and limited batteries. 

While many of these systems can be upgraded, it is worth exploring whether they could have solar or DC power as a direct input. Can the battery charging part of the system adequately charge a larger battery setup or what sort of battery chemistries can be charged — can it handle lithium batteries? So that you don’t have to start again it is worthwhile checking out these questions as they could save you around $2000 in additional costs. 

Off-grid RVing demands a well-designed power system to ensure you have electricity for all your needs. 

There are several main considerations for power requirements in an off-grid RV.

First, is lighting. Obviously, LED is the most energy-efficient and provides ample illumination while minimising power consumption. If you are heading off-grid you will most likely want to be able to enjoy more of the outdoors, so consider different coloured lighting that doesn’t attract every mosquito within a kilometre.  

The second item to consider is water. You will need to power the water pump, which will be 12V, and the electronics on the water heater. While the water heater element will be powered by gas, the switching on/off and controls will need 12V. 

And thirdly, from a practical perspective, is the fridge. Again, most setups will require 12V for the controls, however, the refrigeration section will be gas-powered.

The next consideration is how you will power all your handheld devices. Phones, laptops, iPads, cameras and so on. While they might not seem too relevant initially, consider your potential reaction to overtired kids not being able to drift off to sleep watching their favourite episode of Bluey. It is worthwhile considering having a couple of easily accessible USB charging ports that can fast charge. Also, investigate installing USB C port(s) which will enable a faster charge and have more versatility for peripherals such as laptop computers. Installation should include some ports near beds and in the main living area, however, ensure that their position will enable no cable interference, such as near a stove or easy to get tangled in living areas.

Lastly, we need to consider heating and cooling. Off-grid can often mean areas that are hot by day and super cold once the sun disappears. Without having to invest in massive battery banks and inverters to power air conditioner systems that provide heating and cooling, it is worthwhile to ensure that you have simple 12V fans that can circulate the airflow to make it more bearable and 12V available to power the controls of a diesel heater which can counteract those sub-zero temperatures of the desert.

In summary, without going overboard, a simple setup using 200 amp hours of lead acid batteries and a DC-DC charger that can also handle solar panels will get you the basics of getting off-grid. Experiment a smaller road trip or two and build up as you go. In the next part we will explore how to set up your system with larger battery systems for all the essentials you ‘need’ to have such as coffee machines and microwaves.

Safe travels,

12V Guru 

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