Review: Highline Caravans 48V Power Systems

Review: Highline Caravans 48V Power Systems - Caravan World Australia

Advances in lithium batteries, solar panels and supporting technology are aiding the trend of extremely sophisticated electrical power systems now being offered in high-end vans. At the very top of these high-end offerings are 48V systems. 

These fancy 48V systems have far greater capacity to capture, store and deliver energy than the 12V systems traditionally found in caravans. This gives the caravan owner the ability to enhance their off grid living experience by being able to do two things. Firstly, run conventional 12V devices such as compressor fridges and lights for much longer periods. And secondly, have sufficient power to run 240V appliances such as induction cooktops, microwaves and even air conditioners. 

So, we are talking about running 12V and 240V appliances off a 48V system. It’s fair to ask what’s the story with all these different voltages? The power system is referred to as 48V because that’s the voltage of the battery bank. The system requires extra hardware to convert the voltage for the respective 12V and 240V devices. A device known as an inverter converts the 48V DC power from the battery to 240V AC and feeds the circuits going to 240V appliances. Similarly, there is a device known as a transformer that converts 48V DC to 12V DC, which is then distributed to the 12V circuits.

Having all this electrical power at your disposal means that some manufacturers are now switching to electrical appliances that were historically fully or partially gas-powered. The main examples are hot water services, cooktops and fridges. Eliminating gas appliances means there are no gas bottles and vans supplied this way are being referred to as ‘gasless’.

Industry insights

We thought it would be interesting to have a chat with a caravan manufacturer to get their perspective, and Highline Caravans were happy to help. I spent some time at the factory and ran through some questions with head designer Jay George, and this is what we learnt. 

JH: How long have you been using gasless?

JG: We have been researching for quite some time and first started about 12 months ago.

JH: What percentage of sales are currently gasless?

JG: It’s early days, but it's sitting around five per cent to 10 per cent. 

JH: What do you think the percentage will be over time?

JG: I think [gasless] will continue to be niche for the immediate future because 48V systems do represent a significant investment. I guess it will grow a little as consumers understand the broader benefits, but supplier costs are going to have to come down before this technology becomes more mainstream. I imagine it will happen eventually as technology evolves. If we look at regular 12V systems, lithium batteries were quite rare just a few years ago but they have now become pretty much the standard that consumers expect.

Highline 48V system runs electric BBQ

48V system runs electric BBQ

JH: Let’s talk about price in a minute but first, what 48V system are you using?

JG: We are running with the OzX Corp DCX power platform. We really like this system for a few reasons. The battery unit is chassis mounted which frees up a lot of storage space that would otherwise be used inside the van with alternate systems. The chassis mount also makes it very easy to comply with the latest regulations that require the battery to be vented to the outside. The battery is rated to be submerged in water to a depth of 1m for 1 hour so there are no worries with it being subfloor in water crossings and so on. The inverter/charger is integrated into a plug-and-play module that can be installed just about anywhere inside the caravan. The plug-and-play aspect makes it very simple for a manufacturer to install the system. The inverter is rated to 5kW, meaning our customers can run a lot of 240V appliances such as the air conditioner, air fryers, toasters, blow dryers and more. The module also steps down the voltage to 12V so that regular caravan appliances like lights and fans can run off it.

Highline 48V system battery pack is chassis mounted and water immersion rated

48V system battery pack is chassis mounted and water immersion rated

JH: Are there different versions of the system?

JG: There are two versions based on either the 14.3kWh or 7.1kWh battery units. We utilise between four to six 410W solar panels on the 14.3kWh version depending on how much roof space is available. This means you can have as much as 2460W of solar. The 7.1kWh version is typically mated to three 410W solar panels totalling 1230W of solar. Both systems use the same 5kW inverter/charger. The space available on the caravan roof determines how many solar panels can be fitted, so generally the 7.1kWh configuration goes on single-axle caravans and the 14.3kWh configuration goes on twin axle caravans.

Highline 48V system solar panels

JH: You’ve got some pretty impressive solar charging numbers there. How else can you charge the system?

JG: The system can be charged by plugging into mains 240V power. On the flip side, you can use the DCX power platform to charge someone else’s caravan or even run power to your shed or house with the right wiring. However, the system can't be charged from your car at present.

JH: Onto what everyone wants to know, how much more do you pay for a van with these systems fitted?

JG: We offer both the DCX 14.3kWh and 7.1kWh power platforms with a bundle of appliance systems suited to a gasless van. They include a 12V 274L compressor fridge, a twin plate induction cooktop, a combination microwave/heater element oven, an electric barbecue, and a 240V-only hot water service. It’s not specific to a gasless requirement but the package also comes with an electric awning and steps. Once you factor all this in, the 7.1kWh package adds $30k to the price and the 14.3kWh package is a $50k premium.

JH: You mentioned earlier the broader benefits of gasless systems. What are they?

JG: There are quite a few advantages. Eliminating gas bottles reduces the risk of fire or explosion caused by leaks. Faulty gas appliances have been known to give off carbon monoxide which can be lethal. Vans with gas appliances need a number of vents [incorporated into the design] to protect against these potential threats. The downside to the vents is they can allow a lot of dust to enter the van. On a more mundane level, gas bottles are just heavy and a nuisance job to refill.

JH: Could you run out of power?

JG: Obviously the smaller unit captures and stores less power. We recommend using a diesel heater with the 7.1kWh package as heating is one of the most power-hungry applications in a van.

Highline 48V system control panel

48V system control panel

The wrap

It was very interesting to sit down with Jay and learn about Highline’s experience with 48V systems and the OzX Corp DCX power platform in particular. There are a number of important takeaways.

These systems in general enable you to capture impressive amounts of electrical power from the sun, store it in abundance and deliver it to run potentially infinite 240V off-grid living. 

There is a lot to like about the DCX with a subfloor-mounted battery system and plug-and-play inverter/charger. The smaller unit in particular would be helped along with a diesel heater to reduce the demand on the electrical system. The ability to charge the system from your car while driving would improve the flexibility of the power plant.

Current pricing will see these systems out of reach for the average buyer right now, but the inevitable technology trickle-down effect will see this change over time. 

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