You know here at Orange Campers we're huge fans of the campervan lifestyle, and we love getting to help others discover the joys of spontaneously being able to go on adventures.
We've been doing the campervan life for over 20 years now, and alongside all the other reasons why we think compact campervans are a good idea, we also love being able to go off-grid on our adventures.
What is off-gridding?
Off-gridding (in case you're new around here), is the ability to be able to park up anywhere, whether in a field in the middle of nowhere, or a city centre, or even on a beach. Basically, anywhere without an electric hook-up point.
Back in the day, going off-grid meant that you had to forgo all your creature comforts, so battery power only and having to take food with you that wouldn't spoil easily. Anyone else getting pot noodle flashbacks from the Duke of Edinburgh scheme?
Things have come on a long way since then though in technology, and we purposely make our vans as functional as possible to stop you being limited to sites with electric hook-ups in your adventures.
Campervan batteries 101
It seems almost inevitable that when you buy a campervan you become a battery expert, but for those of you who are new and doing your research, here's a quick 101 of batteries and what makes a difference to your ability to off-grid.
So, lets start with answering some basic questions:
What is your battery used for in your campervan?
Everything electric! Which is usually your lighting, and anything you have plugged in; like chargers, a TV or even a microwave ( with the aid of an inverter). Most fridges found in campervans are now powered by a 12v compressor.
How does the battery work?
The leisure battery works in a similar manner to a car battery. It is a12V system and it stores its power in cells. Leisure batteries are measured in amp hrs (Ah) and a typical campervan battery is around 100Ah.
A traditional lead-acid battery will never charge back up to 100% again after the first charge, and you can't fully drain it without damaging the battery either. A lithium battery has much better performance, and is able to drain and charge up to almost 100% over and over again without damaging the battery. Another advantage to lithium is they are much lighter and can be installed on their side as they do not have any liquid inside them as opposed to lead acid batteries.
How does the battery charge?
The battery in your campervan will have three options for charging:
From the engine whilst the it is running.
From solar panels
When you are on hook up (plugged into the mains, usually on a campsite).
Solar panels are a great idea, especially if you're planning to use your campervan for off grid use. They produce voltage from sunlight. This is then stored into your leisure battery via a controller, it's a great way of getting free renewable energy, particularly in the summer or in places that get a lot of sunlight. They do still work under cloud cover, but understandably the charge is weaker than in bright sunlight. It's for this reason (along with being based in the north of England - not known for it's sun!) that we recommend the bigger the better approach when planning your solar panels on your 'van.
How long can I off-grid for in my campervan?
Now we know how the batteries work and what they're used for, we can begin to figure out how long you can off-grid for in your campervan. Essential to know if you're planning a trip away as you don't want to run out of power and have to go for a drive to get some more charge, or to find a hook-up mid trip.
Everything electrical in your campervan uses some amount of power. Most appliances will advise you of the wattages on the label and you then have use a formula to work out usage: WATTS/VOLTS=APMS.
Once you know how many Watts you require divide it by the voltage which in this case is 12 volts to get the approx. amp usage/hour. For an average campervan we generally estimate it to be around 6 amps per hour. Then you can divide your fully charged battery capacity(usually 100ah) by that number to find out how many hours you can off-grid for in one go. Sounds easy I hear you say, but its not quite so simple because if you are using a lead acid type battery you will only be able to use around 60% of its Ah, as we said earlier it will never charge back up to 100% again after the first charge, and you can't fully drain it without damaging the battery either.
Thankfully there is a device on the market that works all this out for you and shows you your complete power usage, plus it tells you how much battery life you have left, as well as giving you lots of beautiful graphs and charts if they're your thing. (this is included in our lithium upgrade package for both the Classique and Actif campervans). Check out our extras range here.
We install 2 x 95ah batteries in our Trouvaille Classique and a 100ah lithium battery in the Trouvaille Actif as standard. But if you think you're going to want to off-grid a lot, we would recommend an upgrade to a 280/300ah lithium package.
Also it's worth remembering that your solar panel will bring in some charge, at best around 4-6 amps per hour in strong sunlight which will help to extend your ability to stay off-grid as well.
Just one last thing we haven't covered is an inverter. This is a device which (in the case of a campervan) will convert your 12v power into 240v mains power, typically used in a house (3 pin plug). So if you do want or need to have household mains power it is possible whilst off-gridding, but that's best left for another blog!
If you're excited to go off-gridding in a campervan, check out our vans for sale and get in touch!