If you are looking to purchase or build a camper van, electricity is likely a concern for you. Whether it be grid power or off-grid power, you will likely need some way to power your devices and do normal things that you would do while living in a standard home.
Electricity is often one of the major concerns for people looking for an RV. It’s important to know that you will have enough electrical power for all of your needs and these needs are different for everyone.
Some people will require more power as they are used to using more electrical devices than others.
Most camper vans are equipped with some sort of electrical hookups. These hookups are often referred to as shore power. Camper vans often utilize a solar battery bank for main power or as additional power that can supplement the shore power.
Some people prefer a great deal of solar power for their rig while other people prefer to plug-in at places they go.
Generally, people who tend to stay in RV Parks the majority of time will be fine with the standard 30 amp plugs that most camper vans or class B motorhomes are equipped with.
Let’s look at a typical scenario for supplying electrical power to a camper van.
Class B Motorhome Electrical System
The typical electrical system on a class B motorhome consists of a 30 amp plug on the side of the van. When setting up at an RV park, you can connect 30 amp service to this plug and by doing this, all of the outlets and electrical devices within the van become powered by electricity.
This is known as shore power.
When you pull into a campground parking spot, there will likely be hookups for you to use for electricity as well as water and sewage.
For electrical power, you simply plug into that provided outlet using an extension cord and then plug the other end to the outlet on the outside of your van.
Shore power connections come in different sizes but 30 amp remains to be the most popular size. There is also a 15 amp connection available which is what I have in my custom built conversion van.
I chose to install a 15 amp circuit in my van because I only use shore power occasionally. The majority of the power in my van comes from solar energy which I have built into my van.
Custom Built Conversion Van Electrical System
Can a custom-built configuration, it is common for one to install a solar system that powers the entire living space. Solar power has become popular as prices have increased and chargers and batteries had become better and better.
As an example, my van is fully powered by a solar unit from goal zero and solar panels that are mounted on top of my van from Renogy solar.
This amount of solar energy powers everything that I typically use in my van and I only plug into shore power when I need to run an electrical heater or a portable air-conditioning unit.
My van has a 15 amp plug that I can use when I am parked in a campground. 15 amps only allow me to use up to 1800 W of power but that is plenty for me to run the things that I need to run on it. My shore power only supplements my solar power.
Building solar into a van has become a very popular choice as batteries and other systems have improved over the years allowing one to get their complete power requirements from the sun.
I generally use solar for everything that I do in my camper van except for a few things.
Many manufactured camper vans offer solar as an option. Some offer large amounts of solar power but it does get quite expensive the more solar capacity you have.
If your power needs are pretty low, you may be able to get by with only portable power. Whether it’s solar or another type, portable power may be able to power all of your devices and serve all of your needs.
As I mentioned above, I use the Goal Zero system and there are also other portable systems like this that you can use.
Goal Zero offers multiple portable options at different prices depending on your electrical needs.
Some of the other brands that you may consider for portable power include Inergy and Jackery.
These units can be charged using the power of the sun or they can be charged by plugging into a standard AC outlet. This would work out great for someone who has minimal power requirements and can charge this portable unit regularly.
Examples of Electrical Usage in a Camper Van
What does a typical scenario look like for someone who uses electrical power while in a camper van?
Below, I have put together some examples of basic items that someone may use as well as the energy requirements needed to safely power these items.
Whether you live in your van or travel in it from time to time there are probably items that you use regularly that you do not want to be without.
Having electrical power in your van assures that you will be able to use all of the things that you are used to when living in a house.
The examples below will help you to understand basic power consumption and help to identify how much you may need in a camper van.
- Note: the information on the items below are what you can typically expect and were taken from readings using my solar charge controller. It may vary depending on the exact product you are using. All of the items listed below are what they would draw on their highest setting.
|Coffee maker (120 volt AC)||5 – 8 amps||600 – 1000 watts|
|Electric water kettle (120 volt AC)||12.5 amps||1500 watts|
|Water pump (12 volt DC)||7.5 amps||90 watts|
|Lights – 6 LED (12 volt DC)||1.5 amps||18 watts|
|Roof fan (12 volt DC)||3 amps (highest speed)||36 watts|
|Portable USB fan||0.2 amps||2 watts|
|MacBook charging||4.2 amps||50 watts|
|iPhone 11 charging||0.4 amps||5 watts|
|iPad Pro charging||1.5 amps||18 watts|
|Dometic CFX 75DZW||4 amps||48 watts|
If you were to have all of the items listed above going at the same time your amp draw would be around 40 amps.
Of course, you would never have all of these items running at the same time. Likely, you would only use your coffee maker or electric water kettle for very short periods and probably only once or twice per day.
These are the largest energy draws on the list so when you take these two items off, you are looking at more of a realistic amount at around 22 amps.
Even still, I never use all of these items at one time. The water pump only comes on when I run water and the fridge only runs for a few minutes each hour.
If you are using a solar charge controller, it’s important to note that AC powered devices must use an inverter to convert DC to AC and the inverter itself also consumes a small amount of power.
These are all of the items that I currently have drawing energy from our solar system and I never have any issues with not having enough energy.
You can read more about my goal zero solar set up here.
Deciding on an Electrical Solution For Your Van
If you are unclear on just what type of electrical solution you need for your van, you will need to understand exactly how much energy you want to use.
Are you someone who uses a lot of energy currently and needs this type of energy in your van?
Are you a minimalist and can get by with a limited amount of gadgets and other energy-consuming items?
If you want a real experience of living out of your home and having all of the energy you need to power as many devices as you want, you will want to make sure your van is equipped with a 30 amp or more plug socket.
You will likely plan to stay in campgrounds and other locations that offer electrical service.
However, if you are like me and do not use a lot of electrical equipment when you are out on the road, you can get by with a minimal amount of energy and will probably be happy with a solar solution or even a portable power solution.
Everyone has different needs and you must know exactly what you want and then seek to build a system around that need.
Camper vans certainly have electricity and depending on your needs, can have just enough to get by or they can have all that you could ever need.
Whether you are staying in campgrounds or living off the grid, there are many options available that can make a van powered just as you have come to expect from your home.
The options are endless and if you are interested in purchasing a manufactured class B motorhome, the technology that goes into these vans is amazing.
Even vans that use solar energy can sometimes offer enough energy to power air conditioners and heaters for useable amounts of time.
However, those who tend to live out of camper vans, are often in the minimalist camp and generally get by with the minimal amount of energy consumption which can easily be achieved by using solar or portable power solutions.