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Discussion Starter #1
I’m thinking about an electrical system that someone with a van could store in their garage most of the time and deploy to their van when it gets used for camping or traveling. I actually would use it in my 2001 Tacoma with a cap or possibly with a wedge camper like this. However I’d guess it would be a good solution for many of you who have the van and just want to put in a blow-up bed, load the Kayaks and backpacks or Mt bikes and head out for weekend trips. I’d have a butane stove and/or portable grill, battery headlamps, connections to the truck’s battery,
My minimum needs would be:
Refrigerator to cool the adult beverages, some food for 4 days to a week max for two. Some LED lights, phone and iPad charging and anything else I forgot.

To meet these needs I’m thinking of the following:
Small chest refrigerator like an Engel Factory Refurbished MT27F 22 quart portable top-opening 12/24V DC - 110V/120V AC fridge-freezer
or China substitute like: https://smile.amazon.com/Alpicool-C20-Portable-Refrigerator-Vehicle/dp/B075R1LH8D/ref=sr_1_8?dchild=1&keywords=12+volt+refrigerator+24+quart&qid=1596468919&sr=8-8
A lithium based, all-in-one electrical system like picked because it is LiFePO not Li Ion: https://smile.amazon.com/Audew-Generator-Lithium-Iron-Phosphate-Emergency/dp/B07PGTVH4B/ref=sr_1_48?dchild=1&keywords=Lithium+solar+generator&qid=1596469109&sr=8-48
One cheap 100-150 Watt flex PV panel: Amazon.com: RAVPower Flexible Solar Panel 120W 18V Solar Panel Module Polycrystalline High Efficiency Bendable Design for Boat, Trailer, Tent Other Off Grid Applications, Black

Questions I have. Is this size refrigerator going to be big enough? Does the solar battery need a solar controller? If so is a PWP controller fine? Is it better to buy an expensive solar panel and try to make it last or go cheap and replace it when it gets scratched up, stolen or quits? Is 120 watts enough if I have the truck battery to plug the battery pac into? etc?
Thanks for your thoughts.
 
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It says it has a built in mppt controller. But it also says it doesn't support pass through charging so you wouldn't be able to use it while charging it. At 40ah it seems like it would work for you for about a day without needing to recharge it. Probably not the best fit, unless you want to get two of them, but then you should just spend a little more for a higher quality device.

Heat disapation is often the Achilles heel of these types of devices, though most do allow pass through charging, usually it results in slower charge rates and not being able to discharge at the maximum specified rates.
 

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If you're looking for a larger size fridge and are considering the Alpicool, Costco carries the Massimo, which is made by Alpicool I think. They have 30, 40 and 50 liter sizes and are currently on sale for $250-$270. They even have wheels to roll out to your Truck. I have the 50 liter model and it is easy to lift when empty. Works fine.

 

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45 Watts (3.75A). I haven't tested the cycle times but it seems like less than 50%
 

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Yes I've seen your numbers. I think you said average .7A/hr. That's pretty low.

I should add that I use mine 100% as a freezer. I don't know how much that affects the cycle times, but I would assume that if used as a fridge the cycle times would be less. Someday I will give it a test.
 

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I also have a Whynter dual zone 62 qt which shows the following specs.

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The DC Power consumption 0 degree freezer vs 39 degree fridge is about 2.5 times as much. If this same ratio applies to 12V fridges in general, then the consumption of the Massimo would probably be pretty close to your Engel. Again would have to do a test to be sure.
 

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I'd agree 22 qt is a little small, but I also made due with a 15QT dometic for a while,so it really depends. I think 30 qt would be fine for a lot of people, while other might like 50+ QT.

On the portable power system, I would probably suggest someone build their own. Get a pelican case with wheels, a battery, inverter (if really needed), and the inlets and outlets. The consumer grade 'solar generators' just don't seem up to the task. Many can't be charged and used. It will probably cost more to build yourself, but will be much more suitable to the task. 500WH is not a lot power either, but you'd be hard pressed to find more lithium battery power for any cheaper (which to me is a caution that the rest of the device is cheaply built).

Depending on the use someone could customize it for their use. I've seen such systems built in pelican cases before.

I think many people can probably skip the inverter. I am finding less and less use for my inverter. I used to run it for my CPAP, but they have a 12V adapter for it. When I replace my TV, I am getting one with an external power supply (most are 19V) and will get a 12V->19V adapter. My laptop and phones all run from 12V.

Eventually I'll probably be using the inverter just for the air conditioner.
 

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This device looks promising, it has 122ah of capacity with an inverter and mppt controller built in. I bought my solar panel and controller from them, they are a small company and have excellent customer service.

Looks robust. I would encourage them to consider alternate 12v output arrangements over a single cigarette lighter outlet. It appears they intend people to use the inverter I suppose.

If I was building my own I would also have some powerpole style outlet, maybe SAE, or something in addition to a cigarette outlet. They just are not a very robust way to plug things in. Maybe some low output coaxial outlets, like 5.5mm or something as well.
 

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Yeah, the DC distribution leaves a little to be desired from campervanner's perspective. But the price is really good for an all-in-one system with that capacity paired with a ~300w solar panel for another $200-$300.
 

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Yeah, the DC distribution leaves a little to be desired from campervanner's perspective. But the price is really good for an all-in-one system with that capacity paired with a ~300w solar panel for another $200-$300.
Be careful, as the input current limit appears to be 10 amps. Make sure the voltage is high enough that you won't send too much current through that 10 amp input. I am going to guess that the input also has a relatively low power limit but I could not find it on their web site
 

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Be careful, as the input current limit appears to be 10 amps. Make sure the voltage is high enough that you won't send too much current through that 10 amp input. I am going to guess that the input also has a relatively low power limit but I could not find it on their web site
It can accept a DC input of 16-60v. So a 300w panel should work just fine, I believe most are nominally 24v.
 

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300W at 24V would be more than 10A. It is labelled as 10A, perhaps the internal charge controller can keep the voltage high enough to stay under 10A, but I don't have the technical specifications and I don't know, I only see the label on the port and limited information on the web site.
 

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If so is a PWP controller fine? Is it better to buy an expensive solar panel and try to make it last or go cheap and replace it when it gets scratched up, stolen or quits? Is 120 watts enough if I have the truck battery to plug the battery pac into? etc?
Thanks for your thoughts.
I am messing with solar in my 300sf cabin; Attached are 3 photos of the Volts, Amps, & AHRs of my 30AMP PWP solar controller (I have purchased a Victron expensive controller, but have not set it up yet

Currently the system is a 130AHR Rolls FLA, LED lights, ARB 50Q Fridge, Diesel Barking Heater ( if running in colder times this seems to be the big user of the stored battery energy ), 2 100W panels connected in parallel.

It is summertime; Whatever battery use I have at night gets replaced by early afternoon (probably less than 50 AHRS). My panels are amongst tall trees and do not get direct sunlight all day, I am above the 49th Parallel

I do not think I would be ok with one panel (mine are 100W), maybe a 120W would be ok for my current use.

So far (a few years) I am pretty impressed with the PWP controller (non-adjustable parameters) for FLA.


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... cut... Does the solar battery need a solar controller? If so is a PWP controller fine? ... cut ...
A pulse width modulation charge controller is fine, but a charge controller is always needed unless you have a very small solar panel providing a trickle charge.

PWM controllers merely make sure the battery does not get overcharged, but they require the solar panel to operate at battery voltage (which may not be quite as efficient). Solar panels can generate more power when allowed to operate at a higher voltage, and MPPT controllers allow this to happen, they actually find the voltage at which the most power is made and allow the panels to be at that voltage while stepping down the voltage to charge the batteries. This is more efficient when the panels are in full sun. But there is a downside, to operate MPPT solar charge controllers require that the voltage generated by the panels exceed the battery voltage by some margin (typically around 3-5 volts). So until this happens, no power is generated at all. There are times when the batteries might be at 12 volts and the panels can only produce 14 volts and you get no charging at all with MPPT, but you might get some (not much, I promise) charging with a PWM controller (or no controller at all, not recommended). So in low light and partial shading conditions, PWM controllers can outperform MPPT controllers. Once the sun really shines though the MPPT will outperform the PWM controller and the low output advantage of the PWM controller vanishes.

Nothing wrong with using a PWM controller when you are on a budget. Solar panels are so cheap (compared to the past) that in many cases the answer is just to buy more panels (I have a 16,000+ watt solar system on my house). However, in a van we are limited in real estate and the extra gains of a MPPT can be of some value. But for a single panel system with a light load there is nothing wrong with a PWM controller.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Wow that resulted in a firehose of information! Thanks all. Let me explain some factors.

1. I need the refrigerator to be small and portable. It needs to sit in the bed of the truck or in the backseat so I am limited. I’ll look at the next larger sizes, 34 quart. The truck bed is 5’ by 5’ and must hold supplies. See below.
2. I’ve camped with 200 watts of solar, 215 Ah of FLA battery. I know I will use less so my upper limit for LiFePO would be < 100 Ah and I feel that might be more than enough if I went with the Engel.
3. True- I only need DC.
4. MPPT is it as the added cost gives so much more functionality. I am intrigued by the idea of a DIY power pack.

This type of camping (in a van) or truck requires most cooking outside sometimes under a tarp with a folding portable table, stove, folding chair, etc. Much more like canoe camping where you have some capacity to carry stuff but you are really outside. One pot meals and cold food for really bad weather. I’d need 5-6 gallons of water, clothes, several different shoes, supplies for washing up/swimming, fishing gear, the refrigerator, dry food storage box.
 

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This sounds a lot like what we did for 10 years before the van. We had 8ft instead of 5, but no fridge. Since it is not van-related, and thus not appropriate here, I will send you privately some of our hacks
 
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