Nice title – but if you’ve seen the pics of my head you will know this is not about me!
I love the idea of going off-grid and using less of the hook-ups. Not because I’m a meany but I’m trying to save the planet in my own little way (see Solar Panel Installation) and use nature’s resources. Now that might sound a little cheesy when I’ve got a 2.8td engine doing 24 miles per gallon but did you know that Batteries are the most recycled product IN THE WORLD at 98%! No – nor did I, so you see we motorhomers are doing our bit for the environment.
The problem with not using hook-ups is my good lady Janette struggles to get the beauty look that is much needed when tramping across the field to the washrooms! I suggested a short back and sides but was met with a cold (and I mean cold) stare – only one thing for it – fit an inverter. Some might argue that the ‘essence’ of camping / motorhoming is to leave our home comforts behind and get back to basics – I do think there is an element in me that supports that – but I’m not 18 any more and neither am I doing a Duke of Edinburgh award!
In my (current) line of work I’m selling small off-grid hybrid DC power systems primarily for small power loads so I do have a little experience in this field. We use and recommend a lot of Victron Energy kit and so it was a no brainer for me to install a product I know will work.
Fitting looks easy (famous last words) – however it was not too troublesome. I had previously downloaded the manual, bought the necessary cable (10mm² it said if the cable run was over 1.5m), fuses and cable protector tubing. I wanted it as close to the batteries as possible but the two 12v 105Ah batteries (connected in parallel to give 210Ah) are under the front passenger seat and driver seat respectively. This meant at least one of the cables would have to be longer than the other (not ideal but we are not using huge loads). Out of the box and it was clear that the inverter could not be fitted flush to the floor – the UK outlet is fitted in such a way that the cable coming from the plug would foul on whatever it was mounted on.
OK – first hurdle to get over – idea – mount it on 2 blocks of wood to give it ground clearance.
Hurdle 2 – where to fit it? I originally though we could hide it in one of the seat storage cupboards and have a socket outlet on the outside. I quickly realised I was going to run out of time if I attempted that and my DIY skills would be severely tested. Decision time – behind the drivers seat.
Cracking on, apart from the slight tight space (‘twas ever thus in a motorhome when DIY’ing) it all went relatively smoothly. The supply was going to come direct from the batteries so I needed an inline fuse on the positive cable (I decided on 60Amp). Cables measured (twice) and cut, terminal connectors crimped on (boy this was going well) cable protector cut, wooden blocks screwed to floor (a bit dodgy but no real weight on them and they won’t be kicked), holes drilled for the inverter mounting and bob’s your uncle before anything disastrous can happen I’m ready to connect up. Janette will be so pleased and oh so proud, dreaming of flowing locks in the wind when she goes to the toilet block, oh how jealous all the other campers will be!
Connection time – all done, fused ready to go. Computer ready to connect the VE Direct cable to find out what the Inverter is doing and make any adjustments (low battery cut off, etc.). Computer say NO! it can’t see my beloved inverter. Not to worry, let’s see if it works – radio connected – yippee, on comes the cricket, let’s try a light – yep, no issues there, what about the laptop – yep again all OK.
The all important hair styler for Janette, a 300W affair – 500VA inverter copes with 400W (at 25°C) and a 900W initial power draw – oooopps – overload. Try again – ooopps – overload. Clearly this was not going to work. I tried to get the computer to see it again but it was having none of it. I referred to the Victron site and found I needed to download some drivers – duly done, it still wouldn’t see the inverter (I refer the reader back to my “fitting looks easy statement”). It was at this point that even the lights on the inverter refused to come on – I tested the input voltage – 13.5V – no problem with the supply the inline fuse had not blown. Time ran out, I had to get Hilma back in to storage and leave this for another day. I disconnected said (no not so beloved) inverter and the next day referred the issues to the supplier. Time to tell Janette.
1 week later and I had a replacement – slightly nervous I fitted the new inverter – tested the computer connection – yippee – I could see what it was doing this time. Connected various low wattage items as before but was not about to connect the dreaded 300W hair styler. Bought a 25W heated brush instead, tried that – oooooopps – overload!! How can that be? I’m starting to get annoyed with ‘hair’ things now – the manufacturers need to start telling the truth – my guess is anything heated with or without a fan motor is just not going to cut it with this inverter size. Bigger is better – hey ho, maybe I’ll sell it on ebay and move up a size?
It is staying on for our forthcoming trip to France as it does a wonderful job of charging phones, laptops, radios, etc. and we can stay off-grid a bit longer, but Janette’s hair will have to wait for the beauty treatment for the time being – hair scrunches it is then! Very 80’s student look.