You are going to need some way to power all your appliances, recharge your phone, and in general make living comfortable.
Previously I only used my alternator to charge my “house battery”. I connected my alternator to a Battery Isolator. When I drove, my house battery charged. When I didn’t, isolator separated the connection so that my starter battery wouldn’t drain. I quickly found out that while this was excellent for the “bulk” charging phase, my battery would
never top off (only measuring 12.3 Volts), and would run out pretty quick. When I wanted to watch a video on my projector, I’d often have to find a reason to drive 15 minutes for a bit more charge.
Enter Solar power! I added a single 12V 100W Flexible Solar Panel to my roof, connected to a Solar Controller, which connected to my 100 AH AGM battery. That’s it. People make it seem much more complicated than it needs to be. Now my battery gets topped
off (measuring 12.6 Volts)
I still recommend having a combination of alternator charging for bulk, and solar for top off. Solar is pretty slow by itself, unless you put on a bunch of panels (which inreases expense and decreases stealth).
Note with solar panels: Clean it once a month or so! I just used water and paper towel once I noticed my battery didn’t seem to be charging much anymore. Night and day difference with it clean.
There are a lot of different variables to choosing the panel and controller though. Here’s why I went with mine:
1) It’s THIN and it doesn’t stick off my roof very high.
This maintains stealth
2) It’s lightweight. This means I can mount it very simply
without additional hardware, or brackets that make it stand
3) It’s the best technology I could get so I can install 1
small-ish panel, vs multiple panels or a larger one that
stands out more
4) It’s lower cost. It won’t last as long as other types,
but by the time I need to replace it there will be better
technologies available. Mounting and install are so simple
it’s easy to swap out.
Battery Isolator install (to charge your house battery off the alternator):
1) Run a thick power wire from your alternator to your battery. I used crimp connectors, an inline ANL fuse (Don’t forget this!!), and gauge 00 wire. I ran the wire under the van for ease of install, but this has the drawback of possible wire damage.
2) Connect your alternator wire to your battery isolator (this device will only connect the battery when it detects a high enough “running” voltage. You don’t want to drain your starter battery!
3) Connect the isolator to chassis ground, and then to your house battery. Easy!
Solar Panel Install:
I used a strip of 3M Dual-Lock fasteners. Yea, that really holds it down just fine. I also caulked up the front edge just for added protection against the wind lifting it up and tearing it off.
0) (Optional) Put your panel in the sun and measure it’s voltage with a Multimeter. It’s a good idea to verify that you have a working panel before installing it.
1) Clean the roof where you’re going to apply adhesive strips
2) Lay down the solar panel and mark where you’re going to put the strips on both the panel and the roof
3) Apply the strips with pressure to each surface, click the panel into place
4) Apply the sealant to the front edge, building it up in a few layers if necessary
5) Drill a hole somewhere for your power cord. I ended up drilling through the side of my vent fan, rather than putting another hole in the roof. It took some more finagling, but I don’t like putting extra holes in, when I have a large one already
6) Run your solar power cables to the controller
7) Connect the controller to your battery, connect the solar panel cables to the controller.