Having an efficient electrical power system aboard your campervan is an essential part of what that turns a van into a campervan.
For example, whether you require power for gadgets, lighting, a T.V, or to power the internal fan on a diesel night heater, having an efficient electrical system aboard your campervan is a necessity.
In this article, you will learn all the essential parts of a campervan electrical system, otherwise known as an auxiliary power system. Furthermore, this article will guide you in choosing the correct electrical equipment, as well as the best methods on how to maintain your system.
Campervan Electrical System
In its most basic form, the auxiliary power system found aboard a campervan can be split into three stages.
The first stage of an auxiliary power system aboard a campervan is creating the initial power.
Generally, this can be achieved using one of three methods. It’s also worth mentioning that all three methods can be used individually or simultaneously.
What is a split charge system?
A split charge power system is an electrical system consisting of a heavy-duty power cable, terminal connectors, and a split charge device.
When installed correctly, a split charge system will efficiently charge your campervans auxiliary power system from your vehicles primary electrical system.
How does a split charge system work?
A split charge system works by connecting a cable between your vehicle’s primary electrical system to your campervans auxiliary electrical system.
At one end, the cable is connected to the positive terminal of your vehicles starter battery. However, some installers prefer to connect the cable directly to the vehicles alternator.
The opposite end of the cable is then connected to the positive terminal of your auxiliary power system’s power storage system. This is typically a leisure battery.
Installed along the cable is an electrical component that acts as a switch. This is known as a split charge device, and its primary purpose is to allow power to successfully flow when the conditions are right.
Why do I need a split charge system aboard my campervan?
There are two reasons why you would install a split charge system aboard a campervan.
Split charge device types
When opting to install a split charge system aboard your campervan, there are typically three systems available. These systems are based on the split charge device.
- On-Off Switch. A manual switch is a primitive way of creating an electrical connection between your primary and auxiliary electrical system.
- Split Charge Relay. A split charge relay works like a manual switch, except the process is automatic. Once the relay detects power, the internal contacts connect. This then allows electricity to flow from your primary electrical system to your auxiliary electrical system.
- Voltage Sensing Relay (V.S.R). Very similar to a split charge relay, except with the addition of one crucial feature. A voltage sensing relay intelligently monitors the incoming voltage. Once the voltage exceeds a certain level, the internal contacts connect. This then allows electricity to flow from your primary electrical system to your auxiliary electrical system.
Advantages of a split charge system
- 12-Volt Power. As your vehicle already has a primary power system that generates 12-volt power, it then makes sense to connect your auxiliary power system into the primary system.
- Trouble-free operation. Depending on the split charge device you choose, power will only flow under the right conditions. As a result, you’ll never use all the power from your starter battery.
- Easy to install. If you can wire a plug, chances are you can install a split charge system.
- Low cost. A typical campervan split charge kit on Amazon can be purchased for around £70.00 ($85.00 U.S.)
Disadvantages of a split charge system
- Engine Has To Be Running. For your split charge system to successfully charge your auxiliary power system, your engine has to be running. This could become an issue when parked up at a campsite.
Typical Split Charge System Wiring Diagram
Here is a super simple split charge wiring diagram you would typically find aboard a campervan.
- Engine (Alternator)
- Split Charge Relay (in this case, a V.S.R)
- Inline Fuse
- Leisure Battery
What is a solar power system?
A solar power system is an electrical system consisting of one or more solar panels, a cable, and a charge controller.
When installed correctly, a solar power system successfully creates a safe and efficient supply of electricity from the sun.
How does a solar power system work?
A solar power system is generally compromised of four main electrical components. Each component plays an essential role in a solar power system.
Do I need a solar power charge system aboard my campervan?
A solar power system is an excellent addition to your campervan electrical system if you plan on doing a little more off-grid camping. As long as you have the right amount of sunlight, you technically have a way to generate an unlimited supply of usable electricity for your campervan electrical system.
Why should I install a solar power system aboard my campervan?
- Free Unlimited Energy. Solar power is an excellent way of adding power to your campervan electrical system. After all, it’s basically free electricity!
- Environmentally Friendly. You’re not creating harmful emissions that are being released into the air when producing solar electricity.
- Cost-Effective. After your solar panels have been installed, operational costs are low compared to other forms of power generation.
Typical Solar Power System Wiring Diagram
Here is a very basic solar power wiring diagram you would find aboard a campervan.
- Solar Panel
- MC-4 Connectors
- Charge Controller
- Inline Fuse
- Leisure Battery
What is a shore power system?
A shore power charge system is an electrical system consisting of a mains power inlet, consumer unit/breaker panel, 110/230 volt battery charger and connecting wires.
The system allows you to charge your campervans power storage device via a battery charger that is connected to a land-based power source.
What is a land-based power source?
Generally, land-based power is classified as power coming from a countries national electric grid. Depending on the county you are in, this is either 110 or 230 volts.
However, it is also possible to generate land-based power using an external generator. For instance, these generators may be powered by diesel or renewable energy sources such as wind or solar.
How does a shore power charge system work?
The first step is to connect your vehicle via a hook-up cable to a land-based electricity supply.
Once connected, electricity will flow from the campervan power inlet to a connected consumer unit (or known as a breaker panel in the U.S.A./Canada).
A consumer unit is the single most crucial electrical device when connecting to shore power. In fact, not only will it protects your electrical appliances from any potential damage, but more importantly, it will protect you from an electrical shock.
Connected to the consumer unit is a 110/230 volt to 12-volt battery charger. This is then connected to your power storage device.
Once operational, the battery charger will now efficiently recharge your campervan power storage device.
Advantages of a shore power charge system
- Convenience. Having the option to just ‘plug-in’ your campervan to charge your onboard power source is extremely convenient.
- Guaranteed Power. As you’re connected to a countries national grid system, power will be pretty much guaranteed night and day. And unlike solar, you do not have to worry about the weather.
- Mains Power System. Installing the components to create an additional mains-power system aboard your campervan is a simple process. More on that later in this article.
Typical shore power charge system wiring diagram
Here is a very basic shore power wiring diagram you would find aboard a campervan.
- Mains Power Socket Inlet
- Consumer Unit
- Mains Power Socket Outlet (optional)
- Battery Charger
- Leisure Battery
Now you have a way to produce power in your campervan, you’ll inevitably need a method to store all this power. For this, you use a leisure battery.
What is a Leisure Battery?
A leisure battery is an essential part of a campervan electrical system. It is used to store all generated power for 12-volt appliances and equipment in a campervan.
These batteries are specially designed to provide a steady level of power over a prolonged period. They are used by the L.E.D’s, T.V., U.S.B charge sockets as well as similar electrical components.
Now you know how to safely create and store power aboard your campervan, all that’s left is to distribute the power safely to each individual appliance when required. However, here’s where it can get a little confusing as campervan can have two different electrical supply systems that operate at a different voltage.
What is a 12 volt electric supply system aboard a campervan?
A 12-volt electric supply system is a network of low-voltage power components that works independently from your campervans native electrical system.
This power supply system is installed in the majority of campervan conversions.
Why would you use a 12 volt power system in a campervan?
- Availability of 12-volt appliances. The nominal onboard voltage aboard your campervan is 12-volts D.C. Items such as the horn, lights, E.C.U and stereo all run of a 12 volt supply. Furthermore, there are millions of vehicles around the planet, all running on a 12-volt system. Therefore, it makes economic sense for manufactures to develop appliances just for this voltage.
- Your vehicle has a native 12-volt system already in place. As your campervan has a native 12-volt system onboard, creating an additional 12-volt campervan electrical system to power all 12-volt appliances is a relatively simple process.
- 12 volts is safe. Generally, electricity lower than 50 volts is classified as safe for human contact. Conversely, we must stress: Always be cautious when working with any type of live electrical equipment. Always wear appropriate protective equipment.
How do you connect your appliances to a 12v power system?
To connect your appliances to your power system you would install a fuse box. Therefore, a fuse box is a brilliant way of adding multiple 12-volt connection points.
Slide 1: Fuse Box + Integrated Negative Bus Bar
Simply connect a positive and a negative cable from your leisure battery to the corresponding terminals on your fuse box.
Slide 2: Fuse Box + Separate Negative Bus Bar
If your fuse box does not come with an integrated negative connection block, simply install a separate negative bar with multiple terminals. These are known as a bus-bar.
What is a mains power electrical supply system?
A mains power electrical supply system is a network of high-voltage power components that works independently from your campervans native electrical system.
What is a mains power electrical supply system used for?
A mains power electrical supply system is used to power high-voltage appliances. For example, items such as hair irons, hairdryers, microwaves and T.V’s all operate on a high-voltage power system.
Do I need to install a mains power electrical supply system aboard my campervan?
You should only install a mains power electrical supply system aboard your campervan if you intend on operating high-voltage appliances.
Advantages of a mains power electrical supply system aboard my campervan
- Run High-Voltage Appliances.
- Constant High-Voltage Power Supply. Installing shore power aboard your campervan gives you the ability to power your campervan for an indefinite period.
- Charge Leisure Battery. By installing a mains-powered battery charger, you can simultaneously run high voltage power while charging your leisure battery.
How do I generate mains power electricity aboard my campervan?
Creating an efficient mains power electricity aboard your campervan is typically achieved using one of two methods.
Can I install both a hook-up system and a power inverter?
Yes, you can install both a hook-up power system and a power inverter.
To do this, you would have to install a 2-pole switch that allows you to select the appropriate incoming 110/230v power source.
- When connected to shore power: Switch to hook-up power.
- When off-grid: Switch to your onboard power inverter.
Products We Recommend
Complete Campervan Wiring Diagram
Here’s a complete wiring diagram for a campervan. Everything you need for an efficient system. All of the links will take you to the products we recommend.
All information in this article has been independently verified by an electrical engineer. Additionally, we know every campervan conversion is going to be different. Please use this article as a guide only. Always refer to manufactures instructions and carry out appropriate research before starting your own electrical installation.