Ever wondered what the ‘other options’ are for electrics in a van?
If you’ve read my van conversion posts you’ll know I’m no expert when it comes to doing a DIY van conversion. However, I am loving every minute of creating my own little adventure van. If you’ve not met ‘Dennis’ yet, you can read more about him here or watch a mini tour via my YouTube.
Out of all the van build jobs from insulating to woodwork the one thing that massively worried me was van electrics. Initially, a leisure battery seemed straightforward but after researching I felt it looked complicated so I pondered other options.
Spoiler… the ‘other option’ quickly became a Jackery Solar Generator. Here I’ll explain my decision making process and how the Jackery works for me.
Feel free to ask any specific questions about the Jackery kit or power usage in the comments below.
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Find details and links here for the Jackery’s latest sale which runs until the end of July 2022 – “This Summer. Enjoy The Solar Way”.
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Jackery sale dates
Here are the dates to remember:
- From 12 to 13 July, enjoy the biggest discount with UP TO 30% OFF for only two days!
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Electrics and power for my van
Dennis was never going to be a van to live in, my plans were that he would be an ‘adventure or day van’ which makes a difference for my the amount of power I need.
During my initial van research I posted on my Instagram (@beckythetraveller) asking for tips and advice for which leisure battery to get. It’s then when a few people mentioned the ‘Jackery‘. Until then I’d never heard of one, I popped on Google to do some research, immediately it seemed familiar and it was!
Back in December 2021, Jackery reached out asking if I was interested in working with them, at the time, I didn’t have Dennis so I knew I wouldn’t use a Jackery portable to its full potential, therefore, the email sat in my inbox. Roll on a few months, I searched through my emails then reached out to them asking if they still wanted to work together, and they did.
In April 2022, I received a Jackery 500, carry case and solar panels. (Ad – This items were all gifted in exchange for me sharing my thoughts on the Jackery kit, however, all my opinions and comments about the Jackery are my own.)
Here I will share my initial research around the electrics for the van and my personal experience on how well the Jackery 500 has worked for my van set up and power requirements since April. I’ll also include a brief comparison on the kit and costs for a Leisure Battery set up versus a Jackery with solar panels.
What do I need to power in my van?
Firstly when considering my van build and electrics I wrote a list of what I might need electricity for. As I’m not living full time in my van you’ll notice that my list is fairly basic unlike those who might be doing a comprehensive van build with kitchens, bathrooms, roof fans etc.
Here are the main things I need electricity for in the van:
- Lighting (fairy lights + other lights tbc)
- Head torch (re-chargeable)
- Portable fridge
- Fan (I’ve not bought one yet)
- Hiking watch
- Small speaker
If you’re doing a full van conversion, the other items that you may need to factor into your electricity/power needs are a roof fan, water pump, diesel heater, other personal items eg cameras, drones, video equipment.
What power do I need for each item?
When considering my power requirements for all the things I want to power in my van they are split into 3 areas:
- USB charging
- DC 12V
- AC 240 (mains plug items)
For my list of items that require power, the majority of them need a USB port to charge – fairy lights, small portable fan, my phone, head torch and hiking watch. For many of my long-distance hiking trips I use a small portable power bank so I know roughly khow much power it takes to charge them.
The portable fridge is the only item that I’ll need the DC 12V to charge and my laptop is the only item that I will need AC 240 to charge it.
But the big question is how much real power will I need to charge each item and will the Jackery be sufficient for my trips? Next I’ll look at each item, my planned and actual usage on my trips.
Who are Jackery?
Jackery began their life in the USA and have now popped across the pond to bring their awesome products to the UK. It all started with the Solar Explorers in 2015 which range from 240, 500 and 1000 series (I have the 500). In 2018 they created the SolarSagas solar panels, which are two solar panels which fold up and stay in place with a magnetic strip.
Jackery have a 30-day money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied and they also have a 2 year warranty. Read their warranty and return information here.
You can read more about Jackery here.
My Jackery kit
Here is the Jackery Solar Generator 500 I was sent from Jackery UK to test out on my campervan trips in Dennis:. This is what the Jackery set up includes:
Using the Jackery Solar Generator – How good is it?
Please remember this is all based on my personal experience and usage, depending on how often you’re using your van you may have different priorities.
Since I’ve received the Jackery kit, I’ve been away on numerous trips mostly to the Lake District, Peak District and one down south for the Duke of Edinburgh work. The longest I’ve been away so far is 4 days/3 nights.
Once I’ve finished the van conversion I’m planning longer trips so I’ll share more information once I’ve tested over longer periods. Feel free to ask me any specific questions.
Lighting in my van
The answer to this question will vary depending on the time of year you’re using your van. I started using from spring which means the daylight hours are increasing and the need to use lighting greatly reduces. My van is really a place to sleep and not live so I only need lighting for a few hours in the evening before bed and nearing the longest day, I use my fairy lights when I’ve put my curtains up just before bed!
At present I have three means of lighting:
- Fairy lights
- Head torch
- Small battery LED lights
My small LED lights were purchased from Wilkinsons, they are battery operated but I am planning on replacement with USB chargeable ones, I’m still researching options.
Fairy lights – every campervan has to have these don’t they! I absolutely love mine, they have beautiful delicate leaves entwined with the lights over a 4 metre length. Although I could plug directly into the Jackery, I have opted to use an old small power bank, which means I can hang in a pocket and then recharge the battery pack via the Jackery when I need to.
Head torch – this is an item I take on all my day hikes, regardless of the weather or time of year and it’s been great in the van too, it’s chargeable by USB which means I can easily charge it back up via a cable in the Jackery.
Power from Jackery
The fairy lights hardly use any power roughly 1-3 watts when in use and because it’s summer I only have them on for about 30-60 minutes maximum each time.
This is a new item for Dennis (my van), I didn’t need a massive fridge (mine is 20-litres) it is handy for hiking lunches, dinner food and a nice cold drink on my trips.
Although portable, I don’t take the fridge in and out of the van each time, there’s a main plug but the way I have been powering the fridge is via the DC 12V cable (into the Jackery).
Within my van I have three 12V sockets, I found the third one only recently. There’s one in the back, near the back doors and two more in the front cab.
I could plug the fridge straight into the van 12V while travelling, then switch the plug into the Jackery when I stop to keep the power. However, it makes more sense to plug the fridge into 12V in the Jackery then the Jackery goes into the 12V in the van.
Power from the Jackery
If the fridge is not at temperature I have noticed it pulls more power from the Jackery to cool it, roughly 25 watts, but as soon as it reaches temperature it stays at around 2 watts.
I generally keep the fridge plugged in during the day but opt to take it out at night, it does make a low hum noise, but also if you don’t open the fridge it retains it’s temperature pretty well. I found this out after a 3-day hiking trip and when I returned my drinks were still cold :).
I have a relatively new phone, so the battery still lasts a decent amount of time but I’d say this is the main thing I have used the Jackery for whilst I’ve been away on trips
Power from the Jackery
I charge my phone via the USB, which does a fast charge for my phone. Depending on how much battery if left it takes up to an hour to fully charge.
Phone = 7-10 watts
This also uses a USB cable and doesn’t take much power or time to fully charge which is great when I’m away on a hiking trip. I can literally top it up each day so I have full charge on the watch. It literally takes 30-60 minutes and it’s fully charged
Watch = 2 watts
To date I’ve not taken my laptop on any trips, mostly because the ones I’ve done so far have been relatively short, or I’ve been hiking so I don’t need my laptop; however that doesn’t mean to say I’ve not tested my laptop as I have been using the Jackery every day whilst worked from home.
When I first received the Jackery I wanted to test it out so started using at home before I took Dennis on any trips. We all know that fuel bills have increased so it seemed a no brainer to use the sun (ie solar panels) to charge items from my house instead of the mains power. And now I use it every day whilst working from home.
Power from the Jackery
My laptop uses a massive amount of power from the Jackery and if I was working full time in the van I might struggle to keep everything else running for multiple days but for a quick top up it would be ok for a van trip.
Laptop = 40-60 watts (full charge from 0% to 100% is roughy 2.5-3 hours)
How does the Jackery perform?
Charging the Jackery
As well as using the Jackery on trips I’ve also been using every day at home for charging my laptop and phone. I set up the solar panels in my garden running the cable through my window to my desk.
This has been a great way to test the solar panels and see how the input power fluctuates depending on the UK weather. I’ve noticed they can produce anything from 5 watts (when there’s zero sun and it’s close to sunset), 20-30 watts on grey/cloudy days right up to 60-65 watts on lovely sunny days.
The input power when using the mains plug and car 12V is around 85 watts so the solar panels aren’t too far off creating the same energy.
Prior to going on a planned trip I’ll aim to get the Jackery as close to 100% as I can; however, if I’m driving to the Lake District (3+ hours drive), I know that I can get from 60 to 100% on the journey via the 12V.
Using the Jackery on trips
I’m still building my van so my current trips are relatively short but here are the longer trips I’ve done, what I used the Jackery for and more importantly how it performed.
Peak District walk then Outdoors Magic weekend in the Lake District
Total time away – 4 days/3 nights
On this trip, I left with a full Jackery, I stayed in the van overnight in the Peak District, only really using the Jackery for my fridge (not at night) and phone, the power went down to about 83% then I drove from the Peak District with the Jackery plugged into the 12V in the van. It was a 3 hour journey and by the time I arrived it was back at 100%
Then I spent 2 days in the Lake District, the fridge was plugged in throughout the day and I only unplugged before bed. I also charged my phone 2 or 3 times, as well as my watch. This dropped the battery to 61%. On my drive home, 3+ hours the Jackery fully charged back to 100% via the 12V on the van.
Peak District work trip
Total time away – 4 days/3 nights
Again, I left with the Jackery on full, having charged it via my solar panels from home. The Peak District is approximately an hour away so I plugged my fridge into the Jackery, then the Jackery into my van. I leave this cable plugged in permanently so it’s ready to plug in and it doesn’t drain the van battery, even when the engine is turned off, I can see this by 0% input.
The weather had increased, so I left the fridge plugged in all day and only turned it off each night just before bed. I then used my Jackery to re-charge my phone and watch every day.
By the end of the fourth day by Jackery portable was at 33%, I did drive a couple of times but they were very short journeys so not enough to re-charge back to 100% and I spent the majority of the day hiking so I was unable to use my solar panels to boost. However, I still have enough power, I’d say I could have lasted another 1.5-2 days before it dropped to 0%
On my drive home, 1.5 hours the Jackery charged up to 45% via the 12V on the van.
Jackery kit versus Leisure battery set up
Here I will include a cost comparison between the Jackery with solar panels and a leisure battery with solar panels. Please remember that because I don’t have a leisure battery I may have missed some items out but I’ve done my best based on my research into this area.
I’m finding a like for like comparison on costs a challenge, mainly because I’m not done enough research into the leisure battery set up but these are the initial costs that I understand you require for setting up a leisure battery with solar panels.
During my time I spent researching Leisure batteries and electrical set up I came across the company called Wired Campers, I’ve not personally used but I found they had several set up options for electrics so these are the comparison prices I’ve used.
I’ll start with the Jackery costs because they are easy to work out!
Jackery Solar Generator 500 costs
This is what the Jackery Solar Generator set up includes:
Jackery Explorer 500 = £556.99*
Jackery 500 carry case = £43.99*
Jackery Explorer 500 + solar panels = £787.99*
Total costs for Jackery Explorer 500, carry case + solar panels = £831.98
Time: 0 hours – pick up and put in van
*All prices are correct at time of writing
Leisure battery costs
Platinum AGM Leisure battery 110Ah = £169.99
Solar panel 160W camper van kit = £425*
Complete camper van electrical system (12V split charge and 240V mains) = £399.99*
Total set up cost for leisure battery, solar panels and electrical system set up = £994.98
Time: 2-4 days – (research + fitting – I’m not sure but based on my other van jobs this can’t be far off)
*All prices are correct at time of writing
Are you planning on converting a campervan or maybe you already have one. Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments or pop me a message via my Instagram @beckythetraveller.
My Jackery 500, carry case and solar panels were gifted from Jackery; however all thoughts and opinions are my own. I have not been paid to write this review.