Do I Need 230V Power In My Campervan?
Campervan electrical systems are typically built as 12V systems, but we can use 230V in cases where 12V isn’t enough. But what does this mean, and what difference does it make to you? First, we’ll give you the low down on powering your van-based adventures.
Don’t need the science lesson? Then, skip straight ahead to using 230V in your campervan.
How do you want to use your van?
What you’ll see is that it really depends on how you’re going to use your van, and only you can decide that. Suppose you’re willing to rough it and live off 12V power for your essential appliances. In that case, you’ll be rewarded with a much simpler, cheaper electrical system.
On the other hand, if you want all bells and whistles in your van, you will have to get on board with installing 230V electrical components, which comes with its own cost, complications and risks.
We’ll briefly introduce 12V and 230V electrics in case you’re unsure where to start. Then we’ll get into the various options for installing 230V in your campervan.
What is 230V?
In your typical, fixed house (ie. not on wheels) all your plug sockets will be powered by 230V alternating current (AC) power. This is standard across the UK and EU and so all our appliances are made to work with this voltage.
230V is used to deliver high power but at relatively low currents. Meaning your wiring can be done mainly with small cables, which are cheaper and easier to work with. Cable sizes are based on the current flow through each cable, meaning larger current flows need larger cables.
Larger cables are more expensive to buy and are harder to work with as they bend less and take up more space. Keeping current flows to a minimum is therefore a priority in many electrical systems.
Power, Voltage and Current
If the voltage decreased from 230V, the current would have to increase to deliver the same power. This is a fundamental relationship, as shown below:
Power (W) = Current(I) x Voltage (V)
Sometimes expressed as,
I = P/V
For a 100W power draw, a 230V system would experience a current flow of 0.43A. A 12V electrical system, like what we might find in a campervan, would draw 8.3A to deliver the same power. This significant increase in current is why we might only be able to power some of our appliances using 12V.
Difference Between 12V and 230V
Imagine a larger appliance that draws 2000W – a hairdryer, kettle or single induction hob, for example. These appliances will draw 8.7A from a 230V system, which is perfectly reasonable for household use. They can be fused with a standard 13A plug socket. Under a 12V system, these appliances will draw a whopping 167A.
The table below shows that cable sizes for a 12V system become ridiculous reasonably quickly.
Why Do We Use 12V Power in a Campervan?
The short answer is that our campervans are intended to travel off-grid, where 230V power is not available. Instead, we have to use batteries which are usually, surprise surprise, 12V. Lights, fans, fridges, USB chargers and various types of heaters are available with a 12V system. 230V, therefore, should only be used to power something which is not feasible using 12V.
Which Appliances Can Use 12V?
Appliances won’t operate on 12V if they’re designed to be run on a much higher voltage, such as 230V. Only the most commonly-used appliances have a 12V counterpart available for use in vans, so you’ll have to use 230V if you want to stray outside this list of appliances. Typical 12V appliances shown below.
You can build a system based on whatever voltage, be it 12, 24, 48, 110 or 230V. However, 12V is the standard for small, off-grid applications such as campervans or boats, meaning a wide range of appliances is already available to suit a 12V system.
How to Use 230V In My Campervan
So, there are a few scenarios for utilising 230V power in your campervan. We’ll run through each scenario below:
- Battery charger (230V hook up)
- Inverter (230V off-grid)
- Inverter and battery charger (Multiplus)
- No 230V system
Using 230V power to charge your batteries is extremely useful in a campervan. This allows you to charge your leisure batteries at home or at a campsite, extending the time you can stay away.
The same components will also allow you to use your 230V appliances while at a campsite but not while off-grid. For many van owners, this is enough, and they are willing to use a campsite to run their hairdryers and TVs.
Parts Needed to Install a Campervan Battery Charger?
To charge batteries from a campsite or at home, you’ll need a shore power hook-up, a battery charger, a mains power consumer unit as protection and a hook-up cable and adapter. You can pick up all of this in one easy, simple-to-install Battery Charger package.
To use 230V appliances in your van while on-grid, you’ll also need some plug sockets, which can be picked up from any hardware shop to suit your van’s aesthetic
Using 230V appliances while off-grid is separate from 230V charging or using your appliances at a campsite. It requires different components to deliver this power while off-grid.
Namely, an inverter. Inverters can convert 12V power from your batteries into 230V power to feed plug sockets in your van.
What Size Inverter Do I Need?
Inverter sizes vary from small enough to power a single laptop to large enough to power an induction hob. They’re also available as a pure sine wave or modified sine wave inverters.
This is a complicated topic, so that we won’t delve into more detail here. In short, we only sell pure sine wave inverters as they are better for your appliances.
Of course, the size inverter you need will depend on precisely what appliances you want, so why not check out our inverter sizing calculator.
What Parts Do I Need To Install An Inverter?
ou can pick up an inverter with all you need to install it correctly in one of our handy packages, such as this 500VA Victron Inverter Package, perfect for remote working from your van. We stock the following inverter sizes, all from Victron Energy:
How Do I Install An Inverter?
Once you’ve figured out what you want, we even have a handy guide for installing Inverters.
Multiplus - (An Inverter and Battery Charger)
If you want all the capabilities mentioned in both scenarios above, the best approach is to use a Victron Multiplus. This clever piece of kit acts as both a 230V battery charger and an inverter, with various sizes available depending on how much power you want to use while off-grid.
What Is A Multplus?
Suppose you’re hooked up at a campsite. In that case, the Multiplus cleverly uses the mains power to feed your plug sockets instead of draining your batteries. Alongside this, when plugged into mains, it will also charge your leisure battery.
When you drive off-grid, the Multiplus will automatically switch, acting as an inverter, draining your batteries to feed you 230V power.
What Parts Do I Need To Install A Multiplus?
As with all our other systems, our Multiplus systems come with everything you need to install it in your campervan, including cables, heat shrink, lugs, you name it. A Multiplus is designated by two numbers, its inverter capacity in Volt-Amps (VA) and its charging current in Amps (A). The following options are available:
- 500VA / 20A
- 800VA / 35A
- 1200VA / 50A
- 1600VA / 70A
- 2000VA / 90A
- 3000VA / 120A
No 230V System (12V System Only)
It may seem strange to mention this option in a blog about 230V systems, but eliminating all 230V power from your van build has several benefits it’s worth mentioning. First, you could trim a considerable amount of fat from your electrical system by removing the hook-up, consumer unit, battery charger, inverter (or Multiplus), and plug sockets. You’ll also avoid cutting a hole in your van to install the 230V hook-up, which we guarantee is never a fun pastime.
Would Using 12V Only In My Campervan Save Me Money?
Yes. The reduced size of your electrical system will make it significantly easier to arrange and connect without worrying about creating spaghetti junctions in your boot space.
You’ll also be able to cut out a high cost from your van build. Unfortunately, a Multiplus doesn’t come cheap, and the system could add a staggering £1k to your van build.
Would Using 12V Only In My Campervan Save Me Power?
By not powering 230V appliances, you’ll also drastically reduce the amount of solar and DC-DC charging you need to charge your batteries. Moreover, 230V appliances tend to be very power-hungry compared to our 12V counterparts, so this is something to bear in mind.
To power a large 230V appliance, you’ll need a large inverter or multiplus, increased battery capacity, increased charging capacity (solar, DC-DC and 230V hook-up) and a general increase in electrical system size to accommodate larger power and current draws.
Do I Need a 230V System In My Campervan?
Without an inverter, you may be unable to make authentic espresso while off-grid. Still, the question is, do you really need it? Only you can answer this question, so consider the costs, the effort required and what you really want from your van conversion.
230V can be helpful in a campervan, whether for charging your batteries or powering your luxuries off-grid. It can also add significant complexity and cost to your build, so it should be undertaken with seriousness.
If you’ve decided to opt for 230V charging, off-grid use, both, or neither, we always have experts to help answer any queries. Give us a ring today to discuss your electrical system and get to the bottom of those tricky questions.