Can I use a portable power station for van life?

Building a complete electrical system from individual components can be daunting.

It takes time and expertise to choose and properly assemble a complex system including batteries, solar charge controller, DC-DC charger, inverter, AC distribution system, etc.

A battery generator contains most of the system components that you need all conveniently built into one product.

Options are available from a few hundred dollars to many thousands.

There are limitations, especially with higher power requirements. However, if your specification requirements allow for it, a portable battery generator can be used to shorten your build time and reduced build cost.

So how do you use it?

You could simply charge the unit at home and use the unit as-is with no other work besides securing the unit (they are heavy and need to be strapped down). This would allow you to keep your cell phone, laptop, camera, and other smaller electrical needs met for short 1-3 day trips. This works very well with smaller units for car camping.

If you are spending the resources to build out a van, a more complete integration with a mid-size option allows for better use.

The first step is to hard-wire a DC Distribution Panel from the Battery Generator. This allows you to permanently connect all your basic DC power needs (LED ceiling lights, diesel heater controller, refrigerator, and ceiling vent fan). It’s a very simple job that doesn’t require much electrical knowledge. You need to understand basic circuits, choose the appropriate gauge wire (typically 14AWG), and connect the components. Expect to spend a few hundred dollars on parts.

If you stop here, you will simply plug in any AC (e.g. coffee maker) and other DC devices (iPhone, Laptop) directly into the battery generator. This will limit the positioning of the unit (you need convenient access to these outlets) but otherwise is a very convenient and resource-efficient (time and money) option.

Charging the unit is accomplished with an extension cord to a wall outlet (you can install a shore power plug very easily to make this more convenient). It’s a great choice for weekend trips but if you need to be out longer or plan on using more power you need charging capabilities.

Alternator or solar charging are your other options and we highly recommend you integrate at least one of them.

Solar charging is plug-and-play. Simply connect the MC4 connectors to your unit.

The most difficult part of this integration is securely mounting the panels to the roof. Be sure to consider minimum and maximum voltage inputs for your battery generator before purchasing the panels.

Alternator charging involves using the power production capabilities of your vehicle to charge your house battery (in this case your battery generator).

This integration is more complex but is well worth the effort (camper vans tend to drive a lot). You will need to wire an inverter to the vehicle battery and plug your battery generator wall outlet power brick into the alternator.