Over the past 15 years I have been a big believer in the theory that more solar panels and bigger bateries were the answer to being self sufficient. And that has worked for me. I did envy the newer generation of campervans that started fitting Efoy systems instead of solar panels and more batteries. The theory on Efoy was good but the price was hellishly expensive for most of us. When we returned to campervan ownership earlier this year the subject reared its head again. Our Exsis has two 95AH batteries and 120W solar panel and my first thought was to increase both and fit a pure sine wave inverter.Then I thought maybe after all this time Efoy systems have dropped in price only to discover that they are no longer flavour of the month and neither had the price dropped.
After trying to work out the practicalities of fitting inverters, more batteries and more solar power I realized I simply didn’t have the space to fit any of them so back to the drawing board. Enter Battery Banks. I discovered that our friends across the pond had turned to Battery Banks and to be fair they are much more plentyfull in the USA. However there are one or two filtering through to Europe and the UK so here goes.
The concept is that they use Lithium batteries coupled to a pure sine inverter and provide a large selection of output options with generally 3 input methods. Obviously there are a numerous variety of sizes and prices so the first step is to decide what 240 volt power you need. Add to that the DC power required for charging phones, laptops and tablets etc. and the time you will be off grid to arrive at the size for you.
The concept and benefits are that there is no fitting. It is totally mobile so can be used for emergency in case of power cuts at home or using electric strimmers etc, out in the garden. They take up little space and can be charged either by a 12 volt cigarette lighter socket while traveling around. You can even divert your solar panels to recharge the unit and if all else fails you can use a standard 240 volt wall socket.
Its early days yet but so far I have been impressed with our unit. We love percolated coffee and our 800W coffee machine runs fine and we can get at least 15 brews between charges. It charges up the battery on our electric bike, works the hair dryer for my wife as well as keeping the phones, kindles and tablets topped up. I haven’t altered the solar panel, nor tapped into the engine charging system but symply use the cigarette lighter to top up the battery bank while on the move and this works fine.
Prices range from £ 250 to almost £ 2000 depending on the size you need – and the prices are dropping. During the time I spent researching these machines the prices dropped by around 15 to 20%. We bought ours from Amazon but there are several suppliers around. We plan on going back to our 6 week trips when Covid restrictions allow so more to follow.
We have recently returned from a 6 week trip to France, using a mixture of Aires and campsites for a number of resaons. AIres have changed a lot since our last trip abroad in a campervan. There are now more “commercially operated” Aires which translates to price increases and to be fair upgrades to services offered. The main upgrades were the inclusion of EHU. Why do I mention this here? Well in reality it helped me overcome a basic cockup on my part. I forgot to take the 12 volt adaptor for charging the Battery Bank from the cigarette lighter. That aside the Battery Bank worked a treat and we discovered that when on Aires we could go around 5 to 6 days without running out of power and the leisure batteries remained fully charged via the solar panels. Moving on to our next stop we discovered there were many more Aires with EHU so we were able to recharge once we arrived. It didn’t cost any more as the prices of Aires included EHU. We were very pleasantly surprised that when charging phones (every day) and tablets every other day the Battery Bank indicator barely moved so had we not wanted our morning coffee we could have gone the whole 6 weeks on a single charge – however we do love our coffee.