We have always tried to keep our systems in our campers as simple as reasonable so it can be easily maintained and repaired as necessary. It is especially important as we have been traveling in our camper van internationally over the last several years. We also need our systems to be as compatible as possible from country to country and from continent to continent.
This is why we have struggled a little bit with shorepower. As many of you know, power outlets around the world are not always compatible. In Europe, the AC outlets use 220-240 volts while in North America we use 110-120 volts. Some electronics can simply adapt the shape of the plug as they are natively compatible with a wide range of AC voltage. Others will need a power transformer in order to not cause any damage to the equipment. We have been using 2 different portable shorepower chargers from NOCO depending on where in the world we happen to be. One for North America and one for Europe.
To make sure we are not always dependent on AC outlets, we outfitted our van with plenty of solar panels. 350-watts of solar was mounted on the roof while another 100-watt panel can be deployed as needed. Each array uses its own solar charge controller and our favorite brand is the Victron SmartSolar with Bluetooth. Since the portable 100-watt panel isn’t always used, it’s 10-Amp MPPT charge controller often just sits idle.
This is when I had the idea of using that secondary solar charge controller as a way to charge our van’s battery with shorepower. As with all MPPT controllers, it is compatible with a wide range of DC voltage inputs. This one specifically can handle up to 75 volts of DC power. In order to charge a 12-volt battery, the minimum input has to be at least 13-14 volts. The source of the DC power really doesn’t matter. Solar panels are basically ‘dumb’ power sources. For the most part, they just convert sunlight into DC power without any circuitry to regulate it. It is up to the charge controller to handle the ‘smart’ part of the equation. This means that we are not limited to supplying the charge controller with only power from solar panels. We can input DC power from any power source as long as it fits within the parameters of the MPPT charge controller. In my case, it has be be under 120-watts at less than 75-volts.
Laptop chargers happen to be the perfect power sources for my use case. Most laptop chargers output in the neighborhood of 19.5 volts. Most of them provide between 45 to 150 watts of DC power. The best part of all is that most of them also have circuitry inside the power supply that allows AC source from 110-volts all the way to 240-volts making them compatible around the world.
The only thing we have to do to make this work as a shorepower plug is connect the right polarity into appropriately-sized cables to wire it up to the input ports on the charge controller. And just like that, I now have a way to plug shorepower to my van and charge its batteries from anywhere in the world.
To make your connectors work, simply cut the wire between the charging brick and the barrel plug. Location and positive and negative wires within the rubber sleeve and add your connector of choice in between.
I like XT60 and XT90 connectors because they are polarity sensitive and can handle a lot of current. Wire up your positive and negative wires going into the solar charge controller with the appropriate end of another pair of XT60 connectors and you are good to go,
My favorite part about this hack is actually being able to monitor my shorepower charging through my VictronConnect smartphone app just as I can while charging via solar. The charging algorithms built-in to both of my Victron charge controllers can be modified to handled a wide range of battery types so when we are ready to upgrade to lithium, it will be as easy as selecting a preset inside the app.
Another really nice feature of the Victron controllers is that they can be networked together via built-in bluetooth. This means multiple controllers and charging methods can now work together to make sure your battery is getting the most optimized performance. They also have built-in low-temperature cut-off features by using their network-enabled Victron Battery Sensor. Their entire product line work really nicely together to enable a simple yet powerful charging system.
There are a lot of ways people build their van’s electrical systems but trying to keep things simple, reliable and versatile has always been my priority. This little hack fits into so many of my philosophies and it is a great way for a DIY van builder to enable a very versatile way to charge via shorepower without adding a lot of complexity and expense.
I have also put together a video on of how our system works right here:
Parts you will need to build this shorepower charging system:
I hope you find this helpful and good luck with your van build!