our bus solar set up
This post is in collaboration with
When we decided on this bus life adventure, we knew from the outset we wanted to have a full off-grid setup. This would give us the flexibility for example to travel to remote places without the need to plug in, while still being able to power the comforts of home.
This was our first time installing solar, so the "where to begin" was a little overwhelming. We began our research and found that there were either companies that installed the whole set-up themselves (and we wanted to DIY to save money) or others who sold the bits you needed, but knowing what to get was left to the buyer. This is when we came across Gridfree. It was the first company we found that sold DIY kits...everything you needed in one package. Not only that, but they also had a super detailed website with information on what you could potentially run on each of the kits, as well as having expert technicians available to call at any time. It was the perfect solution to our needs. So I approached them to see if they wanted to collaborate with us for this part of our bus conversion, and was so happy with the whole experience.
Here are all the detials...
OUR SYSTEM AND WHAT WE'RE RUNNING ON IT
We went with GridFree's Bach Kit (HERE) and upgraded to lithium batteries with a hybrid inverter. It was the maximum amount of panels we could fit on our roof without having to do any major modifications - like welding slide-out panels to fit more solar on. Our four panels have a total of 1560 watts, the two 48-volt lithium batteries have 4.6 kWh usable capacity (5.12 total) and the hybrid inverter has 5000 watts max output. On our solar set-up, we're running our general power needs of a typical house, with a few things to help save energy. Where possible we're using 12 volts as it uses less power and also using gas where possible too. On the 12-volt system, we have our Dometic fridge/freezer, two inbuilt roof fans and our lighting runs on 12v also, and our oven, stovetop and hot water cylinder are run off gas. Our heating unit (which cools, heats and purifies the air) will be run off 240v, but for winter or for days or when batteries are low, we have a diesel heater and a Honda generator to use as a backup. We also have the option where we can plug into the grid if we are ever parked up at a campsite etc. A lot of full-time travellers 'winter over' at campsites, and plug into the grid - so we'll see how we go!
Once our kit was delivered, the installation process was pretty simple. We started by adding rails that bolted through the roof framing of the bus and then added the solar panels which were attached to the provided bracks. Grid Free supplied instructions on how to wire the panels to the inverter and batteries, which were super easy to follow. Next Aaron connect the PV cable to the solar panel plugs, the supplied instructions are very clear and easy to follow. We ran the cables through the conduit to protect them from the elements. These were fed through a roof penetration and into the underfloor bay where the inverter is housed. Next, we installed the inverter and breakers and installed the lithium batteries in their enclosures (see below for more details), and to finish this setup, you will need a certified electrician to connect the 240v AC system to the inverter.
THE INVERTER AND LITHIUM BATTERY ENCLOSURES
In our planning phase, we had to find suitable positions to house the inverter and batteries but were limited on space inside the bus. So for the inverter, we brought a sealed electrical enclosure as this is being housed in the engine compartment - accessed from outside the bus. Being that this was right next to the engine, it needed to be watertight and dustproof, so the enclosure was a great solution. Aaron installed a fan to the enclosure which has filters in it to keep the dust out and to keep the unit cool and a 12v thermostat switch which controls when the fan comes on. One good thing about having the inverter where it is is that it keeps any fan noises outside the bus.
He also created a similar lockable enclosure for the batteries, next to the inverter. This battery enclosure was a tight space, only just big enough to keep these in there. In order to be able to see the battery indicator and the on/off switch, Aaron added mirrors on the back of the access panels to read this information. This enclosure also has a 12v ventilation system to keep the batteries from overheating. The electrical enclosure and ventilation systems mentioned were sourced HERE.
A final thank you to GridFree for helping us get that much closer to unplugging! What we enjoyed most about working with them, is their incredible customer service throughout - from the planning stages to installation. We are also really happy with the price point, given how easy it was to select the DIY kit we needed and the support we had from their technicians as well. It was a great package deal that made the process so easy - I couldn't recommend them enough if you are ever looking to buy solar. Once we are on the road and travelling, I will do an updated video to let you know how the solar is going and what we are using on a weekly basis.
To see a video on the solar being installed, see my Reel on Instagram, HERE.
The solar panels above and close-ups of how these are mounted
Our hybrid inverter compartment is above and lithium batteries with mirrors below