A shore power converter charger in a van or RV is another way to charge the solar system’s battery. You can plug the charger into a standard 120V outlet and it will rapidly recharge your battery.
- Let’s define some terminology real quick. Chargers are also called “converters” because they convert the 120V power to 12V power that the battery can use.
- (An inverter does the opposite. It “inverts” your battery’s 12V power to 120V power for household appliances.
- Shore power is just a funky term for any energy source outside your van. This can be hook-ups at an RV campground or just a standard outlet at a friend’s house. (The term confused us at first, but turns out it originated in the boating industry which is obvious in retrospect).
Not every van lifer needs a shore power charger. But, imagine you’re spending a beautiful but cloudy week at a campground. The clouds prevent your solar panels from producing much power. You’d rather not turn on your camper’s engine just to charge the batteries from the alternator.
After a few days your batteries are probably running low, and you know that drawing them too low can shorten their lifespan.
This situation isn’t too farfetched. You’d be glad to have a shore power charger to plug into an outlet and charge your batteries quickly.
Or as RVers know, you may simply have high electricity usage (air conditioner, electric space heater, etc) that solar alone cannot supply.
We don’t have a charger in our van because most of our time is spent boondocking around sunny rock climbing areas. There isn’t much in the way of external power at these spots.
Next, you need to choose what size (how many amps) charger you are shopping for. We will do some simple math before deciding on the correct charger for each system.
The charger size depends on the capabilities of the battery bank. (If you have more than one battery, use the combined Amp-hours for this comparison). Here’s the rule of thumb:
- AGM: Charger Amp = Battery Ah capacity * 20%
- Lithium: Charger Amp = Battery Ah capacity * 50%
- So, a 200Ah AGM can use a Charger up to 40A
- 200Ah Lithium can use a Charger up to 100A
We recommend checking the specification sheet for your batteries. Here’s a screen shot from RELiON’s 100Ah battery specifications:
This battery is recommended to be used with up to a 50A charger. And if we had two of these batteries in parallel, we could use a charger up to 100A.
Still deciding on a battery? We compared AGM vs. Lithium and chose our favorites.
Now that you calculated the amp rating of charger for you (you did that, right?), here are our favorites:
If you need only a charger converter, our recommended:
Best value charger available in a 15, 35, 45, 55, 60, 75, 85, 100, 120 Amps
2 year warranty, UL certified, and good reviews for 3-stage charging(sizes from 35A to 100A)
The Powermax chargers have everything we want in a charger at the best price. UL certified, smart charging, great reviews, and a 2-year warranty. And it comes in a tidy 8″x10″ size, weighing 7 pounds.
The unit is advertised to perform a 4th stage of charging (equalization); however it’s not automatic. We don’t need this function since charge controllers already do it.
If you’re designing a new system and don’t have a shore power charger OR inverter yet:
Quality pure sine wave inverter
Significantly cheaper than other inverter/chargers
Not a hybrid inverter
Not UL certified. AIMS offers UL certified inverter/chargers at higher price point (but still cheaper than competitors)(also available as 2,000W inverter/70A charger)
This AIMS unit isn’t actually just a charger, it’s a combo inverter AND charger. Combo inverters and chargers have all the functionality of the separate units, but in one package. This significantly simplifies your system, and cuts down on cabling and fuses to buy. It’s also smaller and lighter than installing the devices separately. The AIMS inverter/charger is only about $100 more than equivalent inverter and charger separately.
This unit is a 35 amp charger and 1,250 watt inverter. For most van lifers this will be adequate capacity, but RVers may want the power of their 70A charger/2,000W inverter or 100A charger/3,000W inverter
The charger is “smart” and will adjust charging profiles based on the battery state. The inverter has industry standard features such as low-voltage battery alarm, GFCI outlets, and a 3x surge capability.
The main limitation of this product is does not use hybrid technology through the inverter while also plugged in to shore power. Inverters/chargers with this capability are marketed as “hybrid” and are quite a bit more expensive. Hybrids recharge the batteries when there is surplus power or deliver more power to the loads if they require more than the AC input can supply by itself. Unless you are drawing significant 120V AC power all the time, we don’t see that this feature is worth the extra cost.
You will want to get an external switch for this unit. AIMS sells a few different external switches for different inverter types, make sure to buy this LED Remote Panel which is compatible with this inverter/charger.
If you have a smaller battery bank (less than 150Ah of AGM):
Samlex is a well-known and trusted solar/12V brand
Pricy. Samlex’s 15A charger is more than Powermax’s 45A charger
This is the charger for you if you have less than 150Ah of AGM batteries. At that amount of battery capacity, any of the other bigger chargers will be too high of a current for your battery.
As with all the chargers we recommend, it’s got protection for short circuit, overload, reverse battery connection and over temperature. It’s UL listed with a 2-year warranty. We’ve heard great reports on Samlex’s chargers. However, they generally aren’t our favorite choice because they are pricy. But for a 15A charger, this is your best and only option.
For power users with a big solar array and high usage of 120V AC:
4-stage charger and hybrid pure sine wave inverter
Pricy, big, and heavy
If you’ve got big 120V AC needs, this baby will do everything you want and more. It’s well regarded as the best of the best inverter/charger combo.
The MultiPlus is programmable and available up to a gargantuan 10,000 watts. All this comes at a hefty price tag.
Older chargers are “simple” chargers that only have one charging profile. You won’t find many of these sold anymore so that’s that!
All the chargers we’ve listed are “smart” chargers that have a 3-stage charging profile. These chargers adjust their output voltage based on the battery’s state of charge. The result is a quicker and more efficient charge of the battery.
Some chargers also have a 4th stage, equalization. All quality solar charge controllers have equalization stages, so we don’t need the shore power charger to have this capability.
Combo inverter and chargers simply combine the functionality of both products into one device. This significantly simplifies wiring your system, and saves you space.
We wrote about what to look for in an inverter.
How to Choose a Charger that is Compatible with your Batteries
Most chargers are not advertised as working with lithium batteries. The chargers that we recommend are marketed as for AGM but are also compatible with lithium! That’s one of the perks of lithium battery management systems.
Battleborn (https://battlebornbatteries.com/charger-compatibility-table/) and RELiON (https://relionbattery.com/faqs) websites state that the chargers we’ve recommended will not damage the batteries.
RV campgrounds generally have 20A, 30A, 50A plugs on a power pedestal. The 20A outlet is a standard 3-prong outlet.
If you have a lighter sized charger, simply run an extension cord from the outlet to your charger. If you’d like to drill a hole in your vehicle, you can add a cable hatch to run the cable through. You may encounter a power pedestal that only has the 30A and 50A plugs. If you only have a standard extension cord, you’ll need an 30A to 15A adaptor.
A higher amperage sized charger like the Victron MultiPlus has more a involved setup. You can’t just plug an extension cord into it. You will need to add a 30A power inlet to the outside of the vehicle. Plug into the power pedestal’s 30A outlet with a 30A shore power cord.
We sincerely hope this information is helpful on your build journey!
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