Swapping to lithium batteries; are they really that good?

A few months back we did a major lithium and solar upgrade on our Hybrid Camper, and then followed it up with installing a DIY lithium battery in our Isuzu Dmax. The camper trailer is 340aH of Renogy Lithium Batteries, and the Dmax battery is 230aH, giving us a total of 570aH.

340aH of Renogy Lithium Batteries
The two new lithium batteries in our Hybrid Camper

So far, we’re really happy with both setups, and wanted to share some of our thoughts. I’ll do some more comprehensive posts on the different batteries, and have already done a number on induction cooking, weight savings and so on. For reference, here’s our Isuzu Dmax weight.

Before we go on though, I want to cover what we use the systems for, and to start off with you should know we live out of these full time on our lap of Australia.

In the Dmax, we run an 85L Bushman Upright Fridge, some canopy lights and a 2000W inverter. The inverter occasionally gets used for our toasted sandwich machine, toaster or induction cooktop, but its primary use is for charging batteries up. We run a few Ryobi 18V tools, and a heap of cameras that need regularly charging. On top is a single 200W solar panel, fed into the battery via a Renogy DCDC.

In the grand scheme of things, this battery doesn’t work hard at all, unless we use some of the heavier 240V appliances. It’s very rare to see this battery below 75% charge, with most mornings waking to see that we’ve only used about 20 – 40 amp hours. That said, if we are having overcast days, I’ll move our induction cooktop to the Dmax, and run it right down, or I’ve figured that I can run the Campers DCDC off the DIY lithium battery in the Dmax, and effectively move power across if needed (and then when we head out for a drive the Dmax tops up).

Dmax offroad
Our Dmax is set up as a stand alone touring vehicle

In the Reconn R2 hybrid, we run a couple of water pumps, lights and an 82L Evakool Fridge that runs as a freezer, at -15 degrees. We have a 3000W Inverter that we primarily use for running laptops inside the camper, and our Westinghouse Induction Cooktop. We’ve got 600W of Renogy Caravan solar panels on the roof, feeding in through a Renogy Rover 60 MPPT Solar regulator.

An average day will see us waking with 65% in the battery, or roughly 120 amp hours consumed, which is easily replenished on a good day by just after lunch. If its cloudy, we can comfortably do two days with the induction cooktop, and then we’ll move it to the Dmax, or swap back to gas.

The primary consumer is the Induction Cooktop, but the appliances add up too; our Freezer probably uses about 3 amps an hour averaged, and the inverter and laptop pulls a bit of power too, especially when it gets used often.

Reconn at Point Brown
Our Reconn R2 is our home away from home

Both systems are independent

I’ve always tried to keep my electrical systems separate, and working on their own. You don’t want a system where the vehicle has to be coupled to the trailer to make it work, or where you have to drive the vehicle in order to charge the trailer. Our Dmax has its own solar panel, and the camper has 600W of solar on its roof, and they can operate completely independently of each other.

If I need extra charge, I can use the Enerdrive DC2DC in the camper to take some alternator charge, but under normal circumstances when the weather is good, I keep the Anderson plug tied to the drawbar, and don’t use it at all.

Both systems will run the essential loads under any weather conditions, indefinitely. Yes, we have an induction cooktop, but this isn’t essential, and whilst we can use it off both batteries, if we really need to conserve power we just stop using it, and the solar on each system is enough to keep the essentials running even when its raining, and completely overcast.

This is hugely important to us, because there are times where the weather is total rubbish, and if the only way we could survive was to run the vehicle, or go for a drive it’d be annoying and inconvenient.

Fog at Willow Springs
Even in the most rubbish weather for solar the two systems keep up with all essential appliances without moving

We can ‘move’ power from the Dmax to the camper

Our Reconn R2 came with a Projecta AC charger, which is adjustable up to 25 amps. It is a lead acid battery, but it can charge our lithium batteries (in the bulk charge mode) without an issue, and we have the ability to plug this into the Dmax inverter if we really need to, and we can move 25 amps across every hour. Sure, its inefficient, but if you are regularly heading out with the Dmax for a drive then its going to replenish that battery anyway.

So far, I haven’t done this, but we did do it months ago with our previous AGM setup. I’ve also realised I can just plug a heavy lead into an outlet from the Dmax lithium battery and run it to the drawbar Anderson plug on the camper, which uses the Enerdrive DC2DC and sucks 25 amp hours across from the Dmax battery to the Camper, which is easier and simpler.

Reconn R2 electrical system
We can easily move power from the Dmax lithium to the camper lithium if needed

A solid solar array is hugely important

If you get a lithium battery, matching it with a solid solar array is hugely important. Relying on driving to charge your lithium batteries sucks, and is a shoddy solution that forces you to drive your vehicle more than you would.

On the Dmax, our 200W panel keeps up with the fridge and lights easily, and although we could install more there just doesn’t seem to be any reason to add more weight.

On the camper, we have 600W of Renogy solar panels, and a 120W panel (not wired up) pushing power into the lithium batteries. These are really impressive; even in shocking, overcast weather (raining) we can see 150W going in, and I’ve seen a peak of 715W, with 30 – 45 amps not being uncommon on a clear, cool, sunny day.

600W of solar on our Reconn R2
600W of solar on our Reconn R2 is amazing

I could have easily fitted another 200W panel up top, and maybe even 2 if I’d wanted to, but it does the job just fine, and we are really pleased with it. If you are keen on mounting caravan solar panels please take a minute to read the guide we did, as too many are coming off!

Painting the primer on
Installing the solar panels onto the roof of our camper really methodically

We still use gas

There are some vans that have completely ditched gas, and that’s fine, but without a hugely expensive system this will cause you issues, and even those who’ve put seriously high end setups in are finding after a week of cloudy weather, things get really tough.

For us, the gas was already plumbed and ready to use in our Reconn R2, and getting rid of it would just be a step backwards. We need the gas for our Weber, and for the Truma Hot Water System (that I hate, and wish could be run on electricity), and having it as a backup is important as you can guarantee that there will be extended periods of cloudy weather.

I’ve even reverted to gas when the weather is foul and we have sideways rain going into the kitchen, or under the Dmax canopy as I just don’t like the idea of using 240V power (and getting the induction cooktop wet) when water is around.

Reconn R2 stove
We still have the option of gas as needed, and removing it would be foolish

The ability to run new appliances is awesome

I’m seriously impressed with the induction cooktop on 12V. We’ve ditched our kettle all together, and use a square pot to boil water for drinks, to warm it for dishes and a rectangular frying pan to cook in. The speed at which you can boil or warm water is astounding, and when its windy it is hugely appreciated.

We carry a $7 toaster that has been a game changer for easy, quick toast for everyone, and having a toasted sandwich machine is great. We even brought a blender to make soups, because, why not?!

Induction cooktop on the Dmax
We really rate the induction cooktop

Not having to stress about battery levels is amazing

I love things that are set up to work, and just do that without any problems at all. With our lead acid batteries, I was always a bit edgy as to whether we had enough power, or if I’d have to put another solar blanket out. If we had more than a day and a half of overcast weather, we’d be in trouble on the camper running just the freezer, and that happened a few times.

Our setups now requires zero work to keep it running. All of the solar panels are permanently mounted, which is so much nicer. Portable solar panels are a pain in the backside, and whilst we still carry a Kings Solar Blanket as an emergency backup, I’m so glad that we don’t use them anymore.

If we run low on power, we just move to gas, but I know regardless of what the weather throws at us, we have enough power to run the essentials and will never run out, even if we don’t pack up and move.

Hopefully these thoughts are of use to you, if a lithium battery setup is something you have on your mind. If you have any questions, please let me know below and I’ll get back to you.

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