In May, Xantrex LLC, a supplier of OEMs and aftermarket power technology, outfitted a consumer’s Volkswagen Westfalia B van with a solar panel package and asked him to test drive the equipment for six months.
Howie Outerbridge, a Pacific Northwest Canadian native, used the Xantrex equipment for short and long road trips.
Outerbridge said he wanted a quieter off-grid camping experience in his B van, away from traditional campsites with electrical hookups. His interest in solar and battery technology as well as a science degree made him a perfect recipient for the Xantrex installation. As reported this summer by RV News, Xantrex upfitted the 17-foot, 6,000-pound 1995 Volkswagen Westfalia with a flexible solar panel, lithium-ion batteries, a solar charge controller and an inverter charger.
Outerbridge’s power needs while camping in the Westfalia consisted of a 75-watt compression fridge, 20 watts of LED lights, a 600-watt coffee maker, a 150-watt heated blanket, a 60-watt laptop and a 60-watt van stereo. His aim was to camp off-grid in the Pacific Northwest without a generator, shore power or alternator power.
The Type B motorhome’s original solar panel was a 100-watt rigid model. Outerbridge now has a flexible Xantrex panel for a total of 330 watts that puts out 20 amps of power. When Outerbridge took the upfitted Westfalia on the road and popped the top of the camper, he said passers-by often wanted to talk about the rooftop flexible solar panel.
“(The solar panel) looks like something that Tony Stark made for Spiderman,” Outerbridge said. “It is made from close to indestructible material. (The solar panel) was tested in marine applications and the tech who installed it said he and some pals put a few rounds in a test panel and it still produced power.”
In addition to being durable, the panel is generating more power in a more efficient way, Outerbridge said.
“I have hit 20 amps under ideal conditions,” he said.
Because the panel is made of peel-and-stick material, no additional holes were drilled in the camper’s roof during the installation. No camper owner wants to drill holes in their rig, Outerbridge said. The panel is 2 millimeters thick, which cuts down wind resistance, and is 30% lighter than equivalent crystalline panels and mounting hardware.
Outerbridge sleeps in his Westfalia with two lithium-ion batteries six inches below his head.
“They have to be well-built,” he said.
Because he trusts the product and the installation, he does not worry the batteries will explode or leak, he said.
The Xantrex team upgraded the camper’s two traditional AGM batteries to lithium-ion (LiFePO4) batteries.
The Xantrex lithium-ion batteries are a group 31 size, making them easy to switch out with typical lead acid batteries, Outerbridge said. Installing the batteries saved 84 pounds in battery weight. Usable energy was increased from 100 amp-hours to 225 amp-hours.
According to the U.S. EPA, 100 pounds of weight eliminated can result in up to a 1% savings in fuel costs, Outerbridge said.
Outerbridge said he expects to get 6,000 charge cycles from the lithium-ion batteries, compared with about 400 charge cycles from an AGM battery.
“I am working with 250 amp hours of capacity, and I can draw that down to 225.” Outerbridge said. “If I am running a 60-watt laptop charger, I would get about 20 hours out of an AGM battery. Whereas with the lithium setup, I can get up to 45 hours of constant laptop charging. That gives you a sense of just how much further the charge goes and knowing that I am in the middle of nowhere…that is very, very comforting.”
Outerbridge’s original charge inverter was 27 years old. It still worked but was not able to charge the lithium batteries completely. The aftermarket inverter was bulky, and the installation was poorly done, he said.
Xantrex installed a Freedom XC 1000-watt inverter charger to replace the original model.
“The new installation is clean, it is out of the way and safe,” Outerbridge said.
The upgraded package helped Outerbridge go off-grid on more than one occasion.
“With this set-up, the last thing I would run out of would be power,” Outerbridge said. “I was mountain biking a three-hour drive north of Whistler (BC, Canada). Everyone left their vehicles for three days with coolers in their vehicles with ice. I left my van parked in the sun with the fridge on. When we got back after the trip, everyone’s food had spoiled, and their beer had warmed…I was the only one with cold beer and meat left for the barbecue.”
New Xantrex Connectivity
Xantrex may examine repeating similar aftermarket installs on Type C or Type A motorhomes, said Mitul Chandrani, Xantrex VP of marketing.
The company is testing a new Xantrex gateway application that will enable the solar package components to talk with one another.
“Through a mobile-friendly app on your phone, you can see the performance of all the products and how you will be able to change their configuration,” Chandrani said. “People want convenience, right? You want to see your battery status, how much capacity you have, how much has drained and things like that, right on your phone.”
Xantrex will debut the new app in 2023 Q1, Chandrani said.