Have you ever wondered about the parts that held your caravan together and how they worked? Maybe you want to use solar cells to power your caravan and want to know more about the logistics, like if you need a voltage regulator.
A caravan has an in-built voltage regulator in the power supply unit that converts 230V to approximately 14V to power the leisure battery. If you’re installing non-regulated electronic devices or using solar panels, you will need voltage regulators.
To learn more about a voltage regulator’s details, how to pick one out, and the differences between the various types of regulators, keep reading!
What Is a Caravan Voltage Regulator?
A voltage regulator is a device that regulates variable or unstable input voltages and converts them to a higher or lower constant output that matches the voltage and current needs of an electronic circuit.
You will find two types of regulators in the market – linear and switching. A basic regulator of the linear IC type changes the voltage to the desired level and releases any excess energy in the form of heat energy.
On the other hand, a switching type regulator works by rapidly switching a voltage input on and off. The result is an average voltage output, which is more efficient than a basic regulator. Depending on the frequency with which switches are carried out, a wide range of voltages can be generated from a single source.
Some voltage regulators are capable of additional features like the following:
- Handling large voltage spikes: Certain electronic items like refrigerators tend to release large voltage inputs when turning on or off or while working at maximum capacity. Without a regulator, this shorts the circuit and can cause electrical fires.
- Reverse polarity protection: This is an internal circuit in the regulator that automatically cuts off power to sensitive electronic circuits if electrical power flows in the opposite direction. As a result of this, the electronic device connected to the circuit remains undamaged.
- Removing unwanted signal noise: Electrical noise can be generated when random electrical signals are incorporated into circuits accidentally.
A caravan has a built-in voltage regulator in the power supply unit(PSU). It works in conjunction with the converting, converting AC power from the main to DC power that can be used by the caravan’s leisure battery and the mains.
What Does a Caravan Voltage Regulator Do?
Those who own a caravan or motorhome know that it has two batteries. One is the engine starter battery, and the other is the leisure battery that is used to power low consumption items like the fan or sound system.
A caravan needs to have these two batteries because if you only used the engine starter battery for everything, it would drain very quickly. This would leave you unable to drive and force you to make many pit stops to charging points.
As a result, caravans use split charging or the simultaneous charging of the vehicle starter battery and leisure battery from the same charging source. Modern systems isolate the two types of batteries to accidentally draw current from each other. This will drain the starter battery and risk damaging the leisure battery.
However, both of these batteries are designed to support different degrees of voltages. While the starter battery needs about 230V to charge, the leisure battery only uses a much smaller 14V.
A caravan voltage regulator is responsible for converting electrical energy received into an output of 14V to protect and maintain the leisure battery. In fact, the PSU contains components that accept different levels of voltages- one for the 230V mains and the other for the 12V battery.
The mains is in charge of powering the refrigerator, immersion heater, and space heater, if fitted, along with the engine. The 12V system is in charge of powering the low-wattage appliances such as the lights or water pumps.
The voltage regulator is built into the charger under the power converter, converting AC from the charging source to DC. A voltage regulator is necessary as, without it, light and sound sources will burn out from the high current shock.
These regulators do not always supply a fixed current. It is possible to get specific caravan brands with intelligent power converters that initially start with a lower charge to protect the battery before rising to deliver a bulk charge.
Once a battery is fully charged, the converter supplies approximately 13V to maintain the charged state without overloading the battery.
If your voltage regulator fails, your control panel will likely have a built-in failsafe to cut the circuit and shut the entire van down. However, this might not always be the case, so you should learn the telltale signs that your regulator is failing, detailing in a section below.
Besides the in-built regulator, you can also put additional voltage regulators in place to prevent overheating or issues with the equipment. This is only necessary if you use equipment that is not built into the caravan or does not support the voltage needed.
Do I Need a Caravan Voltage Regulator?
Suppose you’re only going to be using the charging mains or the towing vehicle’s battery to power your caravan. In that case, you likely don’t need a caravan voltage regulator as it is already built-in.
However, if you’re using a non-regulated or weaker LED strip, you would benefit from a voltage regulator. It will prevent your charger from putting a very high charge into the lights and prevent overheating, flickering, or the complete death of lights.
How Do You Pick a Voltage Regulator?
A good voltage regulator needs to handle your input voltage and release the correct output voltage. If you’re using your voltage regulator for the lights and want to dim or brighten them as needed, choose an adjustable voltage regulator. It comes with a little knob.
Otherwise, you can use a fixed voltage regulator. These tend to be cheaper than the adjustable ones. Avoid using linear voltage regulators at all costs – these heat up very quickly and can go as high as 100°C (212°F).
You don’t want to be exposing your lighting system to excessive amounts of heat to prevent the filament from melting or the glass from shattering.
When getting a regulator, you need to find out the voltage required to power your device. This problem can be solved by looking through the manufacturer’s pamphlet or a quick internet search.
Be warned that some voltage regulators will release hum or intermittent noises, so be prepared to deal with that possibility, especially if you’re a first-time buyer unsure of which brands to get.
No matter the device that you’re using, this DROK DC Buck Converter should work with most electronic appliances to take in and put out an appropriate voltage. However, you can feel free to experiment with other types of voltage regulators.
How To Fit a Voltage Regulator?
If you ever encounter a problem with the in-built voltage regulator or converter in the PSU, you will need to replace the entire thing. However, if you’re just wondering how to fit a voltage regulator to one of your LED panels, here’s an easy guide.
A buck regulator comes with clearly labeled positive and negative input and output holes. Input is for the source of power, like the battery, and output is for the device that you want to power. The wires will be insulated, so the first thing you need to do is get some wire cutters and pull off the top to expose the conductive interior metal.
Here are the steps that you need to take:
- Insert the input and output wires of the battery source into the appropriate terminals.
- Solder the metal parts of the wires into place. When you solder, you should be in contact with the touching pad and the pin. If you don’t have a soldering tool, use this Q-Ming Iron Soldering Kit.
- Repeat steps one and two with the device that you’re trying to connect to.
- Turn the battery on. You should have a constant voltage running through.
If it’s not possible for you to isolate any wires from the device that you want to use, you can use a wire harness for proper connection.
Some regulators might be different, requiring no soldering. Instead, you might need to place the metal wire parts under specific screws or metallic connections to close the circuit. These would be much easier for a beginner to use, so pay attention to the method you need to use to connect your voltage regulators.
If you decide to use a linear voltage regulator instead, they work quite differently from buck regulators. A linear voltage regulator has three prongs – the input, ground, and output prong. The left pin is positive, the middle pin is the ground pin, and the right pin is negative.
Here’s how to use it:
- Connect one alligator pin wire to the input and output prong, respectively, and two alligator pins to the ground.
- Connect the input and one ground alligator pin to the power source’s positive and negative wires, respectively.
- Connect one ground alligator pin and the output to the device’s positive and negative wires, respectively.
A linear voltage regulator is much easier to use than a buck or boost regulator, but it is comparatively less efficient. Depending on your confidence in your mechanical proficiency, pick a regulator type to use. You should keep in mind that a linear voltage regulator will always require a difference of 3V between the input and output.
Linear voltage regulators also have a dropout voltage. If you go beyond that minimum dropout voltage, you will likely end up damaging your device. Hence, be sure to check the dropout voltage when you buy the regulator.
If you’re trying to go green and have decided to use an alternate energy source like solar panels, you will also need a voltage regulator. However, it will be a very different type than the smaller regulators shown above.
Those living in tropical regions or going on trips mostly during the summer will profit extensively from solar panels. They are the perfect way to stay eco-friendly, keep your battery topped up, and avoid having to fight over spots at a caravan charging the main point.
However, you need to know a lot about solar panels before investing in them. Otherwise, by buying faulty panels that aren’t well-maintained, you can end up damaging your caravan leisure batteries.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels are covered in a silicon layer. When sunlight strikes this layer, photons are absorbed, and electrons are separated from their respective atoms. They move about freely, creating a DC electric current that can reach up to 20V. This current is then collected and used to power your leisure battery.
Depending on your budget, you can get either monocrystalline, polycrystalline, or thin-film amorphous solar cells. Monocrystalline panels are more efficient and generate a higher voltage than their polycrystalline counterparts, but they’re also more expensive.
However, thin-film amorphous cells would be the best for low light regions, as they are better than monocrystalline panels at collecting energy.
These panels are also available in various types:
- Freestanding panels: These panels are portable, which means that you can move them throughout the day to maximize the amount of energy received. They usually consist of two panels that can be folded up into a compact unit.
- Rigid panels: Flat panels like these are ideal for mounting up on the rooftop of your caravan and capturing sunlight. However, they are also prone to heat buildup, so you should space them apart appropriately and leave gaps below to allow for cooling airflow.
- Flexible panels: A lighter, more durable version of rigid panels; these are waterproof with a resistant top-layer.
No matter the type of solar panel you get, focus on buying a well-known brand known to build reliable products. Look for panels with a long warranty life and IEC 61215 quality certification.
What Type of Voltage Regulators Do You Need for Solar Panels?
Any solar panel generating over 18W of energy needs a voltage regulator outfitted between the panel and the battery. Most solar panels typically come with a pulse width modulation controller(PWM). These voltage regulators act smartly, modulating their pulses and voltage generated according to the battery charge.
Although these might seem ideal, they are not the most efficient. Photovoltaic (PV) panels have a power curve that shows expected power generation based on current and voltage. The optimal ratio of current and voltage to provide the most amount of power is known as the maximum power point.
Depending on environmental conditions, the maximum power point will change to different points on the curve. PWM controllers constantly have to operate above the maximum power point to maintain the average by switching on and off. This results in power loss.
On the other hand, maximum power point tracking (MPPT) charge controllers work through an indirect connection between the battery and the PV panel. Excessive amounts of voltage are converted to extra current at a lower voltage so that power is not lost.
Although MPPT might be more expensive than PWM, they are much more efficient and definitely worth the extra mile if you plan to rely solely on solar power to operate your caravan.
After installing all the necessary cabling and controllers, you might notice that the display screen does not always show a result, even if it is sunny. The regulator might not show a consistent output because the battery is already fully charged, so you don’t have to worry about your broken system.
Can Solar Panels Power Your Caravan?
A solar panel’s power output is rated under Standard Test Conditions at the radiation of 1 kW/m2, 25°C (77°F), and no wind. This rarely reflects typical operating conditions. The strength of a solar panel is also dependent on efficiency – on average, solar panels have a 15% efficiency, which means that they convert 15% of sunlight into usable energy.
To figure out how long a solar panel will take to power your battery, use this simple formula:
Solar panel wattage * average hours of sunlight * 0.75 = Daily watt-hours
You can then calculate the number of watts needed to charge a device by using this formula:
Amperes(A) * Volts(V) = Watts(W)
After doing this, you’ll realize how long you need to gather all the power needed to charge your battery. This time will drastically increase during the winter when light intensity decreases.
To counter long charging time, use larger sized panels with a greater power efficiency for greater power output. Choose your solar panels to ensure that recharging items does not take too long for you!
Tips to Using Solar Panels
If you don’t get enough energy from your solar panels, you can end up permanently damaging your leisure battery and having to replace it. To avoid this, here are some tips on how best to use a solar panel:
- Avoid shadows. If you’re using glass panels, even the shadow of a wire will affect the light intensity and amount of power generated. Ensure that cells are positioned to take advantage of the full sun.
- Don’t put them behind glass. Although solar panels can work behind glass windows, their efficiency will be greatly reduced. They might take more than four times longer to provide a full charge as opposed to when they’re out in full sun.
- Use proper angles. Shift your solar panels around depending on the position of the sun. You can do this either by moving the position of your caravan if the panels are mounted on the roof or by moving the panels themselves if they are lightweight and portable enough.
How To Fit a Solar Controller?
Whether you’re installing a solar controller for the first time or just need to replace one of your old parts, here are all the steps to fit a new solar controller in place:
- Connect the battery to the charge controller.
- Insert the positive and negative cables with care. Screw it all into place.
- Connect additional parts like MC4, if any.
- Connect the solar panel cables to the controller and screw them in place.
Most solar controllers come with a helpful manufacturer’s pamphlet complete with visual diagrams, so you probably won’t have much trouble piecing this together.
How Do You Know When Your Voltage Regulator Has Failed?
No matter if you’re looking at a solar charge controller, the voltage regulator inside your PSU, or the one you have installed for specific devices, there will always be some telltale signs that your regulator has failed. Here are some signs that you might notice:
- Erratic readings: The screen of the voltage regulator will display inaccurate readings that change very rapidly. These might cut on or off suddenly. This is different from low readings, which likely occur because the battery is already at full charge.
- Electrical damage: When the voltage regulator stops working, the overpowering voltage output can cause damage to many different electrical components. You might notice the bulbs burning out faster than usual.
- Dead battery: A battery dying on you could be due to a poorly managed current caused by a faulty regulator. This is especially common for solar-powered energy, where the controllers are not of very good quality and end up burning the battery out.
- Instrument cluster doesn’t work: If an insufficient amount of voltage is delivered to the caravan, you might notice that the instrument cluster doesn’t work while you’re driving.