Updated: Sep 23
Shore power in a van allows you to fill up with electricity (mains) at home or at a campsite. In my opinion it is essential if you are using the campervan for extended trips. In this guide I will show you the simple approach to installing shore power in your campervan! We will look at wiring up a battery charger as well as plug sockets. I'm Shane, I've been teaching people to convert campervans for many years, I'm the author of The Van Conversion Newsletter, the van conversion instructor at Udemy, and the proud owner of a beautiful self-build campervan called Beans. So let's jump in and have a look at shore power for van conversions!
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Note: Before we hop in, you might want to grab yourself a wiring diagram which you can get for free by signing up to The Van Conversion Newsletter (the wiring for shore power is included in the diagram 🙂 - wiring diagram gets sent out to you straight away).
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What is a shore power?
Shore power means hooking up to mains to charge your leisure batteries. For example, plugging into campsite electrics for the night. Installing shore power in our van conversion not only allows us to charge up our leisure batteries, but also to run appliances directly off mains when we are plugged in (rather than always running through our batteries).
I live in my campervan full-time in Chamonix, France. It typically sees temperatures of -20C in winter, during this time I leave my van plugged into mains full-time. It is imperative to keep the heater running! I could not live without shore power in my van.
Shore power brings 110/230v AC electricity into our van. We use this to charge our 12v DC leisure batteries and wire up plug sockets.
For a full educational run-through of all things electricity (as it relates to van conversions), you should definitely check out this article. I discuss Volts, Amps, Watts, Solar, Batteries, AC, DC, how long it takes to charge from shore power, and a bunch of other important concepts.
What is a battery charger?
A battery charger is a device which converts 110/230v AC power into 12v DC power. It also regulates the voltage and current running into the batteries and optimises it per the charging stage the batteries are at.
I personally use a Victron Blue Smart IP22 30a battery charger and love it! I will be showing you how to wire it up in this article. It is regarded as one of the best battery chargers on the market.
If you want to take it a step up (and simplify things), you could even look at getting the Victron inverter charger. It combines an inverter and battery charger together; all with less wiring! Use the inverter when you are plugged into shore power, rather than wiring up a seperate plug socket.
As you research battery chargers, you will find they range in amperage from a lowly 5a all the way up to 100a! The amperage rating of the battery charger directly correlates to the time it will take to recharge your batteries. It will take ~3 hours to recharge a 100aH leisure battery with a the Victron Blue Smart IP22 30a battery charger.
Portable battery chargers
Victron also make portable battery chargers which can be used outdoors (waterproof) or for trickle charging (keep a stationary vehicle topped up). They are also very useful for recharging deeply discharged batteries.
The 3 Stages of Battery Charging
All batteries have stages they go through to charge (though they differ slightly depending on the chemistry of the battery)
Charging profiles follow three stages of charging: bulk, absorption and float. The charging limits differ between the different battery types
Bulk: The battery is low, so the battery charger delivers a fast, constant current charge up to ~80% State of Charge (SoC)
Absorption: The battery is nearly full, so the battery charger delivers a much slower, constant voltage charge to reach 100% SoC
Float: a constant voltage charge which maintains 100% SoC - this counteracts discharging
How to Install shore power in your van conversion
1. Install a shore power inlet in the side of your campervan
The shore power inlet, also known as a mains electrical hook up is where we intake electricity into the campervan. You can learn how to install a shore power inlet here.
2. Connect the shore power inlet to a garage consumer unit
A garage consumer unit contains an RCD (residual current device) and several MCBs (miniature circuit breakers). The RCD will ensure that the power supply is automatically cut to all of the circuits protected by the device if ground leakage is detected. In North America, these devices are known as ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI).
Essentially the RCD will break the circuit if it detects that the electric current is unbalanced between the supply and return. Any difference between the currents indicates leakage, which presents a shock hazard. In a nutshell, RCDs protect you from electrocuting yourself. It also has the added benefit of cutting the circuit if it detects a short circuit (the live and neutral wires touch each other).
The MCBs in the consumer unit protect the devices / plug sockets they connect to.
Using 3-core cable, connect the shore power inlet to the consumer unit.
How to wire a consumer unit for shore power in a campervan
A typical garage unit for campervans will contain a 40a RCD and two MCBs (typically 6a and 16a). The imagine below shows how a garage consumer unit should be wired for van conversions.
IN: From the shore power inlet
The 3-core cable coming from the shore power inlet comes in the bottom of the consumer unit. Both neutral and live go into the top of the RCB, into the corresponding inlet. Earth goes to the earth bar, typically located at the bottom of the unit.
OUT: To the battery charger / plug sockets
Our battery charger and plug socket wirings exit from the top of the consumer unit. The lives connect to the tops of the MCBs, the neutrals all connect to the neutral bus bar (usually located at the top of the consumer unit), and the earths all go to the earth bus bar.
In our case, we are wiring a plug socket, and a battery charger. The battery charger will run off the 16a MCB, the plug socket will run off the 6a MCB.
We also need to ground our consumer unit. In the diagram above, it is the small (unlabelled) yellow wire running out the bottom of the consumer unit. We run this wire to our universal chassis ground point in our van.
3. Connect the consumer unit to a battery charger
As mentioned above, we wire our battery charger to the consumer unit using 3-core cable. We run the cable in the top of the consumer unit and wire it up to the 16a MCB.
The battery charger converts AC to DC and regulates the voltage and current flowing to the batteries relative to what stage of the battery charging cycle it is at.
Note: The Victron Blue Smart IP22 battery charger comes with a plug head on it. You will need to snip off this plug head and strip back the Live, Neutral, and Earth in order to wire it up to the consumer unit.
4. Connect the battery charger to the leisure batteries (bus bars)
Next, connect your battery charger to the leisure batteries (or bus bars, if you are using them... which you should). You can use 8AWG cable for this. Add a 40a inline breaker between the battery charger and the bus bars (as close to the battery charger as possible).
5. Wire a plug socket into the consumer unit (optional)
Wiring a plug socket into the consumer unit is very useful. It means that when you are plugged into shore power, you can charge your devices directly off mains (rather than running through your leisure batteries).
Grab some 3-core cable and run one end of it into the consumer unit in the exact same manner as the cable from the battery charger. However, this time we will run it into the 6a pole.
Then, with the other end of the 3-core cable wire up the plug socket. This is quite straightforward. Live to live (brown), neutral to neutral (blue), earth to earth (yellow/green).
You will likely be inserting the plug socket into a the plywood / tongue and groove wood in your van; you can use a jigsaw to easily cut out the shape of the plug socket and pop it into the cavity.
I hope you found this article on how to install shore power in you campervan useful! Don't forget to subscribe to The Van Conversion Newsletter for everything you need to get started with your own van conversion (I'll send you a free wiring diagram when you sign up).
If you're converting a van but unsure of how to do it, you could also check out the Van Conversion Course on Udemy. In the course, you'll learn directly from me how to convert a van into your dream home - no prior experience needed!
Until next time,