Portable Power Station or Traditional Electrical System for Van Life | Texenergy

A standard campervan uses at least 2.16 kilowatts of electricity each day. People who choose to live off-grid need to establish the most efficient way to power their vans without breaking the bank. Are traditional electrical systems for van life better than portable power stations? This article will give those living the van life some clarity on how best to power their off-grid homes.


What is a Portable Power Station?

Portable power stations are mobile power sources. They store electrical energy within their internal battery, which can be used later. Portable power stations can deliver up to 1000 watts of energy, significantly less than the power provided by a traditional electrical system for van life.

Advantages of a Portable Power Station

The beauty of portable power stations is their compact size, making them more mobile. Another advantage of portable power stations is that they are very versatile. This versatility is possible because they operate by converting the direct current from the battery to an alternating current. Portable power stations can be used for various purposes, including charging laptops, hair dryers or running appliances. Lastly, since portable power stations do not burn any fuel, they are much quieter than other portable power systems such as generators. The lack of fuel means they do not pose a fire hazard and can be used inside because they do not produce carbon monoxide.

Disadvantages of a Portable Power Station

One drawback of portable power stations is that they are not as powerful as traditional electrical systems for van life. They often have a max-load limitation and can only do 120V AC outlets. This means they cannot run larger appliances such as washing machines or heaters. They are better served to power a few low-consumption devices.


Types of Charge System

There are four different types of charge systems for powering a traditional electrical system for van life. These are a split charge system, a solar power charge system, a wind power charge system and the shore power charge system.

1. The Split Charge System

The split-charger system is the most widely used. It consists of a split charge device, terminal connectors and a heavy-duty power cord. A split-charge system has several advantages: ease of installation, affordability, and easy operation. However, the split-charge system is not the most efficient way to charge the van's battery, and if the van's engine is not running, it is not possible to power any devices.

2. Solar Power

Solar power is more self-explanatory than the split-charger system. The system consists of one or a few solar panels, a cable, and a charge controller. The photovoltaic (PV) cells in a solar panel absorb energy from the sunlight. This energy generates electrical charges that move in reaction to an internal electrical field in the cell, which results in the flow of electricity. Solar power is free and unlimited - the van will have a power supply as long as the sun is shining. It also has a low carbon footprint (6gCO2e/kWh) because it does not release harmful emissions into the atmosphere. 

3. Wind Power

Solar power is one of several environmentally conscious ways to power a traditional electrical system for van life. A great alternative is wind power which can be harnessed by using a portable wind turbine. Large blades on the wind turbine are designed to rotate when the wind passes across them. These blades spin, capturing the wind's kinetic energy and using it to drive a generator, producing electricity.

4. Shore Power

The final charge system is shore power. This system is made up of a mains power inlet, consumer unit/breaker panel, 110/230-volt battery charger and connecting wires. Charge systems utilise land-based power sources to charge the van's power storage device. They are highly convenient and mean there is always guaranteed (high-voltage) power.

Power Storage System

In a traditional electrical system for van life, electricity is stored in a leisure battery. These batteries are specifically designed to deliver a constant level of power for an extended period of time.

Electrical Supply System

A 12-volt, a mains voltage system, or both may be needed to distribute the power generated. This depends on the voltage of the equipment utilised within the van.

A 12-volt system is a large battery that can be used to distribute power in a traditional electrical system for van life. A 12-volt system should only be used if the appliances on the van are 12-volts or if the van already has a 12-volt system. Conversely, a mains power electrical supply system works independently from a traditional electrical system for van life. It is made up of a network of high-voltage power components meaning it can be used to power high-voltage appliances. Mains power electrical supply systems can even be used to charge the leisure battery.

Both methods can be necessary when powering a traditional electrical system for van life.



Capabilities and limitations of Portable Power Stations

Although they are compact, efficient and affordable, having a portable power station alone is not enough to power the devices on a van. As discussed, they are only suitable for powering lower-consumption devices such as charging a laptop - they are limited by their battery capacity. However, their battery can be recharged using Texenergy’s Infinite Air T5, or their Infinite Solar 5.

Capabilities and Limitations of Traditional Systems

Traditional electrical systems for van life have several advantages when compared with portable power stations. The most significant is that they can run a higher number of higher voltage items.

Traditional electrical systems enable individuals to keep the lights and heating on in their van while charging their mobile phones and laptop. This is ideal if these individuals are keen to live off-grid permanently.

Despite this significant capability - there are drawbacks. The critical limitation of this system is that the power is, ironically, limited. Van owners must ensure that they do not fully deplete their batteries or attempt to utilise appliances that require too much electricity.

To ensure the health of their traditional electrical system for van life, van owners must be aware of their voltage capacity and mindful of their battery life.


In summary, this article has highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of portable power stations and traditional electrical systems for van life. In doing so, it has highlighted the necessity for those living off the grid to utilise both power-generating systems.

Texenergy’s Infinite Air T5, or Infinite Solar 5 can be used to power a portable power station and a traditional electrical system for van life, making them an excellent investment. Learn more about these products here.