Providing electrical power on the move in a van.
August 23, 2006 6:44 PM   Subscribe

If i want to install electrical appliances, drawing upto 6kw, in a van how do i go about this?

The appliances could be used for extended periods of time in the van i.e. upto 3 hours continously. They may require upto 6kw of power.

I have thought of a few ways but dont really know much about these options and am open to more. I need to consider installation, implications of use (e.g. choking on C02 :P), initial cost and running costs.

Heres my thoughts.

1) Buy a van thats already fitted with some form of power generating facility. Surely companies need this feature. What about those FBI spook vans kitted out with tvs and stuff or the FOX News vans? I heard the fuel cell vans could do this. Is this true?

2)Install a deisel generator. How loud, expensive are these things and can they easily be fitted into the van? What about ventilation etc.

3)Big battery units PB-somethings. Can they power 7kw???? Im rubbish with electronics so i dont understand limitations etc.

4)something else i didnt think of.

Anyhelp would be greatly appreciated. Ive searched google for VAN + electrical + appliances in various ways but keep getting stuff about van de graffs exploits in electricity.
posted by thegeezer3 to Technology (10 answers total)
You're going to need a genset at that power and time combination.

Onan and Generac both make packaged vehicular gensets in sizes about where you're at; they're popular, as you note, in TV trucks as well as campers.

You'll find some on eBay, I suspect, now that you have some keywords...
posted by baylink at 6:46 PM on August 23, 2006

Try to find a used ice cream truck. They have a generator that runs the freezer and ice cream machine.
posted by Marky at 8:17 PM on August 23, 2006

6kw is huge! 50 amps at 120V. You are going to have all kinds of issues.. So, start with baylink's advice, but you will also have to do some learnin' about power distribution.
posted by Chuckles at 8:22 PM on August 23, 2006

As people have said, batteries won't cut it. You can get a genset installed into your vehicle but an option you might want to look at is a towable generator to hook up behind the van - depending of course on what you're powering. Is it fixtures in the van or stuff outside it?

Is there any possibility of hooking up to AC on-site? Much much cheaper in capital (no genset) and running costs (diesel) if it's available.

Do you really mean 6kW or perhaps 6kVA? If the load is inductive (e.g. a motor) and not power-factor corrected, the actual kW consumed can be much lower than the kVA rating required.

To give you an idea of the size/money requirements, a typical 8kVA portable generator is about 3 cu.ft using a (noisy!) petrol engine and cost a couple of thousand $ new. If you have additional space available, you may be able to build a monster silencer to make whatever engine you're using whisper quiet.

Are you perhaps running a large arc welder? If so, you can get generators with direct output at the low voltage required for this and not have to go through all the intermediate conversion stages to 110/240VAC then back down again.
posted by polyglot at 8:52 PM on August 23, 2006

Remember too that you're supposed to ground the generator.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:38 AM on August 24, 2006

Hi thanks all for the responses. Really good. Got me looking at gensets on the internet. I was a bit surprised at the shock and horror with 6kW. But i suppose that is a lot when it comes to generators. I dont really want to reveal too many details but basically the item to be installed would be some type of water heating device presumably to boiling temp or just below hence the 6kw though there may be more efficient versions at 4kW range so 4-6Kw at a rough guess. These are the max power ratings of the appliance.

The appliance would be fitted inside the van so an external gen would be out of the question.

In terms of noise anything considered annoying to the average persons ear (i.e. passerbys) can not be considered. This makes me think what type of gen do the TV detector vans use??? Surely stealth is the way they nab people.

Also the voltage is stated as being 220v/380v (the later figure i dont understand as this is usually a domestic appliance and in the uk the voltage is 220v.). This gives an Ampage of roughly 22A.

Does that extra info open up any more ideas or refine the current list of options down any more?
posted by thegeezer3 at 4:59 AM on August 24, 2006

OK, my guess is that you want to put some sort of hot tub in this van.

As for the generators in TV vans, they're just your basic RV-type generator. They're not the CIA, and they're not operating in stealth mode in a van with a 50-foot-extendable mast, antennae, and logos plastered all over. And overall, the generators are noisy enough to be noticeable if you are within 10-15 feet.
posted by MrZero at 5:43 AM on August 24, 2006

If you are ultimately trying to generate heat with that electricity, you're really taking the long way 'round. It would be much, much more efficient to have a gas-fired boiler. Consider that internal-combustion engines are less than 40% efficient, and that electric heating is also, well, not very efficient (not sure of the numbers). You wind up using a tiny fraction of your fuel's energy potential, which is why you need such a big generator.
posted by adamrice at 7:03 AM on August 24, 2006

adamrice is correct if you're just heating stuff - going via electricity is a poor way to do it. Perhaps an gas instant-hot-water heater would be your best option - they provide water at up to 70C or more if you fiddle it outside its specification and they run fine on bottled LPG. It'd need to be outside the truck to prevent asphyxiation but they're weatherproof so that's OK. Plenty of houses use these as their sole source of hot water and they're quite cheap, quiet & reliable.

As for the 220/380V thing, your electric heater has an option to be wired to either one or two phases. When people refer to "3 phase power", it means that there are 3 separate phases, all 120 degrees apart and each is 220V from neutral. Think staggered sinewaves, each 1/3 of a cycle delayed from the previous. The voltage difference between any two phases is a 380V sinewave.
posted by polyglot at 8:24 AM on August 24, 2006

cheers guys for the response. Its helped a lot.
posted by thegeezer3 at 5:50 AM on August 25, 2006

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