Man the Van was commissioned in August 2014 as our first solar powered 'reefer' prototype. It has completed over 90,000 over-the-road miles since conversion.
Man the Van was born of necessity. We could not find a suitable, used 'reefer' van for our food business. Existing panel van reefers had to be either plugged in, emptied, or the van motor idled all night to power the freezer. This was not possible in the cities we sold in, where we did not have a warehouse home base.
We bought this used van, modified the ladder rack to mount 1,000 watts of solar panels, added a solar controller, sealed lead acid batteries, a 24V charger for shore power and an inverter.
The 'inverter' is a piece of kit which takes 24V DC power from the panels and batteries, and outputs 120V AC. We plugged in a clouple of regular commercial chest freezers and hit the road. Man the Van has never temperature-deviated a sausage in the 90,000 miles since August 2014. It operates on 80% solar power plus ten cents worth of mains electricity, a total of 5 to 7 KWh of energy.
As a proof of concept, Man the Van, named after Van Morrison, has been a spectacular success. But it had some limitations. it was put together using standard components, except for some modifications to the ladder rack panel mount. The inverter loss was around 23% of system consumption, and the freezers, being integrated systems, vented hot air inside the van, costing us at least an additional 50% of our power during night-time in the summer. Both of these shortcomings were corrected in Van de Soleil, our second generation prototype. The 24V DC refrigeration system saved the inverter loss, and the split system ejects warm air outside the vehicle.
Our experience with the operational use of solar power is a unique and irreplaceble asset.