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Power switch: Coalsons turning van into solar-energized camper

Sunny days can make a trip more enjoyable, and they offer an extra bonus for Mat Coalson, E.I., and his wife, Becca: solar power for their camping van.

They are outfitting their 2019 Dodge Ram Promaster 2500 with everything they need for some time off-grid, including three 325-watt, high-efficiency solar panels on the roof.

Recharging their batteries

“Everything in our van will run on solar and battery backup, except the van’s engine when we are driving. Based on the battery size (400 amp hours), we expect to be able to run for two to three days without sun, and with sun, we expect that our limitation will be our water supply, not electric power,” said Mat, a commissioning and energy specialist in Hanson’s Orlando, Florida, regional office.

Mat Coalson, E.I., a commissioning and energy specialist, stands in front of his 2019 Dodge Ram Promaster 2500 at Hanson’s Orlando, Florida, regional office. The solar panels on the van’s roof combined with battery power will give Mat and his wife, Becca, enough power for two to three sunless days of camping.

“Our electrical system will be connected to our van’s alternator,” he said. “While driving or simply turning the van on, we will be able to charge our ‘house’ batteries. In addition, we can reverse the electrical flow and jump our van’s battery, if needed.”

Aside from the solar panels, flooring, insulation and soundproofing have been installed in the Coalsons’ solar-powered camping van.

They have had soundproofing, insulation, flooring and the roof rack with the solar panels installed on the van, which they have owned for a year. Future improvements include a shower, a composting toilet, a futon-style bed that folds into a bench, an induction stovetop, a kitchen sink, a small refrigerator, 44 gallons of freshwater storage and 20 gallons of grey water storage.

Taking it on the road

The busy couple wanted the project to be further along by now, but with Mat working, pursuing a master’s degree and studying for the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam and Becca, who also is an engineer, working two jobs, finding time to dedicate to the van has been a challenge. They have been negotiating with van builders to help them finish the rest of the work, in hopes of hitting the road fully equipped more quickly.

Mat said they have taken the van on camping trips to Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina; Key West, Florida; and the freshwater springs along the Santa Fe River in northern Florida. Their goal is to visit all 48 contiguous states and as many national parks as possible.

For more information, contact Mat Coalson, E.I., at

After hiking about 10 miles at the Grand Teton National Park in Moose, Wyoming, Mat and his wife, Becca, take a break to capture the moment with a photo and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Their goal is to visit all 48 contiguous states and as many national parks as possible.

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