Campervan inverters

How does a campervan inverter work?

A campervan leisure battery produces a direct current (DC). Mains electricity found in a house is typically 230V in most European countries (120V in the US) and produces an alternating current (AC). A camper inverter works by converting the power in your leisure batteries from DC to AC. You will need to use an inverter to use any products that require an AC current (typically those which have a 3 pin plug attached to them). The voltage of your inverter must be the same as the voltage of your system – a 12V inverter will only work in a 12V system.

DC current graph
AC current graph

Pure sine wave vs modified sine wave inverters

There are two main types of inverter available for your van: pure sine wave and quasi (modified) sine wave. The quasi sine wave inverters create an approximation of the AC waveform found in household wall sockets, whereas a pure sine wave inverter exactly reproduces the AC waveform.

NDS Energy and Sterling Power sell both modified and pure sine wave inverters. By contrast, Victron Energy only sell pure sine wave inverters.

how does an inverter work pure sine wave vs quasi modified sine wave graph

Modified (quasi) sine wave inverters

Simpler electronics can be powered using a quasi sine wave inverter. Anything that isn’t a sensitive piece of medical equipment and which doesn’t have an AC motor (like a microwave or a fridge) will be able to run using this type of inverter. Any products with an AC motor receiving a quasi sine wave will run at a higher temperature, reducing their lifespan.

Some appliances may emit buzzing noises when being run by a quasi sine wave inverter. You may also notice reduced brightness from fluorescent lights. In addition, newer TVs can experience drops in framerate, brightness, and colour reproduction. Appliances with electronic timers or digital clocks may not operate correctly, as the square quasi sine wave interferes with the device’s normal timekeeping. Appliances which use electronic temperature controls (e.g. bread makers) or variable settings (e.g. light dimmers, variable speed drills) may also not work correctly. 

The main draw of quasi sine wave inverters is the significantly lower cost, compared to pure sine wave inverters of the same power. So if you’re on a tighter budget, these inverters can be a good option if you’re only looking to power basic electrical equipment such as lights, water pumps and perhaps a phone and laptop charger. We sell a range of quasi sine wave inverters from NDS Energy and Sterling Power in our webshop.

NDS SM600-24 top view

Pure sine wave inverters

The advantage of a pure sine wave inverter is that it produces the exact same AC wave as your 230V sockets at home do. All mains powered electronics expect a pure sine wave, so any device you run off a pure sine wave inverter will work exactly as designed. This performance is reflected in the higher price tag attached to pure sine wave inverters. Pure sine wave inverters also tend to have better heat dissipation, and so run much quieter than quasi sine wave inverters.

If you can afford it, we would suggest purchasing a pure sine wave inverter for your electrical system. All Victron inverters, as well as some inverters from NDS Energy and Sterling Power, are pure sine wave. Browse the full range of pure sine wave inverters in our webshop.

Victron Inverter 500W 12V - Victron Energy Pure Sine Wave Phoenix Inverter 12/500 - PIN125010400

Inverter/chargers (the Victron MultiPlus)

If you plan on using electric hook up to power your campervan and charge your leisure batteries, you should consider using a campervan inverter/charger. The Victron MultiPlus is an inverter and a battery charger in one. It features a ‘smart’ high-speed AC transfer switch which automatically switches your system from using shore power to your batteries when you’re not connected to a hook up.

This means that whenever you’re plugged into a mains hook up, your batteries will charge and your system will use shore power for any 230V appliances. As soon as you are no longer plugged in, your system will switch to using power from your leisure batteries via your inverter.

nomadic energy free campervan electrical system design service campervan electrical consultancy

Confused about electrics? Our free electrical system design service makes off-grid energy simple.

What size inverter do I need for my van?

Campervan inverters need to be sized correctly according to the total wattage of any 230V appliances you will use. Victron inverters have two numbers. One refers to the voltage of the inverter (so in the case of a 12V inverter this will be 12). The second number refers to the maximum operating wattage of the inverter. To calculate the size of inverter for your van, you should add together the wattage of each 230V appliance you plan on using with your inverter at any one time. We’d also recommend adding a factor of safety to future proof your system. If you only have low wattage appliances, we’d recommend installing at least the 500W inverter as the price difference between this and the smaller models is negligible. Camper inverters are rated to a maximum wattage, so it’s important that you don’t exceed this or you could damage your inverter.

IMPORTANT: Most inverter manufacturers use watts (W) to specify inverter power. However, Victron use volt-amperes (VA) instead. VA describes apparent power, whereas W describes real power. The distinction between these can be important when designing your electrical system. To learn more, check out this article, where we discuss the differences between VA and W and how this affects your choice of inverter or inverter/charger.

victron phoenix inverter explained - 12V 800W climbingvan electrical system graphic


speaker wattage icon


hair straighteners wattage icon

Hair straighteners

blender wattage icon


toaster wattage icon


kettle wattage icon

Low wattage kettle

power tools wattage icon

Power tools

hairdryer wattage icon


microwave wattage icon


induction hob wattage icon

Induction hob

air conditioner air con wattage icon

Air conditioner

kettle wattage icon

Domestic kettle

Victron Energy 12V camper van 500VA inverter kit
Campervan inverter kits

Our campervan inverter kits include everything you need to fully install an inverter subsystem within your electrical system. Pick the inverter size and smart functionality, and we’ll provide everything needed to install the system. Plus, we’ll send you a wiring diagram and detailed installation guidance.

Need help with the rest of your electrical system?

If you’re looking for an overview of campervan electrical systems, have a read of our how to install a campervan electrical system article. Alternatively, browse our campervan electrical system guidebook pages to learn more about each individual element of the system.

Campervan electrical systems

Read an overview of campervan electrical systems, including information about leisure batteries, recharging and powering appliances.

Climbingvan Victron solar charge controller illustration

Charge controllers

Once you’ve decided the size of your solar array, how do convert solar into useable power? We help you to understand the confusing world of charge controllers.

Electric hook up

If you will spend time on a campsite, installing electric hook up lets you easily recharge your leisure batteries by simply plugging a single cable into your campevan.

B2B chargers

If you will spend time off-grid, you should consider installing a battery to battery (B2B) charger. This allows you to recharge your leisure batteries as you drive via your alternator.