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A Conversational Look Into Lithium Standards (2024)

Article by - Caravans Plus
Read Time: 10 mins

As consumer demands for lithium products in consumer electronics, automotive and many other industries, the inclusion of lithium battery storage and advanced technology within the caravan industry will continue to rapidly evolve.

In this article, we will discuss the enormous consumer and industry driven shift towards lithium based batteries becoming an integral component of recreational vehicles and caravans in Australia and how regulations and standards may be applied.


Background

Australia has a long caravan manufacturing industry dating back to the 1920s.

Although many homebuilt caravans were being built in backyard sheds from simple plans found in magazine publications at the time, one company in particular, Caravan Park Ltd, or later Carapark started producing on a commercial scale in 1928.

For several decades after, caravans remained quite basic. The plywood and aluminium constructed holiday home upon wheels, towed to an idyllic holiday spot, free from frustration, and the rigours of life. They fulfilled their intent, a simple disconnect.

During what was arguably the caravanning golden years of the late 1950s to early 1980s, the family caravan was there to be used a handful of times a year, and for most, a small basic family caravan was viewed no different to the second car in the driveway. Mum's Torana next to Dad's Premier, with the electrical in the caravan as easy to work on as electrical in Holden towing it, 1-5-3-6-2-4.

After a period of industry lull possibly due recession, interest rates and so many older caravans still being available, enter the new millennium, the caravan industry experienced a boom not seen since prior to the oil crisis of the late 1970s.

Initially the production lines around the nation started churning out simple affordable caravans in much the same family weekender format we had seen work for so long and many were being sold before they were even built, but many orders were also cancelled or quickly traded back in as the practicality of full-time caravan living was soon realised, and more was needed.

This boom was undoubtably driven by the beginning of Baby Boomer retirement age, and too a desire to sell the family home to become part of the grey nomad brigade. Full-time nomadic caravan habitation was well and truely here, as too the questionable 'Adventure before Dementia' sticker.

By the early 2000s, the basic requirements for caravans were more than just bed in a tin can with a 90 litre Electrolux gas fridge and scalloped canvas awning.

Caravans rapidly evolved with all the mod cons most could desire. These included more practical large volume fridge/freezers akin with those at home, ensuites with toilets, showers with hot water.

Undoubtably leading the charge was the ability to plug a modern 12v flat screen TV into a cigarette lighter port, itself powered by a 98ah GEL battery under the bed or seat, itself wire into a 240v/12v switching device to take full advantage of the 12v ceiling lights.

In the case of Australia's largest caravan manufacturer at the time, the installation of a GEL battery was considered a dealer option. Mostly consisting of a black plastic battery box, 14AWG wire with a 10amp glass fuse back to the electrical box, collectively known as the 'battery box' on the sales order form.

It was certainly a step up from the old lead acid car battery sitting on the front of an old Viscount a-frame. Furthermore, an installation that was achievable by most with basic 12v knowledge and an analogue multimeter.

This quickly progressed as affordable consumer solar of a practical usability size became available.

More and more, solar technology was enthusiastically embraced by recently retired computer programmers and fans of the 1980s TV show 'Beyond 2000' alike.

The humble 'battery box' was soon complemented with the addition of a 100w solar panel and a PWM regulator. Basic by todays standards, they systems were considered technical beyond many dealerships, so much so theses were factory fitted options.

Fast-forward to now, the demands on, and for technology within the caravan industry have become far more complex. Solar and battery management have now entered the realms of its own stand alone technical trades industry.

Much of this technology is beyond the average Garry, Bruce or Bob, and whilst they would be more than comfortable with the old Holden's 1-5-3-6-2-4 firing order and a mug of Nescafe 43 on a Sunday morning, they would probably not be too at home with ECMs, BCMs and PIMs in their late model tow vehicle, let alone service it at home.

The same can be said for the technology we are now seeing implemented with caravans. There needs to be careful and skilled considerations and execution for electrical design, matching panels with battery capacity, selection of cable run length and gauge, shunts, fuses, lugs and more to ensure adequate supply to inverters all so the 240v coffee machine can seamlessly operate without being physically tethered to the power grid.

The complexity of this is such that new standards including AS/NZS.3001.2:2022 are being applied at government levels, and it is foreseeable a new trade will be born, by which there will be further regulation, apprenticeships, and the requirement for specialised trades people, business and industry bodies.


Demand

Lithium technologies are only gaining in popularity, and at present there does not appear to be any emerging technology for which will replace lithium technology in the near future.

We have all recently witnessed the death spiral of Holden, and the rapid pace at which the first battery powered electric cars, a novelty at first, are now knocking on the door of Toyota's sales dominance within a short few years.

Lithium technology, particularly storage and usability has been the core driver of reliable alternatives to traditional battery storage methods, simply allowing for electric cars to be a viable proposition.

At the same time, lithium technology has become firmly entrenched into may technical aspects of modern connected life, and the caravan industry is not immune to this change, driven by demand and moving with immense continual growth and adaptation.

This is not something we envisage slowing down anytime soon. The expectations consumers are placing on caravans are certainly more than what they used to be.

The ever increasing demand for consumer tech, gadgets and the seemingly need continual for connectivity to the modern consumer world has certainly changed the caravan landscape forever.

Life has changed, and for many in a post pandemic world, the demands for caravans to be extension of modern connected home/work life style outweigh the simplicities and foundations of what caravans had been for so long; a weekend disconnect.

Societal values have also changed, and for many now, a caravan is now a seen as disconnect from fossil fuels and a the grid, and a continual desire for linked social and material connection via technologies. This will undoubtably continue on into the future.


Standards and Regulations

As identified in the background of this article, there is a layer of complexity when it comes to standards and regulations surrounding installations of alternative or off grid technologies in a recreational vehicle.

The standards are so much so that both Government, trade and association bodies with a vested interest in these technologies have submissions surrounding the use and installation, with the CSIRO and ACCC monitoring very closely.

Whist it can be argued the majority of batteries used in recreational vehicles are the safest form of Lithium chemistry known as LiFePO4 (Lithium Phosphate), rather than the thermally unstable Lithium Cobalt Oxide commonly found in the majority of consumer products, it should not be accepted that there are no safe issues at all. There is.

In Australia. sets of rules or standards are developed by Standards Australia, co-developed with industry, government and other stakeholders, then legislated into law. These standards known as AS/NZS.

When it comes to Electrical trades, these fall under AS/NZS 3000 and their specific updates (Currently AS/NZS 3000:2018).

These standards are also known as Wiring Rules. They set out a clear, concise technical set of rules to help licensed electricians construct and verify electrical installations.

They are also useful for the general public to obtain an understanding of the code when talking to licenced electricians, however it does not permit an unlicensed person(s) to undertake the work, nor does it allow for unlicensed person(s) such as sales people to provide installation advice.


Accessing the Standards

Standards Australia are the non government, not for profit organisation who are tasked with publishing industry standards. Access to the standards come at a cost, and are not freely available in the public domain.

Standards are available for purchase via the authorised outlets listed on Standards Australia's web page, or for caravan manufacturers who are members of the Caravan Industry Association of. Australia, you can contact the CIAA.

We touched on the AS/NZS 3000, the wiring standards which electricians use. These rules are also applied to the caravan industry, however when it comes to Lithium, there is a unique set of standards known as the AS/NZ.3001.2:2022

This standard is applied to new recreational builds after November 18 2023, and contain a specific set of rules around Lithium battery installations.

Where AS/NZ.3001.2:2022 does not cover, then AS/NZS 3000 is assumed.


Application of AS/NZ.3001.2:2022

Whilst CaravansPlus cannot help with obtaining the sets of standards, fortunately some insights of the standards are freely available, and CaravansPlus complied them as per below.

AS/NZ.3001.2:2022 sets out five specific rules relating to:

  • Minimum Lithium Battery Specifications

    A battery consists of cells which which are electrically connected to one another, usually in a case with terminal points. These batteries must have either integrated Battery Management Systems (BMS), or paired external BMS.

  • Battery Safety Approvals

    Lithium batteries must carry approvals to International standard IEC 62619 (currently IEC 62619:2022 at the time of writing). All lithium batteries sold by CaravansPlus are approved under this standard.

  • Monitoring of Batteries

    All lithium batteries or battery banks are required to be monitored externally by a wired or no wired device, clearly displaying both the state of charge, and voltage at a minimum.

  • Exclusion Zones

    In particular this is in relation to 'Metallic Service Lines'. In other words fuel lines which carry diesel, petrol, gas and even water. It applies to both horizontal and vertical 300mm planes of installation.

    If this is unachievable, then a suitable dielectric material can be used to avoid accidental short circuits.

  • Location, Sealing and Venting

    In short, this section of the standard sets out the foundations for the location of the battery. The biggest take away from this section is they can not be installed into a 'habitable area'.

    What does this mean? You must install in such away that there is a barrier which prevents ingress of gassing into the living area.

    In addition the battery must also installed within IP and temperature specification ranges (usually set out by the battery manufacturer).

    This means a lithium battery can still be installed under a bed, or in a cupboard or under a bench seat. They do not have to be installed externally providing the requirements are met.

    Please Note: The above is a brief take away summary of the AS/NZ.3001.2:2022 and not to be taken as advice on installation, as is. Always refer to the current standards before undertaking any works.


    Where does this leave CaravansPlus and other retailers?

    A good question. CaravansPlus sell a wide range of products. We are required by law to have an acceptable standard of knowledge on all items we retail, as do all retailers in Australia.

    In many cases we can provide more information than many manufacturers care to offer on their own products, and across a broad range of products, however we can not specialise in just one area. It is just not possible to do so.

    We will remain being able to offer many components for solar, battery and off grid electrical systems, much the same as we offer 240v electrical items now, however we can not provide advice on installation or custom component kits, nor do we encourage 240v electrical work to be carried out by an unlicenced person. All 240v electrical work must be carried out by a licenced trades person under the AS/NZS.3000

    In summary, retailers in most cases can be compared to your local G.P. They will have a vast overall knowledge on many aspects within the medical field, however a G.P. is not a specialist, and nor is a specialist not generally a practising G.P.

    Similarly, a 240v electrician is not an auto electrician's domain. They are two separate trades, and licensed differently. This will be the reality of caravans shortly, and the engagement of licenced trades people within this field will be a necessity.

    The reality is a (licenced) solar specialist will be able to work with you to design and adequately size a caravan alternative or off grid energy system to suit your needs.

    They will also need to work with you to ascertain what is required, and will likely require physically inspect the vehicle and its configuration to do so. This will allow for correct design and selection of materials and components to safely complete the installation, and certification which meets relevant standards.

    Having said this, we do offer some carefully pre developed kits from the likes of EnerDrive, however in many cases a one sized system does not fit all, and we understand this.


    Where does this leave you?

    According to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, they point out via their https://rvelectricalready.com.au/ website the following:

    Electrical installation work must be completed by a "competent person", as defined by each local state and territory jurisdiction.

    The general definition of a "competent person" seems to be the much same definition in many sources, including 'A person who has, through a combination of training, education and experience, acquired knowledge and skills enabling that person to correctly perform a specific task.'

    Again, it is not unforeseeable that qualified trades specialists will be legally required to undertake much of the installations within the next 10 years due to the ever expanding complexities and safety concerns, leading to the formation of an independent trade industry of its own.

    In the meantime, if you are nor confident, or competent, it may be best to seek the services of someone who is, and with the relevant trade skills and insurance.

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