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Charlie Low

Van Life Nomadic Workers

This story was originally published by Victron Energy

Charlie Low and Dale Comley planned to take a year off from their 9-5 jobs to go travelling. It turned out so well they won’t be going back.

We knew that we wanted to live differently, says Charlie.

We documented our van conversion – sharing the process online – and began receiving a lot of questions from other people who were doing the same. We realized there was a gap in the market; a lack of definitive, factual information based on data rather than opinions and individual experiences.

Charlie’s and Dale’s backgrounds are in physics and engineering. With the hands-on experience they’d gained from their own van conversion they wrote The Van Conversion Bible – a comprehensive guide to achieving a bespoke van conversion. To their amazement, it became a bestseller, winning Writers’ Digest self-published book of the year.

It was rewarding to see the value so many people found in the book. We noticed that where people struggled most with their project was the electrical system. Most aspects of a van conversion can be figured out, but the electrical system can be complex for anyone who doesn’t come from a technical background.

Charlie and Dale working remotely from their campervan in France, July 2021

On the road one day, they struck on the idea of launching an electrical design service for mobile and off-grid applications.

Charlie says: We saw people repeating the same mistakes over and over again – yet there aren’t any companies out there helping individual van converters with their power system.

Starting a business we could run whilst traveling, climbing and connecting with people around the world felt like a natural next step for us.

Bespoke power systems for non-technical folk

The business they started – Nohma – now has engineers around the world who have helped DIYers design off-grid electrical systems for their van, RV, or tiny home.

The process starts with a targeted questionnaire. Using a custom-built algorithm of over 200 parameters and calculations, Nohma engineers design the ideal system for each unique customer.

Dale says: We love Victron products because you don’t have one or two different inverters to choose from; you’ve got many different sizes available of every product. That means we never have to over-spec something; we can perfectly tailor a system to our customer’s needs.

Our software draws from the full list of components available so there are probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of combinations available to us. Victron’s product ecosystem is really crucial to our design process. And because of its build-quality, we know it will last.

After some fine-tuning with the customer for final design, Nohma works with its distribution partners around the world to dispatch all the necessary components directly to the customer’s door – including every wire and lug nut.

Customer using a Nohma wiring diagram

Charlie says: We provide a wiring diagram and installation guide specific to their system so that the customer can safely install it step-by-step, not unlike a piece of IKEA furniture. And when questions arise during or after the installation, an engineer is on hand to help. 

Being a nomadic business means Nohma can bring other work-nomads on board wherever they are in the world. That provides access to highly qualified personnel regardless of location. With two astrophysicists, and CV’s which document experience working in blue-chip companies like Rolls Royce and Jaguar Land Rover, they feel they have the best team in the world.

Dale says: Most of them work remotely using the same power systems they design for customers each day. This allows for an organic way of working, learning, and assisting others. Currently we have 14 team members, spread across five time zones – all travelling in camper vans or living in off-grid tiny homes.

Living the life

Dale and Charlie love following the adventures of some of their customers and hearing about the new lives they have achieved like Bobby who is driving from the UK to Australia, and Jonas and Lore, who converted a bus into a rolling hotel. Knowing that we’ve played a part in making these pursuits possible feels really special.

Bobby Bolton overlander vehicle

Charlie and Dale were interested in learning more about their prospective customers’ knowledge base. At the end of the 30-question system-design tool, they asked four more questions related to inverter sizing, expected power consumption, battery capacity and solar production. Only 2 people out of 332 correctly answered those four fundamental questions.

Dale: Our goal is to make off-grid energy simple and, dare I say, fun, so we really wanted to remove the need for people to make hundreds of individual calculations on their own at the risk of making ‘small’ mistakes that sometimes have big ramifications.

Nohma offers their design services at no additional charge, removing the monetary barrier and making professional system design accessible to anyone. 

North America 

The US RV market differs significantly from, say, Europe.

Dale: For the US market we essentially had to create a new version of our tool to cover systems with much higher power demands. In the UK, we rarely spec a system higher than 3kVA, whereas one of the first US systems we worked on was 2x 10kVA Quattros in parallel!

Dale and Charlie spent six months in the US road-tripping from Maine all the way to California. As they zig-zagged across America, they chatted to RVers about how they used their vans, in order to understand the local market.

We visited 22 states in total, so we had a really broad view of the different ways people travel, from going fully off-grid on Bureau of Land Management land (open spaces) to Class A RVs hooked up at managed campgrounds.

The North American version of The Van Conversion Bible can be found here.  

Check out Nohma’s website for helpful resources on everything from a deep dive on lithium batteries to how to live and work as a digital nomad.

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