Camping With Solar Energy

Camping With Solar Power Solar Energy Earth Friendly Camper Campsite

We have seen a huge increase in campers wanting to fit renewable solar energy into their camping leisure time. Many investigate eco-campsites that use some kind of solar or wind power generating systems, while others simplify and downsize their camping experience to be as earth friendly as possible.

So we asked our readers to share some of their experiences of using environmentally friendly systems and alternative energy sources for camper vans, caravans or tents. We were delighted with the response we got and the following article is from Paul Nutton who wanted to share a project he and his family have been involved with to fit a solar power system into their camper van.

A Guest Post By Paul Nutton

Numerous years of camping as a couple, and latterly as a family, have seen us experience many sizes of tents from small 2 man hiking units to 12 man multi dome tents and lastly a trailer tent. But 2 years ago after packing up our small village that now only just fitted on to a standard pitch with nowhere to sit outside we decided we had got too big to be able travel around during our annual 2 week holiday.  The only option for us to still camp and be able to pack up easily and move around when we wanted whilst on our holidays was a campervan.

We trawled through the local papers, Autotrader and the Internet until we found a panel van for conversion – a Volkswagen TransporterT5. These vans are ideal for conversion as there are a lot of parts available for the DIY enthusiast. Many hours were spent researching the different layouts, costs, what was required and what would be a bonus if we could afford it. Nine months later after lots of head scratching, sleepless nights and working most weekends the essentials were finished and we could now sleep 4 people in it and could cook in it.

Our first outing was to North Wales for a long weekend, the weather was mainly dry if a little breezy and everything worked fantastically. Buoyed by the success we booked  the tunnel to France for 2 weeks. It was whilst we were on the South West coast that the thought of fitting a solar panel first began to cross my mind. Previously we had become accustomed to having electric hook up to run the fridge in the tent and trailer tent but with the campervan we had a fridge, heater and lights that ran from a leisure battery, meaning we could be self sufficient for a short period of time without Kate’s wine or my beer getting warm.  As we were using the French Aires as we moved around this was quite handy, but when the weather was hot and the fridge was working hard to keep things cool the battery indicator would be warning us of a low battery after about 2 days. The only option to charge the battery was then to either run the engine of the van or find a site with electric hook up.

Earth Environmentally Friendly Camping Solar Power

Lensun Solar Panel

Earlier on this year I began looking into renewable energy and found some 80 Watt Semi Flexible Solar Panels from Lensun that seemed to fit the bill, they were only 3mm thick and fitted on the flat area of the vans roof the power rating was enough in theory to allow us to stay on a site or Aire without a hook up for as long as we wanted, so without delay I ordered one at £268 ($435) including a regulator.  A week later and the panel arrived and the next weekend I bonded it to the roof using Sikaflex 252 and ran the wires to the leisure battery via the solar regulator. Then began the process of going out to the van at regular intervals and measuring the battery voltage then going back inside to tell Kate what it was doing and how it was working.

Over the next week I removed the split charge fuse and just relied on the solar panel to keep the fridge running. This it did all week without fault and with no significant loss in battery voltage. The indicator on the regulator even showed it was charging when the panel had frost on it one morning. To test the panel we went to Turner Hall Farm in Seathwaite over the Easter weekend. The van was parked up for 2 full days with us using the lights, Eberspacher heater and fridge without having to think if the battery was going to last. During the mainly cloudy and rainy days the indicator would show the battery to be nearly fully charged then during the evening when the natural light faded the battery would drain slightly until the next morning when it would get charged again.

The technology of solar panels has moved on quite considerably over recent years. They no longer have to rely on just sunlight but daylight alone is enough to slowly charge a leisure battery. The only thought I have had since fitting the panel is how much more efficient it would be if I had allowed an air gap underneath to aid cooling. Although any excess energy produced by the panel is dissipated through a heatsink in the regulator and not through the panel itself I think this could have helped.

Solar Energy Campingsolar energy eco campingEarth Day Camping Solar Energy

We are very happy with the solar panel. It is unobtrusive works as expected and allows us to book sites that don’t have a hook up.  I also like it that I no longer have a blue lead hanging out of the van to the hook up. They remind me of umbilical cords and now we’ve cut ours free we can experience a bit more camping freedom. Who knows… we might try wild camping in Scotland next.

solar powered tent

Learn how to make your own solar powered tent with the Solar Stirling Plant. All you need is a smaller more portable version scaled down to size to fit your camping needs. It can be a portable unit for tents, campervans, caravans, or any other method of camping and glamping you use!

Inspired Camping

 

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16 Responses to “Camping With Solar Energy”

  1. Buttercup Bus VW Campers
    27 April 2012 at 8:54 am #

    I had never thought about a solar panel – interesting idea. I am not sure where it would best be hidden on a pop top camper but it is worth thinking about.

    • 27 April 2012 at 8:57 am #

      Really happy we’ve helped you see the benefit of renewable energy. Makes us very happy :-) We also like the thin solar panel Paul recommended… would hardly know it’s there.

  2. Mark Beresford
    27 April 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Great post, we have a hightop VW t25 camper which in many ways would be ideal for solar panels. The main negative is the cost outlay, especially when you are running your camper on a tight budget. Though if any one wants to give me one I’d fit it in a flash….lol must be my Yorkshire qualities.. :-))

    • 27 April 2012 at 6:18 pm #

      We’re really tempted to fit one to our old Mercedes camper as it’ll guarantee the battery is always full & saves money on the hook up charge (which btw is getting crazy expensive!). We also love wild camping and a panel will make that so much easier.

  3. Bizz
    27 April 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Great article with lots of useful information. I’m tempted to try to find some space on the roof of my 1972 T2.

    @buttercupbus i also have the same problem as i have a nice big dormobile roof. so only a small space left front and rear (where the roof rack is).

    ALthough that said from the pictures it look as though it might even fit on there. Hmmm i think I’ll have to do a spot of measureing.

    • 27 April 2012 at 3:54 pm #

      Glad you liked the article… By the way if you do decide to fit solar we’d love to hear how it goes and what you choose to go for.

    • Buttercup Bus VW Campers
      28 April 2012 at 8:01 am #

      Hello fellow T2 owner! These old campers really are a lovely way to travel – it is a real passion for me… :-)

  4. Paul Nutton
    27 April 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Bizz Lensun will make panels to order if you have a particular size you require. The panel in the phots is 1000mmx600mm they will also put the junction box where you like. Glad it has been of some help. Here is a link to the rest of the conversion. http://www .flickr.com/photos/sturmey/ sets/72157625587973397/

    • 27 April 2012 at 5:12 pm #

      Paul… Your article has been very helpful and the conversion looks great. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Will
    2 May 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Wow. Very creative idea. I was looking at solar panels to charge camera equipment/laptop from the road for future travels but this seems much better! Amazing that a refrigerator and heater can be run with the motor off.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • 2 May 2012 at 12:28 pm #

      You’re very welcome. More stories about solar being fitted into a vintage camper van this week so don’t go far! *smile*

  6. Laura Domela
    9 May 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    When we got our 2010 27′FB International two years ago, we took it to AM Solar in Oregon and said “Put as much solar as you can on the roof, please.” It’s been so great for us to be able to work on the road while boondocking on the side of a lake somewhere. We can use our computers and make espresso…all the things one needs while working off the grid! http://www .riveted-blog.com/2010/05/solar-upgrade-in-progress .html

    • 10 May 2012 at 8:35 am #

      Laura… We’re very envious. It must be great living off-grid in an Airstream without having to make compromises with technology & your energy consumption. It must feel great every day to have only clean energy on board. Thanks for dropping by and sharing… Sarah

      • Laura Domela
        10 May 2012 at 5:31 pm #

        I didn’t say there weren’t compromises (hair dryer, air conditioning….not happening). :) But yes, it feels great!

        • 11 May 2012 at 10:08 am #

          Well your pic shows you’re not suffering too much there (which is great by the way *smile*) so its obviously workable. You might also want to check out our BioLite Stove article today. Another way to reduce our carbon footprint http://tinyurl.com/d5qs8ly Sarah

  7. John
    22 July 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    We had a 70W solar panel fitted to our motorhome about 8 years ago. Wouldn’t be without it. Just spent a fortnight in Exmoor without a hookup. No problems so long as you don’t watch too much telly – wWe managed a couple of hours per night using a 20″ HDTV & Humax Freesat HDR box and that was in dullish weather.

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