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 energy or wind power generating systems, while others simplify and downsize their camping experience to be as earth friendly as possible.
With the surge in UK staycations and the popular choice of camping as an option, it has never been a better time to consider solar power solutions to enable some wild camping and enhance your experience.
Not only does this provide location flexibility and a cheaper pitch without hook-up, but it also achieves that ultimate goal to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
There are already a number of eco-campsites across the UK that use solar or wind power generating systems and if you are keen to go that step further and incorporate eco renewable energy to your camping experience then there are now many reliable off-grid options that you can consider, either as tent users or as camper van additions.
In this article, we want to help campers make sustainable decisions in relation to renewable energy when they visit the campsite and as solar energy is the cheapest form of energy, then that’s a great place to start.
What Is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is collected from the suns rays and stored in a battery, ready for use when needed. The technology has come a long way since Daryl Chaplin’s first discovery in 1954. Solar power from photovoltaic (PV) panels using crystalline silicon technology is still one of the most widely used and cheapest options and recent developments have seen the incorporation of perovskite crystal (a lightweight calcium titanium oxide mineral) which adds a significant increase in the efficiency of solar panels (Oxford PV).
Other developments are also seeing the use of hexagonal lenses in the protective glass to concentrate light (Swiss-based company Insolight). Copper indium gallium selenide (C.I.G.S.) solar cells is another system initially utilised by the military and thought to be the future of solar technology though it is currently too expensive for large scale commercial use. There are exciting developments to incorporate PV properties into building materials (building-integrated photovoltaics or BIPVs) such as roof tiles and in particular solar glass. And also solar cell fabrics or high-efficiency III-V materials that are manufactured into car rooftops furnishings and clothing.
How Can Solar Energy Be Used At The Campsite And What Are The Options?
For the camper and van dwellers, there are many solar power kits available that are easy to install as a DIY project or by using a company dedicated to converting more comprehensive solutions to your vehicle.
From portable folding panels, tilted and mounted panel racks, fixed units that can be secured permanently to your vehicle along with the lightweight flexible panel option for attaching to curved surfaces and is ideal for the pop-top camper. Removable solar panels that are positioned on windscreens when parked and stationery is a handy way to avoid permanent installation commitments. For those without a van, there are some fantastic solar-powered tents on the market and whilst on foot, the trail walker can purchase a back-pack solar scroll for smaller use.
What Do You Need To Consider Before Buying Camping Solar Energy Kit?
Some quick tips to keep in mind. Before investing in your new solar energy kit, make sure to find out your daily camping electricity consumption so you know which panel is right for you. Also, think about where the panel will go to get optimum sunlight and without any barriers. If fixing a permanent unit to the roof of your van be mindful to check the solar panels operating capacity at high roof temperatures as some perform better in strong heat than others.
Check how well the solar kit fairs in cloudy conditions as well as sunny and some campers may be interested in winter month use. When connecting the solar panel to your leisure battery you may need to check if any specific adaptors are required, and the health of your leisure battery will determine how well the renewable energy is stored.
You may also require an inverter, to convert the solar panel’s direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC) for using three-pin sockets and general appliances.
The Inspired Camping Solar Energy Case Study
The following case study is written by one of our readers, Paul Nutton and is an excellent example of a tried and tested solar power conversion on a van. We hope that Paul’s story can inspire you to follow in his footsteps to using solar energy during your next trip to the campsite.
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 to 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 an electric hook up.
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.
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 hookup. I also like it that I no longer have a blue lead hanging out of the van to the hookup. 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.