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Cool Campsite Essentials: Solar Energy

Vintage Campervan Myrtle Cool Camping Campsite

With the increasing popularity of worldwide events like Earth Hour and Earth Day we are seeing a surge of campers wanting to get to grips with how their leisure time can be as environmentally friendly as possible. Many look into only staying at campsites with solar and wind powered systems and compostable toilets, while others simplify and downsize their camping experience to be as kind to mother earth as possible.

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So we thought we would put a shout out to our readers to ask if anyone was interested in sharing their experiences of fitting solar energy systems into their camper van or caravan to help others with their own projects, and we had some great responses. Last week we heard from Paul Nutton about how he and his family are becoming more earth friendly, an article which received some great comments from our readers. You are obviously interested, so this week we have another visual treat for you. We were delighted when we heard from Capri Rasmussen and Jason Auch who own a 1964 Travco vintage camper van called Myrtle and like to do a little earth friendly camping in true ’60s style.

They’ve done extensive renovations to Myrtle, who has very definitely been a labour of love. With even the Dodge engine now restored she has become a gorgeous example of a vintage motorhome. As a result of their hard work Capri and Jason have had to set up their own Facebook page and blog to keep up with the demand of Myrtle’s on street admirers. Thankfully Jason is a part time professional photographer so they have the perfect way of being able to showcase their passion. We chatted with them to get full details of their achievements for anyone who might wish to replicate it, demonstrating you don’t have to own a modern camper to be kind to mother earth.

Vintage Campervan Myrtle Cool Camping Campsite Camp Camper camping site

How much research did you do before buying your solar system for Myrtle?

We were able to leverage a lot of the research and knowledge we had collected for our future house PV system. Of course this system had to be scaled down for capacity and component size.

What did you decide to fit and why was it best for you?

We were fortunate in a way, as Myrtle required all of her house wiring to be redone, so we got to start with a blank slate. We decided to continue to have both AC and DC systems, while keeping Myrtles house 100% separate from the automobile electrical system. We also knew we wanted to reuse all of the fixtures and hide all high tech components to keep that vintage feel.

Vintage Campervan Myrtle Cool Camping Campsite Camp Camper camping site

One of the first considerations with a solar installation is to understand and minimize your electricity consumption. This was done via extensive use of LED lighting, and minimizing phantom loads and high draw appliances. Once we understood the maximum power required, it was just a matter of sizing each of the required components. This is what we ended up with:

  • 8 x Phillips LED light bulbs;
  • 2 x Carmanah 95 watt solar panels and roof mounting kits. Room to grow to 8;
  • 1 x Magnum Energy Magna Sine Wave Inverter and shore charger. We pipe the heat generated by the inverter into a heat vent in the bedroom to keep it cozy at night;
  • 1 x Magnum Energy remote control mounted in a panel hidden in the closet;
  • 1 x Go Power solar regulator mounted in a panel hidden in the closet;
  • 2 x US Battery 2200 XC2 6v golf cart batteries vented to the outside. Room to grow to 4;
  • 1 x period correct GE breaker box and breakers;
  • misc cabling, switches, connectors, shunts and fuses.

A Sine Wave Inverter was selected so anything can run properly off of the AC power system. An added bonus of the Magnum inverter was the tight integration with the controller and the built in shore charging capability. The solar panel and battery components were selected for easy expandability and / or future upgrades as the technology got better.

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How much did it cost and where did you source it from. Do you think the cost is worth what you and the environment get back?

We had originally spec’d 2 different acceptable solar solutions for Myrtle. One was based on the Outback Power systems, the other on the Magnum Energy systems. The decision was made when we found a good sale on the Magnum hardware.

I believe that any investment in renewable energy is a good investment. Besides, we are able to use Myrtle in campgrounds with no hookups, and she is always fully charged whenever we need to use her. This convenience is priceless.

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How much solar energy does it generate on a sunny day?

Using an online solar calculator tool we estimate that Calgary area has a yearly average of 3.19 peak sunny hours a day, averaged over the year. That means that Myrtle generates 0.61 Kw of electricity per day (or about $80 / £50 per year worth of electricity). This is currently more than enough for our camping habits.

How much does it generate on a cloudy day?

Unfortunately PV panels do not generate much power on a cloudy day. Cloudy days are what the batteries are for and so far they have never run out. We are able to use the monitoring systems to confirm that we still have power available and view the charging progress.

The good thing about solar panels on an RV, is that you typically do not continue to vacation somewhere where it is cloudy. It’s always sunny somewhere!

What batteries do you use to store excess power?

Myrtle currently uses two 6 volt deep discharge golf cart batteries for storage of excess power. We built all the brackets and cabling for four batteries should she need extra storage in the future.

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What do you run off your system?

Myrtle can run any 110v AC or 12v DC electronics. We currently use the system to run all Myrtle’s lighting, water pump, fans, sound system, our iPads, camera equipment, computers, kitchen appliances, and an electric blanket.

Do you run a heating system from solar power? If so, which one?

No. We did install extra solar insulation throughout Myrtle to try and control the heating / cooling requirements. We use extra blankets when it gets cool and an electric blanket if needed.

Did it take a long time to install and do you have any special expertise?

Once all the hardware was purchased, and the layout of all the hardware was designed, the actual install only took about 2 days. The Internet and manufacturers instructions were invaluable, as was my husbands and his fathers electrical experience.

Vintage Campervan Myrtle Cool Camping Campsite Camp Camper campingsite

If you were to do it again, what would you do differently?

We are very happy with the system. Although the possibility of covering Myrtle’s entire roof in thin solar film would be intriguing aesthetically. I just don’t think that technology is mature enough yet.

Many people feel confused and worried about fitting solar to their campers and vehicles. What would your advice be to anyone thinking of doing it?

Go for it. The scariest part is putting another hole in the roof of your rig!

What are your top environmental camping products?

Myrtle herself is a recycling project. We like to buy vintage items when possible to avoid the manufacturing of more stuff. Most of her kitchen and decorative items are vintage including her dishes, linen, pots, curtains etc. We also used recovered seats out of wrecked newer rv and fitted her with a vintage couch. We use biodegradable natural cleaning products to keep her interior in good shape. Even little things using toilet paper from recycled fibres helps. We are currently researching composting toilets to replace her conventional one. We also use bikes when camping so we can explore while Myrtle is parked.

We would one day like to tow our electric car behind Myrtle. Electric vehicles work well with a Motorhome as you can charge the EV at the campground and leave the rv parked.

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Have you considered running Myrtle on bio-diesel?

We have explored many options to make Myrtle more environmentally friendly, including bio diesel. Ultimately we have decided that using the existing small displacement gas engine is the best option for us. If she had a diesel engine already we would definitely run her on biodiesel. We have a longer term dream of Myrtle being powered with an electric motor, perhaps partially charged from a roof filled with PV panels.

Wow… Capri and Jason are definitely an inspiration for us and we’d like to thank them (and Myrtle of course!) for taking part in our interview to spread the love of solar energy systems. We’re seeing many more eco friendly products on the camping market these days, and a lot of great concepts and ideas. We’ll certainly be reporting on some of the best ones over the coming months, so make sure you add your email to the updates box so you don’t miss out.

Vintage Campervan Myrtle Cool Camping Campsite Camp Camper camping site

Inspired Camping

Picture Credits: Jason Auch

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