Energy independence - 3 ways to freedom

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Traveling is associated primarily with the feeling of freedom and independence. For many of us, the priority is the freedom to camp on our own terms, regardless of the infrastructure and restrictions related to access to media. An important aspect here is energy freedom, i.e. the ability to obtain the power needed from alternative energy sources. Today we will tell you what options we currently have and the benefits and disadvantages of individual solutions. Of course, we invite you to exchange experiences and discuss on our fanpage!

Energy from the sun

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The most popular way of obtaining energy is solar panels. The vast majority of recreational vehicle owners place them on the roofs of their campers or trailers. However, there are also mobile panels, placed near our camp or attached with suction cups/other attachments, e.g. to the glass or bodywork. This type of solutions will work, for example, when we travel in a van/small car, which becomes a "camper" only for the duration of holiday trips.

Which solar panels should you choose for a camper?

A simple solar installation consists of photovoltaic panels with a specific power (usually the panel power is 100-170W, but with technological development, more and more efficient and smaller units appear), a controller and a battery. An important element of the entire installation that is underestimated by novices and bargain hunters is the controller. MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) controllers, proven and recommended by experts and users, are now standard in sensibly built installations. They are slightly more expensive than the cheapest ones on the market, but in order to obtain the highest possible output power from a specific cell under changing operating conditions, the optimal load resistance must be constantly changed - and this is what the heart, i.e. the controller, has to take care of. Of course, you also need to choose the right battery. It will be best if the gel/AGM/LiFePO4 battery does not have a capacity greater than the cell current in amperes multiplied by 10. For example: a 130 W panel with a power of 7.2 A should support a battery with a capacity of approximately 70-80 Ah.

Advantages of solar panels:

+ Relatively inexpensive investment

+ A safe solution provided that devices are professionally selected and installed

+ High efficiency on sunny days

Disadvantages of solar panels:

- Dependence on exposure/sunshine/weather

- Reduced efficiency in cold seasons and in the shade (and on hot summer days we look for places that provide shade)

- The additional weight of the installation reduces the vehicle's load capacity

Power generator for a camper

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Liquid fuel power generators (gasoline/diesel) are very popular, e.g. in the USA, where virtually every larger camper is equipped with this type of device. Of course, such solutions are not common in Europe, but several manufacturers have appeared on the market offering neat mobile solutions. The most famous, iconic model of a portable generator is, for example, Honda. Its latest model, the EU32i, is currently being introduced and will soon take the camper market by storm. We are writing about this model because its predecessor's compactness, reliability, power quality and low noise level for a generator have become an unrivaled model for the entire industry. An additional benefit is the use of inverter technology, i.e. variable operating characteristics, which significantly affects both the noise generated and the efficiency of the device. Of course, Honda is not the only manufacturer of compact units, and in terms of price it is certainly not a product for the masses. There are many price and design alternatives, but the principle of operation of a compact generator is in each case the same - from liquid fuel we gain a single-phase power source capable of charging our on-board battery or powering devices with a total power of up to approx. 3 kW.

Advantages of a generator for a camper:

+ Electricity production regardless of the weather and conditions

+ Efficiency and power quality allowing even powering demanding, sensitive electronics

+ Mobility and no need to perform dedicated installations

+ Possibility to power the camper/trailer as from a traditional 230V network, including stationary air conditioning

Disadvantages of a generator for a camper:

- Price

- The noise generated may be uncomfortable for users and neighbors

Fuel cell

The so-called "fuel cell" has been on the market for years and has a loyal group of fans who consider it the best energy generator for traveling. It produces environmentally friendly electricity based on a chemical reaction that charges the on-board battery. This silent process is completely automatic. The fuel needed for the reaction is methanol. The manufacturer of the solution, EFOY, offers systems of various sizes and for various applications. Recreational vehicles, however, remain the company's main area of focus. Once the system is installed, it is virtually maintenance-free. Methanol consumption (e.g. for the EFOY 80 BT model) is 0.9 l/kWh. Fuel is taken from cartridges with a capacity of 5 or 10 liters.

Advantages of fuel cells for a camper:

+ Offered with an EFOY LiFePO4 battery, but works with most batteries

+ Compact and light solution (weight less than 7 kg)

+ Silent operation

+ Possibility of connection to a photovoltaic system

+ Maintenance-free

Disadvantages of fuel cells for a camper:

- The need to purchase dedicated fuel cartridges in the manufacturer's partner network

- High price

- Balancing power with compact versions may be difficult in larger campers (power production may be too low)

These are just 3 basic ways to survive and achieve energy independence. We are very curious about your experiences and ideas for optimizing energy consumption and obtaining it while traveling!

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Maciej Kinal
Maciej Kinal

I feel best in the form of trade fairs and meetings with enthusiasts. Technical freak. In my life I have dismantled many motorhomes for the first time. Fan of large vehicles, mountain biking and traveling without weight and financial restrictions. At CampRest, I am responsible for all publications on automotive topics.

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