RVs, Van Life, & Camping Are Leading The Way To Efficiency

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When I reviewed the Jackery Explorer 1000 solar generator, I didn’t know how many different solar generators and power stations I’d end up reviewing. As I received more and more stations and panels to review, I started running out of room. Plus, even a larger family like mine can only use so many power stations. So, I started placing them with extended family so that they’d be put to good use and we’d get a good long-term review for every one of them. When I followed up with one of my brothers who is really into camping, I was shocked at what he was doing with just a little bit of solar power.

My Brother’s Solar-Powered Fridge

It used to be that you’d have to use ice when you go camping to keep drinks and perishable foods cool. On road trips, a daily stop at a gas station to pick up some more ice and drain melted ice does the trick. On deeper excursions into the wilderness, you have to find one of the few little country stores on the rare pockets of private land along the roads. In the case of the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, one of the only places for dozens of miles is Doc Campbell’s Post near the Cliff Dwellings, but they sometimes close for as much as a month at a time because they’re a family-owned and run business, and they need a break, too!

Other places around the edge of the wilderness, like Lake Roberts, Glenwood, or Mimbres, have shops with odd hours, too. So, unless you’ve got extra ice chests or an RV freezer, you might be out of luck on keeping food from spoiling on longer trips if you unexpectedly run into a business that decided to take the day (or month) off.

So, my brother found himself an alternative, the ICECO VL45 Portable Fridge/Freezer. It looks like an ice chest, but requires no ice to stay cold. Now, he plugs his little fridge into the Jackery Explorer 1000 and can run the thing for 2.5 days on it if he starts with a full charge.

The combination works well. The fridge only pulls around 40 watts when the compressor is running, and only about 5 watts when it’s not. So, the average power draw is somewhere around 20-30 watts if you don’t open it up too often. If he plugs solar panels into the Jackery (he has two Jackery SolarSaga 100 watt panels) during the day at a campsite, he could run not only the fridge but a few other things at the campsite indefinitely as long as there’s good sun most days. In the worst case, he could plug the Jackery station into his truck for a while to catch up if things stay too cloudy, but he hasn’t had to do that yet.

Power Is A Medical Necessity For Many People

I know some people would say that he should probably just eat canned food and leave the lithium batteries for more critical uses. And sure, “glamping” with a kilowatt-hour of battery is both not very primitive and increases the environmental impact of camping a bit. But, he’s got a medical condition that requires he keep medication cold, so this is really the only way he can safely spend much time away from civilization without risking death or a hasty return to town if he runs out of ice.

He’s not the only one that benefits from new battery technology like this. Many people need things like CPAP machines, nebulizers, and other electric medical devices to stay alive or alleviate suffering. So modern CleanTech is making it possible for many people with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors more than ever before.

The little ICECO fridge achieves this low power consumption both by having a high-efficiency multi-speed compressor and by being face-up compared to normal refrigerators, which keeps the cold air mostly in the fridge when you open the lid. But, highly efficient fridges are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Further down this rabbit hole, I’ve found that RVing off-grid is driving a lot of efficiency.

The Challenges of Boondocking

One of the big drivers of this is what RVers call boondocking. There are free places all over the place where you can park an RV and stay the night, and that saves you anywhere from $25-100 a night in most places. In town, you’ll find that places like Cracker Barrel or Walmart will let you stay the night as long as the state or city doesn’t prohibit it. Most land owned by the Bureau of Land Management allows you to stay for up to 14 days, as does the US Forest Service and some other government entities. You can often pull into a rest area on the side of major highways or at many truck stops if there’s space and stay for a night. There are even spots at the edge of the Grand Canyon that you can camp at for free, if you know where to look and don’t mind dirt roads.

But most of these places have a catch: there are no hook-ups. You can’t plug your RV in and power things like the refrigerator, air conditioner, or an electric heater. Most RVs have a propane heater and can run the three-way fridge on propane, but there’s no way to run your air conditioner without a noisy generator, which is often prohibited in boondocking spots at night. This is similar to the dilemma truck drivers face in cities that prohibit idling: sleep in the heat and risk your health or pay a steep fine.

RVs and the sleepers in semi-trucks have always had some lead-acid batteries to power basic things like lights, water pumps, and the electronic components in propane heaters and refrigerators. But anyone who camped as a kid before LED bulbs became common knows that your parents and grandparents didn’t want you to use the lights too much or let the sink run for too long, because that would run the battery down and leave everyone in the dark (and maybe the cold). Plus, drawing the battery down low like that is bad for them.

But, there are solutions to these problems in 2022. In Part 2, I’m going to explain how CleanTech is solving the challenges of boondocking and creating some exciting technology along the way.

Featured image provided by my brother (used with permission).

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1775 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba