If you’ve followed me much on here, you’ll notice that I like to cover the challenges of EV towing and electric RVs. Electric vehicles (EVs) are a great option for towing due to their instant torque and smooth acceleration. However, they do have some limitations when it comes to towing. One of the main reasons why EVs struggle with towing is because of their limited range. Towing a heavy load can significantly reduce the range of an EV, which means that drivers may need to stop more frequently to recharge their vehicle.
Additionally, EVs (like my Bolt EUV) often have lower towing capacities than comparable gas-powered vehicles, although this is changing as newer models are released.
But, there’s another aspect to electric RVing that I’ve overlooked: the environmental impacts. While my local driving could easily be covered by a home solar installation and charging in my driveway, going on longer journeys takes the solar option away. Once I’m hitting Electrify America stations and RV parks, I’m back to relying on whatever the local grid’s generation mix is, and it could be a whole lot dirtier than what I get at home.
I’ve covered the differing environmental impact of EVs in depth in this article, but today I want to share the story of an RV park that’s making itself part of the solution to this.
Thousand Trails (the operator of RV resorts and campgrounds, with over 80 locations in 23 states and British Columbia, Canada) has recently installed a new premium RV storage section at the Wilderness Lakes Campground in Menifee, California. The RV storage is topped with almost 3,500 solar panels, which is part of their efforts to bolster their environmental impact.
The solar project installed by Thousand Trails is a 1,469 kilowatt system that is anticipated to generate approximately 2.4 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy every year. The solar panels are a part of Thousand Trails’ ongoing initiatives to boost the use of renewable energy sources. With this installation, they expect to produce enough energy to power around half of the total energy consumption at the campground. Wilderness Lakes Campground has over 500 sites and various shared amenities such as a swimming pool, hot tubs, fitness center, clubhouse, and game room, so it’s a whole lot more than just powering RV air conditioners.
Working alongside DSD Renewables and Black Bear Energy, solar panels were erected across 82,000 square feet of the campground’s newly constructed RV storage facility. For comprehensive protection against inclement weather conditions, RVs can be housed in covered spaces with topped-solar panel covers that come equipped with heightened security measures such as controlled access points and surveillance cameras. The new facility accommodates both 30′ and 45′ rigs on a month-to-month basis for utmost convenience.
“Along with the many benefits these solar panels provide to our overall environmental initiatives, our guests and members at Thousand Trails Wilderness Lakes can feel confident knowing that the energy they use is coming from a renewable source,” said Monica Ferrer, senior director of energy and sustainability for Thousand Trails. “We’re thrilled to have a high end amenity for guests and members that also highlights our ongoing focus on sustainability, renewable energy and environmental awareness.”
There will be an official ribbon-cutting and tour of Menifee’s new solar RV storage facility, hosted by the Menifee Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, February 21.
Why This Matters
Solar-powered EVs are much cleaner than those powered by grid electricity because they don’t rely on burning fossil fuels. Solar energy is renewable and doesn’t produce any harmful emissions (other than production, which is minimal), making it a much more sustainable option for powering electric vehicles compared to energy from the grid, which often comes from a mix of fossil fuels, nuclear, and some renewables.
Additionally, solar-powered EVs are often more efficient than their grid-powered counterparts as they can take advantage of the sun’s energy directly. Grid energy losses aren’t as catastrophic as the naysayers claim (they average around 6% in the United States), but every little bit counts.
But, there’s a problem with solar power and electric vehicles: the space needed. Solar power is great, but the limited space on a vehicle’s surface means that you can’t get much in the way of useful power. The only way to even get the power needed for the average commute is to make the vehicle super efficient, like an Aptera (and many people wouldn’t go for such an avant-garde vehicle).
Even on something as big as an RV, there’s still only enough space for a couple of kilowatts of power at most unless you want to install a big folding or sliding solar array. But, bigger vehicles require more energy to move, so you’re still not getting ahead.
So, for most uses, stationary solar power is king. There’s plenty of space on rooftops that could be used to charge cars, and solar canopies can be used to make something like an RV park more pleasant. Plus, getting the RV under the shade of the solar panels mean things like air conditioning need less power. It’s a win-win all around.
Where We Need To Go From Here
As I’ve pointed out before, there’s still a lot of room for environmental improvement in the RV industry. There are all sorts of aerodynamic gimmicks out there being used to sell supposedly efficient travel trailers, when much more efficient shapes are needed to really help EV tow vehicles get better range.
We still need to push the industry to improve on that front, but providing cleaner power along the way and at destinations is another key way we can help lower the environmental impact of RVing. What we really need to see is not only Thousand Trails, but other popular RV park chains put in solar power at all of their parks. It would also be good to see government-gun campgrounds (like you’d find at state and national parks) install solar power at and near RV parks.
But, battery storage is also going to be an essential ingredient. Many people are stopping by for the night and don’t spend very many daylight hours at RV parks that aren’t near a big attraction. Saving some of that energy to use for future electric RVs will help them get even cleaner.
UPDATE: We reached out to Thousand Trails and asked “What are your future plans for other parks, and are you looking into more solar-covered storage?” The reply was as follows.
“We already have solar storage at our Thousand Trails campground in Morgan Hill, California, and we plan to begin a project to expand the solar storage at that location in the next few months. We have another solar project that will be underway at a property in Fresno, California by early March.”
Featured image provided by Thousand Trails.
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