To avoid leaving your clients in the dark, Open Air Business takes a look at off-grid power provision
By their very nature, the ideal locations for glamping accommodation are often off the beaten track and therefore away from the services that most people take for granted such as mains drainage, gas and electricity.
Although the concept of glamping is all about escaping from the day to day norm, most glampers expect a certain degree of luxury, and a feeling of home from home. For example, many people want to be contactable and to be able to charge their mobile phones wherever they are. Where these services are not easily available, the challenge is to offer alternatives that combine the provision of power, and thus comfort, with the authentic glamping experience that promotes a feeling of getting back to nature.
Adrian Williams, managing director of Solar Technology International, explains: “As the glamping industry continues to see growth, its offer of rustic charm coupled with a sense of understated luxury can be more fully met with the provision of off-grid electricity to power lighting, water pumps and so on. Wiring up to the grid is not only an expensive option, but also an impractical one with the seasonal and sometimes nomadic nature of glampsites. In addition, the disruption of the natural landscape undermines the ‘off-grid’ ethos of glamping.”
According to Tim Smerdon, owner of Mobile Solar Chargers and co-owner of Solar Charging Can, many of those who choose glamping as an option are city dwellers and are therefore looking for an experience that is rural, rustic and above all, quiet. He says: “I think phone charging is seen as a necessity – people like to have the option, even though they might choose not to use it – as is lighting.”
Alicia Whymark, product manager, Portable Power Technology, agrees that light and power are an important commodity to offer your glamping customers on off-grid sites. “Customers may want to turn off all their devices and get right back to nature and some may want to retain as many creature comforts as possible, but most will reside somewhere in the middle,” she says. “Everyone needs light and energy, it’s just a question of how much.”
So, light and energy are considered essential, but if you are to avoid potential noise and disruption to the surrounding landscape while keeping in mind those ‘green’ credentials, what are the off-grid options?
Solar power is probably the one that first springs to mind. The sun can provide lots of electric power (especially if your accommodation gets a lot of solar exposure). However, it is unlikely to be cost-effective to rely on solar energy alone. Therefore, solar might be considered part of the answer rather than the total solution. Solar panels can be installed on the roof of a hut or in a sunny spot nearby. Energy collected by the panels can then be used to power the hut directly or to charge a battery. The success of this option does, however, rely on the sun exposure of your chosen plot.
If you get good news after you contact your local weather service to check on the average wind speed in your area, generating electricity from residential-sized wind turbines is another option for off-grid energy. Knowing the average and wind speed ranges, you can estimate how much electricity a given system will produce. However, you should keep in mind that wind speeds can vary significantly from regional averages depending on local topography.
If you require energy on a small scale, there are plenty of experts who can offer you advice and potential cost solutions that are both environmentally friendly and cost-effective. You can, for example, install a battery pack or generator – not unlike those you might find in a caravan or boat. These batteries work in a similar way to a car battery; you charge them and power is stored ready for use.
There is a wealth of options to choose from when deciding how to light your off-grid accommodation. This is where you can really indulge in the hiss of a Tilly lamp. Nowadays, of course, we can make great use of solar lamps or battery powered lighting. These are a great option if you are nervous of a naked flame or you want to avoid the smell of methylated spirits. The choice is huge.
Portable Power Technology offers solutions that harness the sun’s energy to deliver power without resorting to noisy and polluting generators, which may detract from the glamping experience. “A lightweight, portable system is a great way to please all customers depending on their energy and lighting preferences,” says Whymark. “Portable systems are also ideal if you have to take your accommodation down between seasons and are also maintenance free with no serviceable elements,” she adds.
Solar Technology International designs, prototypes, manufactures, markets and distributes a wide range of brands that are suitable for powering phones, tablets and cameras, water pumps and mains quality lighting for a complete off-grid power solution.
As Williams explains, “Solar provides an instant, clean and efficient renewable power source that can be scaled up or down accordingly. Small, portable lighting and power units such as the SolarHub16 provide an instant indoor lighting solution via bright LED strip lighting or pendant lighting that allows the fitting of a lampshade and can light an area of up to 16 square metres.
“It also provides enough power to charge a smartphone or tablet and can power a 12-volt fan. Larger scale outdoor lighting solutions include the SolarMate Arena Light that is capable of lighting an area of up to 200 square metres; the PIR mode allows motion activated operation and it is the perfect solution for bringing light to any large open space,” he adds.
Mobile Solar Chargers is a specialist retailer of a range of portable solar chargers, power banks and portable power solutions. According to Smerdon, the minimum requirement for safety and basic needs, assuming your guests are staying for a summer weekend or a week-long break, are power for hot water and some cooking – although they are likely to prefer a barbecue or may even choose a local pub – as well as lighting, phone charging, Wi-Fi and perhaps an option for heating or cooling the air.
“For the glamping market, I would concentrate on the ‘standalone’ options, i.e. a generator (240-volt AC) or the Can, a solar/battery set up, which is scalable. A cross between the two is a hybrid generator, which has a diesel generator to back up the solar,” he says.
“Portable Li-Po (lithium polymer battery) should be charged daily and is ideal for use in bell tents. To give an idea of Ah (capacity) a standard phone is around 2.5Ah, so a 50Ah battery would give 20 odd charges with no solar help. You can position solar panels on the roof of a hut with a bank of 12 volt batteries on the ground, but if you are considering power for a non-rigid structure, such as a yurt that can’t hold solar panels, then our Solar Charging Can would be an option.”
The portable Solar Charging Can has been designed to be silent and to replace generators. It provides automatic lighting, phone charging, remote CCTV and Wi-Fi, and is modular and easy to store.
Portable Power Technology offers several portable power solutions ranging from a single light for quick trips to the toilet after dark all the way up to larger scale silent, rechargeable power solutions that provide AC electricity for larger appliances, all of which are ideal for the glamping market.
“Offering your customers a system that can be installed easily in each individual accommodation unit on off-grid sites will allow them to have the freedom to be able to charge phones if needed, read a book using LED light into the night or listen to music,” says Whymark. “We feel that one of the main attractions of glamping is the freedom it gives you to step out of your day to day life and relax in any way you want. However, customers will still have some level of expectation with regards to the comfort and security that comes from light and indeed basic power,” she adds.
The company also stocks the NIWA Home 200 X2, which it describes as a complete, all in one, safe and easy to install modular solar system that provides a dimmable and efficient lighting source, phone and small device charging facilities via USB and a solar panel. “The system is fully expandable by adding more lights and power packs that simply click into place,” says Whymark.
Another option is the small, lightweight and powerful PPT Powerpack 300+, which consists of an internal lithium battery and pure sinewave inverter to deliver AC and a battery charger. “This product is solar ready and can also be charged via the mains. It is perfect for powering lights, audio equipment, device charging, laptops, televisions and more,” she says.
Portable Power Technology also offers larger off-grid silent and solar rechargeable power systems that utilise an inverter, battery bank and solar panels. These have been developed to allow more prolonged use of power-hungry AC appliances where required.
So, where mains power isn’t an option, there are ways of offering your glampers the services they expect without great expense. There are even solutions for running washing machines and hair dryers. With some systems, the amount of power created by renewable sources alone may be dependent on the weather, but even those that rely on traditional charging methods can be aesthetically pleasing and, most important of all, silent. Many of the options discussed are scalable, giving you the option of add-ons as and when you need them. They can also be moved and deployed elsewhere and stored in the winter, and no maintenance or technical skills are required to run them.