Energistolpen uses a heat exchanger to deliver district heating for camping caravans and motor homes.

Energistolpen uses a heat exchanger to deliver district heating for camping caravans and motor homes.

Swedes have a large and growing passion for motor home and caravan camping, and there are many who use their recreational vehicles all year round. Between 8,000 and 9,000 new caravans and motor homes are registered each year. Caravan trailers are more common, but the percentage of self-propelled mobile homes is increasing. The value of new recreational vehicles amounts to some USD 500 million a year in Sweden, and in Europe as a whole nearly 200,000 new recreational vehicles are sold each year. The manufacturers Hobby, Cabe and Adria account for about 60 percent of Swedish sales.

Manufacturers are investing in the production of new models and the improvement of existing models, including everything from budget campers to luxurious motor homes. If you have money to spend, you can get a gourmet kitchen, real tile, walk-through bathrooms, adjustable-height beds, central vacuum systems, well-equipped nurseries and large, cozy living rooms. The trend is towards more equipment, cooler design and vivid colors. Buyers are clearly looking for comfort, but studies show that the camping consumer also values safety and environmental thinking.

Energistolpen produces heat…

Winter camping is also a growing trend, and staying warm in a camper or caravan during the colder months can be a substantial challenge at Sweden’s high latitude. Almost all recreational vehicles used during the winter feature heating units driven by electricity, which is usually available at commercial campgrounds. Campers can be major energy consumers, and manufacturers are always on the lookout for innovations that can reduce costs and environmental impacts.

District heating for campers may sound like a novelty, but entrepreneur John Pettersson is looking at expanding on a technology that has actually been around for a number of years. Pettersson’s company, which is active in real estate and energy, operates a district heating plant where a central boiler heats water for distribution to multiple homes through a network of pipes.

Looking into the business potential of opening a campsite for winter tourism, Pettersson began investigating the possibility of letting campers hook up to a direct heat source rather than simply offering the standard electrical outlet. An important driver for this approach was his need keep costs down by avoiding the electric company’s access charges and fixed costs during the off-season. His solution, which he calls Energistolpen (Energy Pole) looks like an ordinary power pole, but it includes a heat exchanger that interfaces with the mobile home’s heating system.

Heat can be provided by a centralized district heating plant, or by a local source such as solar panels or biofuels. Campsite owners can save up to half of their energy costs with Energistolpen, on top of the obvious environmental benefits.

The motor home or caravan heating system must be adapted to connect to Energistolpen. Alde, a Swedish company that makes water-borne heating systems for recreational vehicles, has tested Energistolpen and estimates that it costs less than SEK 4,000 (USD 580) to modify an existing water heater.

…and cooling

Summertime camping can mean substantial energy consumption to cool the living space in a caravan or motor home. Energistolpen can also be used to circulate cold water through the vehicle’s radiator system.

Energy-smart camping trials

The Scandinavian branch of Caravan Club, an international service organization for recreational vehicle owners, is participating in an experiment to test how winter camping can be made more environmentally friendly by reducing energy consumption. Supported by the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket), the project is aimed at identifying a range of low-energy camping alternatives, with Energistolpen as one of the sub-projects.

Connecting district heating at a campsite requires some excavation work, but the existing electricity poles for caravans and motor homes can be supplemented with connectors for district heating. A prototype plant connected to district heating network in Funasdalen, Sweden is showing positive results.

John Pettersson expects to launch of Energistolpen in late 2009. He sees huge market potential, given the large number of campsites, motor homes and caravans in Europe, and that the technology can be used for both heating and cooling. The system can also be used instead of conventional heater for cars and trucks. Testing is underway at a trucking company in Östersund, in north-central Sweden, where a number of electrical engine pre-heaters have been converted to district heating.

Article published in December 2009