Solar Powered RV Brings Low Cost Transportation One Step Closer
Categories: Mobility, Solar Energy
While the relatively short range of the Dethleffs e.home solar motorhome concept might trigger a bit of range anxiety in some, it might actually make sense for slow travel.
Electric transportation is moving forward rather quickly as a viable option for both individuals and public transit (and soon commercial transport), thanks to rapid improvements in electric motor and battery technology, and we're seeing more major automakers committing to adding electrified vehicles to their product lines. However, when it comes to larger consumer vehicles, such as pickups and motorhomes, the choices are few and far between, but that may start to change soon, if the announcement from the German RV company Dethleffs is any indication.
Whether you call them caravans, RVs, or motorhomes (or tiny homes), the idea of a home on wheels is one and the same for all of those monikers, and owning one is a dream for many these days, either as a nomadic tiny home (#vanlife) or as a vacation or retirement vehicle. Having borrowed a friend's rather large RV this summer for a family trip, I can attest to the ease and convenience of traveling with your home on your back, but that feeling was also somewhat offset by the reality of having to frequently fuel up a heavy RV that gets 5 to 8 miles to the gallon, which can put a hurting on your wallet on a long trip. An electrified motorhome, on the other hand, could be much cheaper to drive, and have zero tailpipe emissions, with the tradeoff of either settling for shorter trips or having longer 'refueling' stops -- at least until battery technology takes another leap forward in capacity and a step down in costs.
German caravan company Dethleffs seems to have seen the writing on the wall about electrification, or at least an opportunity for first-mover advantage, as it has revealed an electrified version of a Class C motorhome that goes above and beyond just being fully electric, as it's completely wrapped in thin-film solar cells that can be used for topping off the RV's batteries. The cabin of the e.home is built onto an Iveco Daily Electricchassis, which has an 80 kW motor and a 228 Ah battery pack of sodium-nickel-chloride cells that boasts a range of up to 174 miles (280 km) per charge in its pre-conversion state. Once the vehicle is fully kitted out as a motorhome, however, that range per charge may be significantly shorter, suggests New Atlas, saying the range "might fall as far as 103 miles (167 km)."
The cabin is fully fitted with all of the amenities of a modern motorhome, with all electric appliances, several sleeping areas, a kitchen, a bathroom, etc., but also includes some cutting-edge components that are aimed at increasing the efficiency of the heating system and augmenting the privacy and comfort of the residents of the e.home. By incorporating "latent heat accumulator plates" made with a phase change material that can absorb excess heat and store it to be released after the sun goes
down, and by integrating infrared heating elements in the floor and furniture, the e.home is designed to feel cozy to the occupants without consuming excessive amounts of electricity. Two different applications of a foil-based technology, in both the lighting and the windows, one of which allows for "a bright planar light" inside the cabin, and the other enables the windows to be "electrically dimmed" for both sun and heat protection as well as for privacy.
Dethleffs has added some 31 square feet of thin-film solar cells to the exterior of the e.home, creating a 3 kW (peak) solar array and adding a little bit of energy autonomy to the e.home. However, there's at least one major issue with the solar array, which is that it's on all sides of the vehicle, so no more than half of it can be exposed to direct sunlight at any given moment. Perhaps that's intentional, as it would allow some solar electricity gains to be had during the day no matter which direction it's facing, but there's no indication of what the average solar output from the array is, nor how long it would take to charge the e.home battery pack from solar alone. According to Victron Energy, which supplied a number of the electrical components to the build, high-power capacitors ("Supercaps") are installed in the e.home, which "allow a faster recharge and delivery of the electrical energy in comparison to the usual batteries."
The Dethleffs e.home concept vehicle isn't for sale, and there are no current plans to put this particular model into production, but it is being used to showcase the future of electric mobility in the caravan sector, which might be coming sooner than expected.
"Dethleffs knows this means a lot more then just putting bodywork on an electrically driven chassis. By implementing a fully-electric powertrain there are many challenges and equally opportunities for the entire vehicle. One significant opportunity is to do without any additional type of energy sources for the vehicle. This means that a motorhome with electric drive will also supply all the onboard services with electricity for the living area instead of gas, for example – and that is why solar power production becomes very important. At the same time there are also a number of new technologies which will change the comfort, quality of life, plus the safety of future generations of motorhomes. Through this evolving process, systems will be further developed – and we expect rapid progress over the coming years for our e.home concept." - Alexander Leopold, Dethleffs Managing Director
Although the e.home in its current configuration isn't well suited to extended long-haul or cross-country trips without having to stop every 150 miles or so to recharge (which may take some time to do), it actually seems well suited to a slow and wandering pace, with long breaks and overnight charging along the way, so perhaps it's the perfect slow travel vehicle.
H/T New Atlas