How Green is a Campervan

So how green is a Cambee campervan? It’s a simple question but a hard one to answer and depends on many different factors. In a straight head to head between a new VW T6 and a mid-sized family estate car, based on fuel economy and emission alone, the family estate will win hands down. But that doesn’t take into account the long game.

The average age of a car in the UK is 7.7 years, a typical camper or motorhome will typically last 20 years or more. So surely this makes the camper worse? More miles, more pollution? Well no, when it comes to car emissions it’s not all about mpg and CO2 emissions.

The process of building a car or camper also produces emissions, in many cases more emissions than the car will produce in a lifetime of driving. If the car is then scrapped after 8 years the cycle starts all over again. By contrast, a camper should have a lifespan two or three times as long, as they are seen as high value investments and will therefore be looked after for longer. This reduces the embodied energy cost per year, simple! Well not really.

Here is an example. Our family car is a good example. It’s a 2007 VW Passat estate TDi, it’s done 250,000 miles but still gives 45 to the gallon and is as reliable as any 3-year-old car. At some point soon though, we will get a repair bill that is more than the cars value of around £1500. This is when I will likely buy something to replace it, most likely with an e-golf or similar. However, if I were making the same decision about a 12-year-old T5 fully converted into my ‘pride and joy’ camper, with a market value of £15-20k, then I would be digging deep to keep it on the road and maintaining my investment.

Ok, so why does this really matter? If we are talking about doing our bit to save the planet (help Climate Change) then it matters a lot. There is no reason why, with some ongoing investment, your camper can’t last 20 years plus and become a future classic. Here’s the maths…

Building a mid-sized family estate puts an estimated 17 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere during production. Divide that by a life cycle of 8 years and you get 2.125 tons per year. Then add the average annual CO2 emissions for driving 12000 miles, 2.5 tons according to carbon footprint.com, and you get a total of 4.625 tons of per year. A VW T6 van is a bigger vehicle which needs to be converted, so an average camper might put 20 tons of CO2 out during its build. Spread this over 25 years and you get 0.8 tons per year, and with 3.48 tons for driving 12k miles, the total comes in at 4.28 tons. So pretty much the same figures….

OK, so who do I think I’m kidding? 25 years for the life of a camper? Diesel and petrol may be banned long before that! Yes, they probably will, but as we have seen in California and the UK, classic vehicles are worth converting to electric. In fact look up “electric bay window camper” and you will find all sorts of companies and enthusiast around the world giving old campers a new lease of life, not just because they love them, but because it makes financial sense. There’s even a solar-powered camper scene starting to build, there’s a great example here.

Real life use example

Comparing a car and a campervan isn’t the whole story. How does driving and using a camper compare with a flight-based holiday?

Fly or drive 4 people to Faro in southern Portugal:

Flights are around 0.53 tons per person = 2.12 tons

Driving your van on a return trip is around 2916 miles = 0.85 tons

CO2 saving by using your van on this one holiday = 1.27 tons

There are other ways to make a difference. You can also choose to contribute to carbon offset schemes with lots of companies locally and around the world who will plant trees or provide green energy schemes in the third world, reducing the overall carbon output. More on that later.

In round figures, the UK is doing a pretty good job of getting its carbon production down, from 12.14 tons per head in 1970 to 5.59 tons in 2016. Not fast enough by lots of estimates, but a big awareness and commitment is taking us in the right direction.

Electric campervans

So why don’t Cambee build electric campervans yet? With the concerns about the environmental credentials of diesels, and the rise of electric vehicles, you might be asking yourself, is this the right time to be buying a diesel or petrol campervan?

In short, if you do want a camper right now there are few alternatives to petrol or diesel.

Hillside Leisure produce a fully electric camper based on the Nissan NV200 40Kw with a range of up to 173 miles, but according to Nissan “a combined city and motorway range of 124 miles” is more realistic. Ideal as a daily use vehicle and for local trips but possibly challenging when trying to travel longer distances.

One couple who have taken on this challenge are Glyn and Amy from North Wales. They have built their own camper on a 24Kwh e-NV200 panel van. As experienced EV drivers who already own a Nissan Leaf, swapping their diesel camper for an electric one is all part of their ‘Zero Carbon Future” They have put together a great blog demonstrating how it is possible with planning, patience and dedication to use an electric camper and make a significant dent in their environmental impact. Check out their trips to Scotland and Spain and Hungary

If you are inspired by Glyn and Amy we are up for the challenge of building the first e-NV200 based Cambee E-camper.

Volkswagen’s long awaited fully electric Transporter should be available from 2020. This will be based on the current T6 shell, which is great news for converters as all the camper conversion parts currently in use will still fit. VW say the van will have a 250 mile range but again, in real terms according to insideevs.com, this is likely to be lower and more like 186 miles. Decent enough when on the motorway network using superchargers, but not so good for touring remote areas.

The new e-Transporter will share the same shell as the diesel/petrol equivalent so it is likely that conversion of diesel T5 and T6’s to electric at a later date will be possible, as is being done with classic splits, bays and beetles in the USA.

So if I do go for an e-camper, will it be possible to charge an electric camper at campsites?  If you do hop from campsite to campsite expecting to charge your van, will there be sufficient charging points? It seems to be a controversial topic on the forums  . And with many campsites are already running their hook-ups at maximum capacity with a regulation allocation average of 5 amps minimum per pitch, not the 30 amp supply most EV’s charge from at home. Many campsites are attractive because of their remote locations and will have difficulty increasing their power capacity in the near future.

Glyn has some great advice based on real life experience… I’ve charged on lots of campsites in the UK. I usually just ask for hook up and no questions asked. Charging the van using the standard portable charger is 10A, 2.4kW which is less than a kettle and much less then the 16A max hookup rating. My van has a 24Kwh battery with 20kW usable so would take 8hrs to charge if almost totally flat. Easy full overnight charge.

The larger 40kW van would take 14hrs if totally flat. Usually good idea to wait until late in the evening before charging to reduce peak load on the site. If I’m in no rush to charge or the campsite has a 6A limit I use an adjustable EVSE to reduce the charging current of the van to a minimum of 6A (1.4kW). I’ve noticed several campsites now installing dedicated EV charging stations, no doubt this trend will continue. Take look at PlugShare to find campsites with charging stations.

A nice advantage of an EV campervan is having built in climate control (A/C and heating) which can be used overnight if required.

The VW E-Transporer will have 77Kwh batteries so a full charge would take 28hrs of charging on a standard hookup.

There is also some good advice on the speak EV forum

Another future contender is the soon-to-be launched Ford Transit Custom Plug in hybrid.

It features an electric motor mated to a 1.0 litre three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine serving as a charging source, effectively making the camper a range extender. And it’s due to enter the European market in late 2019. The Transit doesn’t boast the fully galvanised shell of the VW but does have a galvanised chassis. It would still be wise to make additional precautions to ensure a 25 year lifespan for this base vehicle such as Waxoyl treatment.

OK, so how bad is diesel/petrol vs electric? Well that depends on who you ask. Let’s consider all the energy used in building electric vehicles, the relatively environmentally unfriendly process of producing the batteries, and the fact that currently we are still producing electricity using a combination of fossil fuels and renewables. When we examine the whole picture, there may only be a small environmental advantage. Good for reducing city centre pollution but not such a benefit for the planet.

However, there are some positives. By converting a second-hand base vehicle you are likely to extend its life on the road, and therefore reduce its embodied energy cost per mile. Every year you use this vehicle its relative impact on the environment reduces due to its longevity.

Will I still be able to drive a petrol/diesel van in ten years? Outside of city centres, probably yes. The mayors of Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City have announced plans to take diesel cars and vans off their roads by 2025, and as of April 2019 drivers of vehicles made before 2005-06 will have to pay a £10-a-day toxicity charge in London, on top of the existing £11.50 congestion charge.

The complexity of this issue is clearly laid out here. It’s difficult to argue that digging 2 tons of raw materials out of the ground, processing them, sending them round the world and converting them into a brand new campervan is environmentally friendly, but depending on how long the camper lasts, and a with few simple decisions, what sounds like ecocide can minimise the impact on our environment.

And we aren’t alone our thinking! Lots of other converters are trying different methods of approaching the greening of their products, like the Nissan Prius camper from Japan. Even the likes of Land Rover are now contributing to a carbon offset scheme to counterbalance the production of their vehicles.

Our ethos

At Cambee we are committed to making our conversions as environmentally positive as possible, by building from sustainable materials wherever possible, and by designing our conversions and building them to withstand many years of enjoyment so that the shell of the vehicle gets as long a life as possible. In this way we feel that we are helping to reduce the vehicle’s environmental build impact.

For our cabinets we only use fully sustainable, European sourced timber and plywood, and the Formica used to finish our cabinets is compressed paper. Our cabinets are designed to be easily repairable for years to come, and we avoid plastic catches and fittings where ever possible. We use DCW a zero to landfill recycling waste service for our workshop waste and our workshop is powered by 100% renewable energy from ecotricity,.

Carbon Offset

We are also in the process of introducing a range of carbon offset schemes. With the likes of “The Woodland Trust, carbonfootprint.com and other local charities to support. Offsetting  12000 miles of driving costs £20 to £60, planting enough trees to recover the carbon emissions of a new camper production in the next 10 years is around £300.

If you would like to get involved with one of these schemes let us know, after all we all love campervans so we can enjoy the world around us!!

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