The Price of Power

Ever since solar power first made its debut in the 1960s the development of this technology has evolved immensely and today there are various products out there in the world of luxury camping products, whilst also providing power for glamping sites.

From mini panels for backpacks; solar panels for campervans and even solar tents, if there’s a flat surface inline to direct sunlight then basically most products are fair game for a solar power platform.

Over the last few years there has been a huge increase in the number of glamping sites eager to incorporate renewable solar or wind energy into their locations with many offering a complete off-grid experience.

With its wall to wall sunshine, Spain is top of the solar power and eco tourism charts and glamping has become the perfect combination.

Glamping itself is of course a low impact green activity in that it allows campers to be close to the outside environment and nature. Accommodation is often created by using sustainable materials, sites often provide access to farm shops or home grown on site produce, they utilise environmentally friendly products and are often inclined to promote eco friendly activities.

Our reliance on raw materials and renewable sources of energy is becoming increasingly important. Wind, solar and hydroelectric power are the primary three renewable sources for many countries and Spain is top of the class averaging around 40 per cent renewable energy share.

This is divided up between 20 per cent wind power (23GW), 17-18 per cent hydropower (18.6GW) and about three per cent solar power (7.13GW). The remainder is made up of non renewable energy such as nuclear and coal.

Spain’s Mediterranean coastline boasts over 300 days of sunshine a year and today is one of the ten top countries to utilise solar power in terms of energy provision and was also the first countries in the world to use Concentrated Solar Power systems. Wind power is Spain’s second source of electrical generation and the country is fifth in the world in terms of installed wind power after China, the US, Germany and India.

The country had a leading role in the development of solar power but after the 2008 global recession not only did the property market collapse but in 2012 the Spanish government cut subsidies for solar power and imposed a moratorium.

A limited number of projects were carried out during this period and as the Spanish market came to a standstill many companies merely ventured further a field to expand their business.

Since 2013 solar growth in Spain has been extremely slow although it has still managed to maintain its position as leader in the deployment of solar thermal power, mainly due to projects which were already put into place before 2012.

Just 49MW was added in Spain in 2015, 55MW in 2016 and 135MW in 2017 according to figures from the Union Española Fotovoltaica (UNEF).

It didn’t exactly help that the Spanish government then also decided to introduce a ‘sun tax’ which panicked the nation. In theory this doesn’t apply to any residential sized grid-tied system (ie: anything less than 10kw has no tax applied) and there’s no tax for off-grid systems of any size.

Today investors are re-looking at the Spanish market after a decade spent in the shadows whilst a drop in the price of solar panels and lower construction costs means projects are beginning to move forward again.

Meanwhile the move towards solar in the glamping sector is increasing. For a basic level of comfort in a yurt for example (lights, sockets) sites could easily cope with just 500w output. If they require washing machines to operate on solar then 3,000w inverters and above could be installed.

Sustainable Energy consultant James Stubberfield of Solar Power Malaga said: “There is a general move towards installing more solar all across Spain and this will almost certainly apply to glamping sites, especially since they are often far away from stable grid sources and usually run by environmentally conscious people.

“Solar can offer various benefits. The sites can be far away from towns and villages and their associated infrastructures without having to forfeit conveniences like lighting, charging, music or pumped water and also it gives them the opportunity of the production of clean energy instead of having to run a fossil fuelled power generator.

“I think the future is great for off grid glamping in Spain, due to the increasing popularity of glamping holidays and due to the simplicity, autonomy and cost effectiveness of small off grid power systems for remote locations.”

The Green Mountain Yurt in the Alpujarras region of Granada operates a glamping site via solar power. They have a self catering yurt available which is totally off grid. The yurt houses a double bed plus two-seater sofa and dining table plus wood burner stove for winter stays and access to the Yurt Shack which has the outdoor kitchen facilities and bathroom consisting of a composting toilet.

The hot water for the kitchen and bathroom and basic lighting systems are provided via a dedicated solar panel whilst the kitchen is gas although there is also a solar cooker available for guests if they prefer the complete off-grid experience.

Meanwhile Cloud House Farm in the Rio Genal Valley near Ronda in Andalucia also offers yurt accommodation and natural water swimming via nearby fresh water river pools. It’s a family run site set up by former Product Designer Dan and his English teacher wife Justine and now their two young sons Fredy and Teo. The project began as a self build renovating ruins using local timber and materials and adopting ecological principles. The farm is now 100 per cent off grid utilising solar power, forest fuels for heating and cooking whilst fresh water is gravity fed from natural springs with storage tanks and wastewater is filtered and re-used in the garden.

There are two yurts available – the Orange Grove Yurt and Woodland Yurt housed with double bed and futons offering solar power which power the lights, charging sockets and there’s a compost toilet, shower room and outdoor kitchen whilst they also offer a solar oven on request.

Dan said: “We’re far from any grid connection and as the terrain is mountainous there aren’t the constant winds that can make wind power an option. Solar power was the most practical and cheapest option at the time. The site is 100 per cent run on solar and although we do have a diesel powered generator it rarely gets used, even on a cloudy day we pull in enough power to power the house.
“We have two panel arrays of six panels each. We started with six 125w panels back in 2004 then four years ago we expanded with a new array of six 250w panels and these are modern and super efficient. This brings in a total of 2,250w which isn’t a lot by UK standards but due to the sunshine hours in Andalucia we have more power than we can utilise.

“People are surprised we are 100 per cent off grid and it certainly adds an ‘eco’ dimension to their holiday experience as they become more aware of the power they are using as we prefer people not to use high powered devices such as hairdryers.”

Published: Glamping Business 2018

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