Thursday, February 1, 2007

As February dawns and British Columbians begin to think about hitting the highway, they can take a gander at more than 200 RVs today in Abbotsford at the opening of the four-day 2007 Earlybird RV Show & Sale.

Organizers estimate that by the time the show at the Tradex Trade and Exhibition Centre closes on Sunday, more than $9 million worth of RVs will have been sold.

While that number sounds impressive, the RV industry now sells more than $300 million worth of units annually in B.C.

One of the major trends featured at the show is the move towards solar power to keep furnaces, microwaves and other appliances in the RV up and running. And that means putting solar panels on an RV with the cost starting at about $300 for a smaller unit.

“I’ve seen really big camper units with three or four solar panels getting themselves into $4,000, $5,000, $6,000 and even $7,000 for solar and DC equipment,” said Steven Voysey of Victoria’s Carmanah Technologies, which will be exhibiting its solar units at the show.

Voysey said that Carmanah’s number one seller in the RV market is a 120-watt unit.

“So any time the sun is hitting it directly, it produces 120 watts of power at 12 watts DC,” said Voysey. “What that means is that your batteries will stay charged. You’ll be able to run your furnace fan when you need to. You’ll be able to run your microwave, or whatever you happen to have that’s an electrical appliance in your RV longer, without having to come back and plug it in.”

Voysey added that for most RV users, the advantage of solar power is being able to lengthen the time they’re out in the back country. He said that while most newer RVs come with a battery charger, it’s usually not capable of keeping a battery fully charged.

“So, most people wandering around in their RVs have batteries that are never ever more than 75-to-80-per-cent fully charged,” said Voysey. “But if you put a solar kit on and the RV is sitting in your yard, the kit keeps those batteries at 100 per cent.

“So even if you were to disconnect the solar you’d get 25 per cent more life out of the batteries while you were on the road.”

Voysey said that while Carmanah recommends that those who get a solar system have it installed by their RV dealer, they could do it themselves.

“The installation is fairly easy,” said Voysey. “You use the lines that are already in the RV.”

And, adds Voysey, a lot of RV units sold these days are made solar-ready.

“They’re rigged, wired and everything. All you have to do is to put the panel on, run a couple of wires here and there and our regulator fits right into a pre-cut space.”