The range of solar-powered camping equipment available in South Africa has been a little slower to develop than that of fixed mount solar panels and grid-connected solar power systems. However, equipment that was developed for various large-scale mobile applications such as border patrol, military operations, disaster relief expeditions, etc., is now being adapted for smaller scale leisure activities such as camping. Most camping solar power systems rely on either small rigid solar panels which can be mounted onto a trailer, caravan or 4x4, or simply propped up in the campsite once camp has been set up, or on flexible thin-film solar panels. The latter type is far more portable, hardy and better able to cope with the range of conditions that could be encountered on a camping trip, although more of them might be required to supply the same amount of electricity as a typical rigid solar panel set up.
When setting up a solar power system for camping, as with a fixed mount system for a building, it is important to know the energy requirements of the equipment for which power is required. Much useful information, and a small range of solar system components, is available from the South African company Solar Camping. They provide the diagram shown here to illustrate all the components required, and how the system needs to be set up. This follows the same principle as for fixed mount solar power systems, but smaller, more portable versions of the components are generally available to make it easier to take the whole system on holiday. You may not always be able to get all the necessary components of a system from one supplier, for example many suppliers sell solar camping kits which include everything but the batteries, so it is important to make sure you have everything you need before setting off into the wild.
Most camping solar power systems are geared for 4x4 and/or caravan travel, involving camping fridges, powerful lights and possibly gadgets such as camping showers. However, there are also smaller set-ups available for those who simply want a small portable charger to keep their cell phones and possibly cameras charged. See the solar battery chargers article on this site for more information about these smaller solar panels.
There is also a range of camping accessories available which have their own small built-in solar chargers, such as solar-powered lanterns, spotlights and radios. However, highly portable solar systems for non-motorised travel (e.g. hiking, cycling, canoeing) are not yet widely available in South Africa, but can be obtained from international websites such as Powerenz.com, who supply many specialised items such as this foldable waterproof solar panel which fits into a backpack, pictured right.
Another South African company that provides much useful information and expertise is Flexopower.com. They sell a range of solar camping kits, including everything you need but the batteries. They have even provided a solar power system for a long distance cyclist, shown below. Other South African suppliers of solar camping equipment and advice include Sustainable.co.za, Solar Vision, Plan My Power, wholesalers Solarflex SA and TBV Solar.
Other sources and useful links:
Solar Energy Scene: http://www.solar-energy-scene.com/campingtentequipment.htmlGreen Planet Solar Energy: http://www.green-planet-solar-energy.com/solar-camping.html