The $310,000 Bowlus Volterra Camper Promises Off-the-Grid LuxuryThe $310,000 Bowlus Volterra Camper Promises Off-the-Grid Luxury
Automatic continuous solar charging means the camper has virtually indefinite power.
August 9, 2022
Electrification is coming to the world of travel campers and the first to arrive is the Bowlus Volterra, a $310,000 27-foot ultra-luxury model whose manufacturer touts the technology of its products.
The Volterra carries a 17-kilowatt-hour lithium iron phosphate battery pack, doubling the capactity of the brand’s previously largest-available battery. The camper wears a 480-watt solar panel on its top that uses monocrystalline cells with Passivated Emitter and Rear Contact (PERC) technology, which Bowlus says are as much as 12 percent more efficient than and one-third the weight of conventional aluminum-framed glass solar cells.
Solar cell manufacturer Sun Power says that PERC solar cells are modified conventional cells that have an extra layer within the back side of the cell to reflect the sun’s rays back into the solar cell, giving them another opportunity to be turned into energy. This is worth a 6-to-12 percent gain in power output, according to Sun Power.
This roof-mounted solar panel automatically recharges the battery pack even while driving to the destination. The panel is effective enough that the Bowlus customer can live indefinitely off the grid when using regular light appliances like the refrigerator, said Geneva Long, founder and CEO of Bowlus, and the company offers a pair of optional “suitcase” panels for extra power when the camper is parked. This means that while the Volterra can’t run air conditioning indefinitely while off the grid the 17-kWh battery pack can run it for 16 hours in 100-degree heat or 32 hours in 85-degree heat, Long explained, so if it is used judiciously for a few hours at bedtime, the solar panels can reasonably be expected to recover that energy each day.
The battery pack can also be tapped to power an EV tow vehicle if the tow vehicle’s battery runs too low. Bowlus says that the Volterra can add about 65 miles of driving range to the EV with its 20-amp power outlet. But ideally, the tow vehicle’s range won’t be dramatically reduced by towing the trailer, because the Volterra is optimized for light weight and minimal aerodynamic drag.
The built-in solar panels require no effort by the customer to automatically charge the Volterra's battery pack whenever the sun is shining.
The company has tested the effect of towing the Volterra on an electric tow vehicle and found that the trailer’s low mass and slippery shape mean that the EV retains 70 percent of its normal driving range while towing. Long declined to provide a drag coefficient for the trailer, but she says that it is much lower than a slippery-looking Airstream’s result.
And despite the battery pack, the Volterra weighs only about half as much as a comparably sized Airstream, with a base weight of 3,250 lbs. and a gross weight fully loaded of about 4,000 lbs. “An Airstream would be double that,” she said. “We feel really confident in our result.”
The inductive electric cooktop eliminates the need for propane gas.
In addition to continuously and automatically charging the battery pack from the solar panel, the Volterra also provides customers wireless internet access from the boondocks through SpaceX’s Starlink satellite system.
The Starlink connection promises 250 Mbps download speeds that will let you participate in Zoom meetings from anywhere in the world. It also includes an LTE SIM card for a conventional cellular wireless data connection where available.
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