2021 is quickly becoming the year of the great American road trip. With borders closed and many international flights canceled, an increasing number of people are turning to staycations and inner-US trips to help them scratch their travel itch. While traveling with your home on your back can be both liberating and convenient, it comes at a cost- fuel cost, that is. The average motorhome or camper gets about ten miles to the gallon, which could be reduced to five to eight miles per gallon once you weigh it down with gear and people . One German company is out to solve that problem and has designed a concept for a solar powered RV that would allow you to potentially travel across the country with no fuel cost whatsoever.
A Solar-Powered RV
German RV company Dethleff’s e.home solar motorhome concept would be much cheaper to drive and have zero tailpipe emissions. Their electrified version of a Class C motorhome goes above and beyond simply being fully electric: it’s completely wrapped in thin-film solar cells that can be used to top-up the van’s batteries.
The motorhome’s cabin is built onto the base frame of an Iveco Daily Electric van, which has an eighty kilowatt motor and a 228 Ah battery-back made of sodium-nickel-chloride cells that the company says can last up to 174 miles on a single charge. Once the van is fully kitted, however, that charge may last only 103 miles.
All the Comforts of Home
Just like a modern motorhome, Dethleff’s e.home is fully fitted with all the amenities you might need, only this time they’re electric. With all-electric appliances, multiple sleeping areas, a kitchen, and a bathroom, it is comfortable enough for long trips and to even act as a tiny home.
Additionally, the e.home boasts some cutting-edge technology including “latent heat accumulator plates” made with a phase change material that is capable of absorbing excess heat (anything over 26 degrees celsius) and storing it so that it can be released after the sun goes down, as well as infrared heating elements in the floor and furniture so the cabin can be comfortable without requiring large amounts of electricity .
The futuristic vehicle also applies foil-based technology in both the lighting and the windows. The foil is set between the window panes of the windows, and can be electrically dimmed to protect against the sun and the intense heat, as well as provide privacy for the vehicle occupants.
The Dethleff e.home is, not surprisingly, a “smart home”, and has an integrated system installed called CampConnect, which gives you the ability to digitize almost every component of the motorhome. The system can be operated by an app installed on your tablet, where there are operation and display possibilities for heating, light, power, and central locking .
From Concept to Reality?
The Dethleff e.home is still just a concept, and there are still a few issues to work out before it could be built and made available to the public.
The motorhome uses 32 square feet of thin-film solar cells added to the exterior of the home, which creates a three-kilowatt solar array and adds some energy autonomy to the vehicle. This array, however, is on all sides of the vehicle, which means no more than half of it can be exposed to the sun at any given time.
This may have been intentional, however, there is no way to know what the array’s average solar output is, nor how long it would take to recharge the battery pack from solar alone. High-powered capacitors installed in the home would allow the batteries to recharge faster, however, you would still need to stop for a lengthy amount of time for your battery to recharge.
For this reason, long, cross-country road trips might be out of the question, unless you like to travel very slowly. Shorter trips, however, are the ideal scenario for this e.home .
The RV of the Future
Currently, there are no plans to put this model into production, and instead, it is being used as an example of what is possible for the future as the electric caravan becomes a more talked-about idea.
“Dethleffs knows this means a lot more than just putting bodywork on an electrically driven chassis,” said Alexander Leopold, Dethleffs Managing Director. “By implementing a fully-electric powertrain there are many challenges and equally opportunities for the entire vehicle.” 
Leopold says that solar power is very important if we want to have a vehicle that does not require any additional energy sources, but that will still supply all the onboard services in the living area that would traditionally require gas.
“At the same time there are also a number of new technologies which will change the comfort, quality of life, plus the safety of future generations of motorhomes. Through this evolving process, systems will be further developed – and we expect rapid progress over the coming years for our e.home concept,” he said .
As more work is done and improvements are made, the future of road trip travel may look much cheaper, and a lot greener, too.
- ” How to Estimate the Cost of Your Next RV Trip.” Axle Addict. Sondra Rochelle. January 30, 2019.
- “This Electric RV Is Powered by Solar.” Tree Hugger. Derek Markham. May 28, 2020.
- “Dethleffs electric drive motorhome with Victron onboard.” Victro Energy