Campground Industry News
NEWS IN FOCUS
Campground Electrical Needs Growing
As campers bring more and more electronics with them — whether in tents or in RVs — and as RV designs allow campers to bring more of the comforts of home to campgrounds, the need for reliable electrical service today has grown into a business imperative.
“I’m of the belief that having your park with a solid infrastructure can differentiate you from your competitor,” said Wade Elliott, president of Kingston, Wash.-based Utility Supply Group. “You know, it’s like going to a hotel without Wi-Fi and HBO. You may not notice it when it’s there, but you certainly know it if it’s not and you won’t go back. It’s not a big positive, but it’s certainly a big negative if you don’t have it,” Elliott said.
And many RV park operators are upping their game.
Anyone in the campground sector for much time knows that 50-amp service at sites is the new standard, eclipsing the old 30-amp service and the once-upon-a-time 20-amp service.
At the top end of the spectrum, one California RV resort, the Springs at Borrego, put in top-tier 50-amp electrical pedestals on both sides of each RV site, allowing owners flexibility to pull either way into the pull-through sites.
“That park,” Elliott explained, “is a top-tier park that’s catering to people that are looking for a top-tier park. It’s certainly a resort, and they’re looking for amenities.”
While that’s a drastic example, it’s not uncommon for parks owners to perform upgrades in order to keep on top of maintenance and stay at the forefront of guest demands. After all, as any small business owner knows, that’s the key to staying in business.
“Given the energy consumption of the much larger RVs today, the importance of a power outlet and a pedestal is just a necessary item in today’s RV park management,” said Lisa Senior, general manager of Hialeah Meter Co. in Hialeah, Fla.
And of course, that increase in power consumption by RVs has led to another trend in RV park pedestals: More and more metering of electricity use at sites.
All of the experts consulted by Woodall’s Campground Management said metering continues to grow, with up to three-fourths of pedestal purchases being for metered pedestals — not to mention the purchases of kits to retrofit meters onto non-metered pedestals.
More and more meters are solid-state meters, with a digital display. Yet for those who prefer the older technology, Senior said Hiahleah still has refurbished electro-mechanical meters — the kind with the spinning disc and the physical displays. “We’re going to stand by the accuracy of the refurbished meters used for the installation of the pedestals and the installation kits,” she explained, “and as long as we have a source for them they will be offered along with the power outlets and pedestals and parts necessary to repair an existing power outlet and pedestal.”
Not all pedestals are the same, either. There are a variety of options, for the common gray boxes as well as unusual designs.
For instance, HyPower of Claremore, Okla., brings their marine aesthetic and their PowerSnap panels to their RV park offerings, said Eric Farley, director of sales. “Our PowerSnap panels allow for greater versatility, flexibility and a lot less expensive maintenance. With four screws you pop the panel off and all the electrical, the breakers are right there.”
It’s a heavier unit with heavier wire, which is rated up to 200- or 400-amp service, depending on the chosen options, which makes upgrades easy. “With 30-amp service you can then step in and just change the panel out and put in 50-amp. You don’t have to rewire it,” Farley said.
While metering and 50-amp service have been around for a while, the latest trend on the upswing in electricity for campsites is lighting — especially the use of energy-efficient LED lighting. “One thing that’s new and big is LED panel lighting,” said Maggie Linnell, owner of Your Electrical Solutions in Lake Orion, Mich. “People have been asking for that. Milbank listened and they just introduced that,” she said in April. In fact, within the first few weeks that feature proved popular for Linnell’s company, which distributes pedestals from a variety of manufacturers, including Milbank.
Jamestown Advanced of Jamestown, N.Y., also has LED-lit pedestals, said Liz Caldwell, marketing manager for the company. “In the last few years, we have been seeing an upswing in the number of requests for lighted units and units with pagoda lights,” she told WCM. All their pedestals have meter and pagoda-light options, which place an always-on light on top of the pedestal. “On the other hand,” she continued, “our lighted unites contain a photocell with an LED light and viewing window, which illuminates the breakers and receptacles inside the box and provides a clear site marker from dusk to dawn.”
About a year ago, Jamestown Advanced introduced a customized option which allows campgrounds to get their logos cut into the access door on the pedestal. “We have had great feedback from our customers,” Caldwell said. “Our customers love to see their name in lights.”
One discernible trend that’s on the horizon is a push to make meter reading easier for campgrounds. Utility Supply Group is working on affordable remote-read metering systems, Elliott said.
And so are other vendors.
Terry Linnell, co-owner of B&B Electrical in Keego Harbor, Mich., said, “People are interested in mass metering, radio-frequency metering for electric meters. It’s a cool device where they can just buy software through us and the electric meters essentially read themselves and pop up on a laptop.
“The meters themselves have to be a radio-frequency meter,” she continued,” and we sell the software that gets installed and you can read it that way.”
The problem with that technology right now, maintained Hialeah’s Senior, is that it’s not yet ready for prime time. “It’s so cost prohibitive. Campground owners are so used to buying a meter for $26, and when you add the cost of remote reading, the cost skyrockets,” she explained.
Like Utility Supply Group, Hialeah is working on a lower-cost solution for campgrounds. “It has to happen,” Senior asserted, “we’re just not there yet. Sure, I could sell the campground owner a system with communication and upload the data right to their laptop, but you’re looking at $10,000 to $15,000 just for the software and retrofitting the meters. We’re going to get there, given where we are today with technology. We’re just not there yet.”
Caldwell of Jamestown Advanced didn’t address the remote-read meter issue directly, but said as technology advances, “we have some products coming down the road that I know our customers will really enjoy.”
It doesn’t have to be overwhelming
With all the options available, it’s easy to view electrical upgrades as an overwhelming prospect, depending on the size of the campground. However, it doesn’t have to be a huge effort or expense — especially if park operators do things on an ongoing basis instead of putting them off.
“Do something every year,” Elliott suggested. “Put money back in your business and increase your infrastructure to provide the best experience for your customer.
While water features or game rooms or trails or park beautification can be important, “you also have to have money in the budget so on the biggest day of the year, you don’t have customers complaining about a low-voltage situation or the breaker keeps tripping. Bad electrical is a problem, but good electrical is expected,” he asserted.
“If you’re in tune with your park, you know where the complaints are coming from. You may have to split up a run of pedestals to avoid a low-voltage situation,” Elliott explained. “That may require digging in the dirt, but you don’t have to replace everything. It’s little things like that you can do to make a guest’s experience,” he said.
Caldwell of Jamestown took a similar view. “RV power outlets are one of the most important components of the guest experience. Without electrical units most guests would have no way to enjoy the luxuries that electric has to offer. Electrical units definitely make for a much more enjoyable user experience.”
Maggie Linnell added, “It’s not overwhelming. It’s a very simple thing to do. I’ve got some parks that are replacing eight pedestals at a time. That’s so much easier to do them in stages, upgrading little by little. It’s easy, since they’re hardwired,” she said.
Even if you aren’t adding sites or doing new construction — heck, even if you aren’t adding pedestals — Elliott emphasized, “Every year you should do maintenance on the pedestals and fix problems.”
A properly maintained pedestal can last two decades or more in many climates, the experts told WCM, and maintenance isn’t difficult.
“While the power is secured, check your pedestals: Make sure lugs are tightened, screws are tightened, clean out receptacles, making sure bugs and other wildlife aren’t in there,” Elliott said. “If you’re making sure receptacles are nice and clean and your breakers aren’t on their last legs,” he continued, “you’re providing the best experience for your customers. It’s important from an aesthetic standpoint and from an operational standpoint.”
A Different Electrical Offering
William Weideman, chief operating officer of Peak Energy Technology LLC, has an unusual electrical component for RV parks and campgrounds: An electricity recycler.
“The products we sell, they help people recycle, reuse electricity. Most campgrounds are seeing about a 15 to 20% reduction in the number of kilowatt hours they purchase,” he said.
Not only does it help the bottom line, it also makes the campground more “green” by cutting down on electrical usage which, in turn, is often generated by burning coal, Weideman said.
The Arlington, Texas-based company offers its Peak Energy Saver in various residential and commercial capacities, from single-phase to three-phase electrical service.
“There are different variables that come into play: The different kinds of motors you’re running, how old they are, the uses that I have, water pumps refrigeration, all kinds of electronics and so forth,” said Weideman, whose company analyzes electrical usage.
Peak Energy participates in the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds’ (ARVC’s) Plan-It-Green program, and when he met with ARVC members in Las Vegas in December, Weideman gave an example of one small campground’s benefit with just one Peak Energy Saver installed on an electrical loop that served 16 RV sites.
“That’s all that was on there. She spent about $400. In three months she made her money back in savings and has been saving ever since,” he said, showing the analysis. “Various campgrounds across the country are doing this right now.”
Weidemann described the way the Peak Energy Saver works in as simple a way as possible. “It’s capturing magnetic energy that is used and sends it back into the system. “For example,” he explained, “take a ceiling fan. It runs off a motor. You buy electricity to build that magnetic field. The next chunk gives that motor a little push. It just goes back and forth 60 times a second. When that voltage drops, that magnetic field collapses, and it gets converted back into electricity that goes back to the power company. You bought it and now you’re sending it back.
“What we’re doing,” he continued, “is we’re capturing that in your campground so that when that voltage comes back up and you’re ready to rebuild that magnetic field, it’s coming from the Peak Energy Saver first and that way you’re buying less from the power company. This happens 60 times a second every single second your ceiling fan’s on or the TV’s on.”
It works with any size of motor, he said, and it’s compatible with campgrounds that use solar or wind power for some of their electrical needs.
The Peak Energy Saver runs from $480 to $5,000, depending on which model the RV park needs. They run from six inches by eight inches by four inches and up, and an electrician can install it inside or outside in as little as 30 minutes.
Contact: Peak Energy Technology LLC, 888-613-7775 www. peakenergytech.com.
Electrical Pedestal and/or Meter Suppliers and Manufacturers
B&B Electrical, 888-391-3802, www.bbelec.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Eaton Corp. 800-723-8009, www.eaton.com, email@example.com
Global Test Supply 877-766-5412, www.powermeterstore.com
Hialeah Meter Co. 800-654—821, www.hialeahmeter.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
HyPower 800-825-3379, www.powerpedestal.com, email@example.com
Jamestown Advanced Products Corp. 800-452-0639, www.jamestownadvanced.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
LCN Outdoors LLC 800-552-2267, www.lcnoutdoors.com, email@example.com
MarineSync 888-988-7962, www.marinesync.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Midwest Electric Products Inc. 866-685-0577, www.midwestelectric.com, email@example.com
Milbank Manufacturing Co. 877-483-5314, www.milbankmfg.com
RV Power Outlet 800-500-2320, www.rvpoweroutlet.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Siemens Energy and Automation Inc. 800-743-6367, www.usa.siemens.com, email@example.com
Texas Meter and Device Co. 254-799-0261, www.texasmeter.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Utility Supply Group 800-800-2811, www.go-usg.com, email@example.com
Vision Metering LLC 803-628-0035, www.visionmetering.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Your Electrcial Solutions 855-644-2400, www.yourelectricalsolutions.net, email@example.com