‘Knowledge is the key to control’ as the new norm for campsites

‘Energy consumption decreases by more than 30% when measuring the amount of energy used by campsite visitors.’

‘When, years ago, we began measuring the energy consumption of each camper, other campsite owners thought we were crazy.’ Now, in 2023, Eline Buehre, manager of the Luxembourg campsite Nommerlayen, appears to have been well ahead of her time. Ever since the rapid rise in energy prices in 2022, campsite owners have been forced to look critically at energy consumption at the campsite. A check by ACSI revealed that, more and more often, the old all-in price is being replaced by a policy that focuses on payment according to use.

The effect of gas

‘In 2022 the prices for electricity rose considerably in Europe. This relates primarily to the sharp increase in price for gas. In many cases, in order to generate electricity, gas is also needed, which is why the price of gas affects the price of electricity. Jilles van den Beukel, energy specialist at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, speaks. The reason for the increase in the price of gas is evident. ‘This is caused by the loss of the majority of the gas import from Russia. Putin has closed the tap for the most part, which means that gas is scarce. Although the prices are lower again now than they were in 2022, they are still historically high. The energy market is a free market that is determined by supply and demand. Since many suppliers purchase electricity in advance, it takes a while before the energy wholesalers allow the prices to drop again. This process works in a similar way in all European countries. But the methods used to generate electricity differ per country. Some countries lay down a maximum price for electricity – France, for example.’

Searching for the right mix

Like consumers, campsite owners have had to deal with high energy prices in the past year as well. But even though the electricity market has now returned to calmer waters, it is important to set up an energy policy at the campsite properly. These fluctuations in price could occur in the future as well. ‘Uncertainty about political factors could still cause unrest in the future. We have to wait and see how it develops further,’ said Van den Beukel. A good energy policy provides clarity for campsite visitors and ensures that campsites will not suddenly be confronted with unexpectedly high costs. Campsite owners are therefore faced with the challenge of finding a good mix between setting a fixed price and charging according to use.

Feeling of unfairness

The Luxembourg campsite Nommerlayen has been charging campsite visitors for their personal use for seven years already. Manager Eline Buehre explains that she started this when the demand for energy began to grow because of the arrival of electric cars. She also observed that the energy consumption per camper differed enormously. This felt unfair. “People used to pay €3.75 per day for electricity at the campsite. One person would make a cup of coffee to drink at their tent, while another person would run an electric heater under the awning from early in the morning until late in the evening. And both paid the same price.’

Since measuring the consumption per camper, the energy policy has changed at the campsite. ‘With their reservation, each camper pays an advance for the energy – 6 kilowatt hours a day. If they use more, they pay €0.70 per kilowatt hour and if they use less, they get a refund.’ The energy meters are read from the reception. ‘The pitches that are empty have the power pole turned off.’

A 40% decrease in energy consumption

When they started using the energy meters, there were often shocked reactions. ‘People thought it ridiculous that they had

to pay for their personal consumption. Other campsite owners thought it was ludicrous.’ In 2023, payment for personal consumption is becoming more and more normal. ‘What we find really striking is that the total energy consumption at the campsite has decreased. Because people pay for their consumption, they have cut back. We are using 40% less energy now than when we had an all-in price.’

As far as Buehre is concerned, charging for personal use is the solution for high energy prices and sustainability. ‘Especially now that people can also charge their electric car at the campsite. Then you are just robbing yourself if you do not restrict this.’

Knowledge is the key to control

ICY has also noticed that paying for personal consumption is becoming more common. This company has been supplying energy management systems for campsites since 2016, and assisted the campsite Nommerlayen with the installation. ‘At first it was an innovative product, but now we notice that it is becoming more and more popular among campsite owners,’ said René Nederhoed, director.

The company has observed that the demand for measuring systems has risen sharply in the past number of years. ‘The biggest advantage of this system is that a campsite owner can see exactly how many kilowatt hours were used at a pitch. It is up to the owner how they want to charge

the camper for this. Our system can be set up the way the campsite wants.

Installation of energy management system

According to Nederhoed, installing an energy management system is not very complicated. He explains how ICY is involved in the process from A to Z. ‘If a campsite requests an energy management system, we look at what is needed to realise it. Installing the meters is, in principle, a straightforward process because the meters communicate wirelessly with ICY’s system. This communication is done through a separate network that always works – even if, for example, the wifi fails. But we often see that campsites use this investment to modernise their entire energy network. Our meters are often installed by the campsite’s electrician, but we can do it as well.’

An ICY energy meter costs between €100 and €150 per meter. If other adjustments need to be made to the network, the costs may be higher. ‘We often see that the investment is earned back within a year. Naturally, this depends on the campsite’s energy policy. It will take a campsite owner who charges €0.30 per kilowatt hour longer than someone who charges €0.50. We do notice that energy consumption is decreasing at every campsite. In general, campsites save 25-30%, and that also saves on costs.’

Installing a meter yourself

Like ICY, Homewizard also specialises in measuring gas, water and light. The company traditionally focuses on consumers in particular but is seeing a rising demand from campsites. ‘At first we sold our product to people who wanted to measure their consumption from an ecological point of view. Last year, we saw that people wanted to understand their consumption because of the increased energy costs,’ explains Paul Straathof, director.

The kWh meter from the company costs €59, works on wifi and is easy to install on all power requestors in Europe. ‘The meters have no wiring and communicate via wifi. You can have your electrician install them but, in general, most campsite owners are handy enough to do this themselves,’ says Straathof.

From all-in price to measuring consumption

While the campsite Nommerlayen has been measuring the consumption per camper for years, Camping De Molenhof has just started doing this. The campsite in Twente’s Reutum is still using an all-in rate at this time. But starting next year, this campsite plans to convert to an energy measuring system as well. ‘At the end of this year, we will be replacing all power poles at the pitches and integrating the Smart Camping system. Then we will be able to see how much campsite visitors use during their stay at the campsite,’ says campsite owner Gerbert Kleijsen.

‘As from 2024, we will be switching partially to variable prices. Campsite visitors will be given a basic rate that includes 6 amperes of power and 5 kilowatt hours. For a fee, the amount of amperes can be increased to 10 or 16 amperes. Any extra kilowatt hours are charged separately. We also want to offer the possibility of not purchasing any power at all. This is ideal for campers with tents and campsite visitors who are self-sufficient.’ Kleijsen has the price for a kilowatt hour of power depend on the price in line with the market at that time. ‘In our village, there is a charging station in front of city hall. We use the same price as that charging station.

Purchasing power beforehand

Kleijsen is a big supporter of a policy that mainly looks at how much the camper actually consumes. ‘This is fair because people are now paying for their own consumption. Then you prevent campsite visitors with a low consumption from paying indirectly for the energy costs of people who bring all kinds of electrical devices.’ He believes that, in the future, campsite visitors at Camping De Molenhof will purchase their power in advance. ‘People can purchase x number of kilowatt hours and they will automatically be notified when they have used 80%. It is up to them if they buy extra hours or start using less. By charging for energy beforehand, Kleijsen is preventing people from having to pay extra after the fact. ‘We think it’s ridiculous that someone who has been at the campsite for three weeks has to pay another € 8 for extra energy consumption. We hope to prevent that by having them pay beforehand.’

Fairness through kWh meters

In addition to saving on energy consumption, there is yet another good reason for converting to a measuring system. The increase in the number of electric cars (as well as motorhomes and caravans) also creates a need for change. ‘We have seen that some people charge their cars via the power pole at the pitch. Aside from the fact that this overcharges the energy grid, it also costs a great deal of money,’ states Straathof. In his opinion, a kWh meter pays for itself rather quickly. ‘Charging an electric car at the pitch one time costs about €25. So figure

out how quickly you earn the meter back. If you use a fixed energy rate, it is almost impossible to break-even. By charging per person, you save a lot of costs and it is also fair to everyone,’ Straathof concludes. Competitor and colleague Nederhoed agrees fully with the principle of the user paying. ‘This way major consumers pay considerably more than people who only want to charge their telephone.’

Charging on is a logical step

An increasing number of campsites are happy to transition to pay per use. The real question is what campsite visitors think of this. Straathof thinks that most campsite visitors understand. ‘More and more consumers are measuring their energy consumption at home. After this winter, they are most certainly aware of the fact that energy is very expensive. We also believe that charging on the energy costs is not a problem at all. It is a logical step.’

Campsite visitors are sympathetic

A survey ACSI conducted among campsite visitors appears to support Straathof’s opinion. Almost 60% of the respondents indicate that they have a “reasonable understanding” about paying for their personal energy consumption. About 30% even have a “(great) deal of understanding”.

The convenience of all-in

Many campsites are aware of the urgency of measuring and charging electricity consumption. And although campsite visitors appear to understand, they would still rather pay a fixed amount for their energy consumption. ACSI’s survey reveals that almost half of the campsite visitors questioned would rather pay an all-in price that includes energy costs at their pitch. The majority believe an amount between €2.00 and €3.99 for energy consumption is a reasonable price. They are also becoming conscious of energy consumption. 47% of campsite visitors say they are more aware of their power consumption if they must pay extra for it. 72% said they keep an eye on their consumption at home now that the costs have risen so much.

‘The future is green’

While more and more campsites are choosing to measure energy consumption and have campsite visitors pay for it, the British campsite Woodovis Park has opted for something else. Campsite owner Anthony Ell reports that the campsite has chosen for a sustainable solution. They have been completely self-sufficient since the end of 2022. This allows the campsite to still offer an all-in rate without being troubled by the widely fluctuating energy prices. ‘All power at the campsite is generated by 202 solar panels and stored in huge batteries. We are able to keep our prices low and still offer all amenities, such as a swimming pool, sauna and jacuzzi.’ The swimming pool water is heated with a heat pump. The toilet block has its own solar panel system to heat the water. ‘We are fully self-sufficient with respect to water as well. We have our own well.’

Saving money by being sustainable

Although sustainability is the most important motive for Anthony Ell, the campsite has also saved considerable costs. ‘We have invested £150,000 to make the campsite completely self-sufficient. The process included all preparations, permit applications and the installation of the solar panels, which took over a year. We expected to have recovered the costs within a period of two year, but it appears that it will be somewhat sooner.’

As far as Ell is concerned, being completely self-sufficient is the solution for all campsites. ‘I recommend that everyone generate power themselves through solar or wind energy. With regard to water, it is also handy if you have your own source. It is a sustainable solution and saves a lot of cost. Water and electricity are generally one of a campsite’s major costs.’

Paying for use is the new standard

Even though campsite visitors still prefer an all-in rate, paying for personal use appears to be becoming the new standard at campsites. This allows campsite visitors to influence their consumption (and thus their costs) and the campsite owners are able to charge for it fairly. And although it is not their first option, campsite visitors do understand the reasons for this method. Another bonus is that the general energy consumption decreases, which has a positive effect on the environment.
Increasing demand

Energy expert Van den Beukel does still see a catch. He warns about an increasing demand for electricity at campsites. ‘Because campsite visitors are switching over to electric vehicles (not only cars but motorhomes as well), the demand for energy will actually only increase. The challenge is to expand the electricity grid quickly enough. At the same time, the share of energy generated by sun and wind will gradually become larger in the electricity mix.’ Thus generating your own sustainable energy as the Woodovis Park campsite does is not such a crazy idea. The solar panels and well means they are not reliant on the price of electricity or water. Of course, the campsite must be capable of doing this.

What about water?

While kWh meters and generating their own sustainable energy appears to be the solution for the strongly fluctuating energy prices, the next challenge for campsite owners is already waiting. The shortage of water and the costs connected to water lead to new problems. Straathof has observed that water prices have already risen significantly in some European countries. ‘In Belgium, for example, you pay considerably more for a cubic metre than in the neighbouring Netherlands. I have seen prices of more than ten euros in Belgium, while in the Netherlands the price is around one euro.’

As soon as campsite owners have determined their energy policy, it seems sensible to think about water policy in advance as well.

  • MID certified meters – Campsites that choose to measure consumption and charge per campsite visitor must know for sure that the measuring system that they use is MID certified, since only certified measuring systems may be used to bill the consumption. The meters from both ICY and Homewizard are MID certified. Homewizard and ICY are primarily active in the Dutch market, but both parties deliver their products throughout all of Europe.