Electricity at the campsite – how does it all work again?

You’ve just enjoyed a delicious home-made camping dinner while watching the Italian sunset. The washing up’s been done, and now it’s time to relax. The coffee is gently dripping from the machine, and as it’s still quite warm, you decide to put the ventilator on again for a little while. And then…Pow! The electricity is out!

What’s probably happened is that you’ve exceeded the campsite limit and so their fuse has tripped. With a little luck, the campsite reception is still open and the connection can be restored, otherwise you’ll have to spend the rest of the evening (and the early morning) in the dark. Not a complete disaster, but it can be annoying, and you won’t make the campsite owner happy either. So it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your energy usage at the campsite, to try to avoid this kind of thing.

Amps, watts and voltage

But just how do you do that? After all, you’re not an electrician, and thinking about terms like voltage, watts and amps makes your head spin. Time to refresh your basic knowledge. The electricity connection at the campsite is often shown with a number of amps (for example, ten amps (10A). If you use more than that, the fuse will blow, and you’ll be without electricity. Even if your caravan has a fuse for up to sixteen amps (16A). The lower value is the determining one, and will blow first.

Electricity at the campsite

Your appliances use electricity, and the amount they use is shown in a number of watts. Most appliances show the number of watts that they use. But how do you figure out the connection between amps and the number of watts? Luckily there’s an easy equation you can use!

Calculate your energy usage

To use this equation, you’ll also need to know the voltage. Luckily, in Europe, that’s almost always the same number: we use 230 volts. If you’re camping in Europe then, you get this number for free. In order to know the maximum number of watts you can use, you’ll need to multiply the number of amps by the voltage. With this equation, you should be able to tell which appliances you can use at the same time, and which you can’t. The formula is pretty simple:

Amps x voltage (230) = watts
For example: 10 amps x 230 volts = 2,300 watts

Imagine that the campsite connection is ten amps, then you can use a maximum of 2,300 watts at the same time (10 amps x 230 volts). The formula works backwards too. If you know how many watts you need to use at the same time, you can calculate the number of amps your connection needs to have. The formula then becomes:

Watts / voltage (230) = Amps
For example: 2,500 watts / 230 volts = 10.87 amps

No interest in doing maths on your holiday? Here are some of the most common electricity connections (in amps) with the matching total number of watts:

  • 4 amps = 920 watts
  • 6 amps = 1,380 watts
  • 8 amps = 1,840 watts
  • 10 amps = 2,300 watts

How many watts do my appliances use?

So in order to know which appliances you can use at the same time, you’ll need to do a little adding up. Then you’ll quickly know what combinations are possible. The usage in watts is mostly shown on the appliance, but to give you some idea, here is a list of the number of watts used by a few of the most common appliances:

  • Small heater: 750 – 1,500 watts
  • Small coffee machine: 600 – 800 watts
  • Small oven: 600 – 800 watts
  • Fridge: 70 – 80 watts
  • Lights: 30 – 40 watts
  • Small TV: 30 – 40 watts

Please note: in the examples above, we’ve given the details for special camping appliances, which tend to use less than normal household appliances.

Electricity at the campsite

When you book a camping pitch, you’ll often be able to see how many amps the electricity connection is. You can also find this out on Eurocampings.co.uk using the filter menu Pitch amenities and it should be possible to find it on the campsite’s website too. If you’re not sure, check with the campsite.

Before you book, think about how much electricity you’ll need to use during your holiday too. If you’re going back to basic and camping in the countryside, you might not even need an electricity connection, or a connection with 2 or 4 amps may suffice. If you want to keep your fridge running while you watch TV and brew some coffee, then you’ll need a connection with a higher number of amps.

Pitch amenities

Extra tips

1. Be aware of peak current
The biggest trap you might fall into when calculating your energy usage is not taking into account peak current, or the inrush current. At the moment you switch on your appliance, it briefly uses (much) more electricity than the normal wattage. Sometimes two or three times as much. So switch on the appliances that use the most electricity first, and take turns switching things on!

2. Hot appliances use more
What if you don’t know the wattage of a certain appliance, and you’re not sure if you can use it? A good rule of thumb is that appliances that get hot use more than other appliances. Take another look at the list in this article. The heater, the oven and the coffee machine are at the top for a good reason. You may well have to wait with switching the coffee machine on until you’ve taken your fresh rolls out of the oven, or turned off the heater.

3. Current limiters
Even if you’re careful and you’ve done all your maths, you won’t be the first camper to have problems from time to time. Luckily, there are current limiters available that can help you to keep an eye on your energy usage and regulate it. But they all have their positives and negatives – so make sure you do some research online or in the shop, to see which will best suit your needs.

4. Safety first
Electricity is something that many people find difficult to understand, and if you’re not careful with it, it can even be dangerous. So make sure that you’re careful and safe when dealing with electricity. For example, make sure you only use watertight and fused CEE plugs, outlets and extension cables. Don’t forget to completely unroll an extension cord on a reel. This prevents fires from occurring due to overheated cables.

Bram Kuhnen
  • Author: Bram Kuhnen
  • European cities, touristy beaches and impressive landscapes and countryside. Travelling through Europe, Bram has already visited many places, and he likes to write about his experiences and share tips.

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