Spring has sprung here in the south of France. After a few days of intense wind and heavy rain, the thermometer has crept steadily north. Our isolated spot on a rocky beach overlooking Leucate’s shallow lagoon would have been the perfect place to bask in the early spring sun. Which is a shame really, because we had to move.
With an almost empty water tank, we drove two kilometres to Air de Camping Le Goulet, a sizeable terraced motorhome parking area overlooking the lagoon. One of the many benefits of winter tours in France is free parking, even on fully serviced aires. We’ve used this site regularly. The exit barrier has been left open to allow motorhomes to enter without paying the regular €10 per night fee. It’s too close to the main road for us to consider paying to stay, but its free facilities have been useful. At least they were until the aire owners prepared themselves for the new season on 1st March.
The exit barrier was down. The aire is now fully operational and charging for admission. We didn’t want to pay €10 to resupply, so we drove north to the five-euros-a-night aire at Peyriac de Mer with its acres of peaceful parking. Thanks to recent heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding, all of the aire’s tree-shaded parking was cordoned off. We had to stop for the night on a muddy grass verge in front of the local rugby club changing rooms.
After a quiet night’s sleep, we prepared ourselves for two nights plugged into the mains electricity supply on Narbonne’s city centre aire. Our two battery leisure bank isn’t performing as well as we would like. Many site visitors suggested that the issue is simple. We are drawing more out of the batteries than we are putting in. We need to either run our generator for longer each day, visit aires more often to charge the batteries overnight or use less electricity.
We were offered some very welcome solutions. Suggestions included installing a more substantial battery bank, adopting a better charging regime and fitting more solar panels. We’re investigating all of these options.
Several commenters also suggested that we dig very deep into our savings for a set of lithium batteries.
I’ve now spent many hours trawling the internet for information about this relatively new technology. I have come to the conclusion that current lithium battery benefits, at least where boats and motorhomes are concerned, are about as real as the emperor’s new clothes.
Lithium manufacturers claim long battery life but offer short warranties. Old lead acid or AGM batteries can’t easily be replaced with supposedly high-performance alternatives. The new technology needs mollycoddling. More substantial wiring is required and better power management systems to stop them from overcharging. Lithium batteries don’t like being continually charged from solar panels, and they can only be fitted by someone well versed in Lithium battery system installations, which would be a significant hurdle to overcome if we had them installed in the UK and we had a problem with them on the continent.
My narrowboat had a robust electrical system on board; four 160Ah AGM batteries charged by a 300W solar array with an MPPT controller and the engine’s alternator. I chose AGM batteries after extensive research. Dave Renolds, Calcutt Boats’ favoured electrical engineer, uses them on his own boat. His current set was installed ten years ago. They’re still going strong. Boatyard fitters recommend them. Time served live aboard boaters rave about AGM batteries. I had the four batteries fitted, monitored them regularly and enjoyed a problem and maintenance free electrical storage system until I sold my narrowboat eighteen months ago.
My recent online research unearthed many adverts for lithium batteries in the USA suitable for motorhomes. I read a few blog posts written by boat and RV owners who have installed them. They paid a small fortune for both the batteries and the infrastructure necessary to keep them healthy. I couldn’t find any information at all detailing battery performance several years down the line.
Until lithium batteries and their eye-watering cost are proven to be a realistic alternative to a decent set of AGM batteries I won’t consider them any further. I know there are hundreds of boaters and motorhome owners reading these blog posts. If you are one of them and you have installed lithium batteries, or know anyone else who has installed them, I would love to hear about your experience so far.
In the meantime, we’ll prepare ourselves for forty-eight hours with thirty other motorhomes packed together like sardines next to Narbonne’s rugby club as we try to coax some life back into our battery bank. You can read the battery problem post and its comments here.