RVelectricity: What cost, electricity?

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How much does it cost a campground to supply you with “free” electric power?

By Mike Sokol
No, this isn’t going to make me a popular guy with the general readership. But I’m going to discuss what it actually costs a campground to supply electricity to your RV, and should they be metering you for it? I see the pitchforks and torches on the horizon already, but I’m not here to discuss the policy or politics of campground rates. I’m just trying to get a handle on why so many campgrounds seem to have poorly maintained electrical pedestals, very low voltage (as low as 95 volts at some state campgrounds), and corroded or missing electrical grounds that would NEVER pass any kind of electrical inspection.

Why does this happen and what can we do about it? Well, as Heinlein used to say, “TANSTAAFL” (There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch) – and he was right. I should also add that if the average consumer gets something for “free” they tend to take much more of it than they normally would. The glaring example here is “free” electric power at campgrounds.

So, this is just the beginning of the discussion and I hope that a number of campground owners and operators will chime in to confirm my numbers. I’m trying to correlate just how much electricity an RV can use in a 24-hour period, depending on the type of pedestal outlet it’s plugged into.

To get started we need to examine the cost of electricity across the U.S., and it varies a lot. Here’s a map of the U.S. from 2018 showing a low of just over 7 cents per kWh (kilowatt hour) up to nearly 30 cents per kWh, with the national average just over 10 cents per kWh. Note that there can be extra fuel surcharges as well that may not show up on this map.

For those of you who are a little better at reading charts rather than maps, here’s the matching text on a state-by-state basis. Now don’t complain to me if you’re in a high-cost state because I have nothing to do with it. So Hawaii residents paid a premium of nearly 30 cents per kWh, while Louisiana was just over 7 cents per kWh. However, this chart can help explain the huge differences in the cost of electricity around the country.

So let’s examine what it could cost a campground to give you “free” electricity based on the national average of 10 cents per kWh. In review, a kWh is 1,000 watts of power for 1 hour of time. So if an imaginary portable space heater was drawing 1,000 watts for 10 hours of time the calculation would be 10 hrs. x $0.10 = $1. Of course, this doesn’t factor in the on/off thermostat time of the portable space heater, but you get the idea.

So this simple formula can help us determine the maximum cost of supplying an RV with electric power for a 20-, 30- and 50-amp service. Note that a 50-amp RV service is actually 100 amps at 120 volts, and that’s how the power company charges for it.

  • 20-amps = 2,400 watts or 2.4 kW (20 x 120 = 2,400 watts)
  • 30-amps = 3,600 watts or 3.6 kW (30 x 120 = 3,600 watts)
  • 50-amps = 12,000 watts or 12 kW (50 x 2 x 120 = 12,000 watts) 

Now let’s assume you’ll only be using this power 50% of the time (what we call a 50% duty cycle). I honestly think it’s a higher percentage than this during really hot summer months when all of your air conditioners are running, but I’ll stick with 50% for now.

  • 20-amps = 2.4 kW x .50 duty cycle x $0.10 = $0.12 per hour or $2.88 per day
  • 30-amps = 3.6 kW x .50 duty cycle x $0.10 = $0.18 per hour or $4.32 per day
  • 50-amps = 12 kW x .50 duty cycle x $0.10 = $0.60 per hour or $14.40 per day

The first thing I’ll note is that it’s really not fair to charge 20- and 30-amp power users the same day-rate for campground electricity as a 50-amp hookup since a 50-amp shore power user can be using $10 more per day of electricity than the others. Again, these are just hypothetical numbers, but I’ll bet I’m not too far off. And of course, many campgrounds charge extra for 50-amp hookups, and almost nobody uses 20-amp hookups anymore.

So, if my numbers are anywhere near right, then a campground with 50 occupied 50-amp sites might be paying up to $700 per day to the power company for electricity, which works out to $21,000 per month during the hot summertime when everyone is running their multiple air conditioners at full blast during those 100+ degree days.

Yikes!!! So, am I anywhere near correct with these numbers? I’m inviting any campground owners reading this article to submit their actual electrical costs to me including occupied campsites, which I’ll put into a chart for my next newsletter. Don’t worry, I’ll keep your identity hidden unless you expressly tell me it’s all right to divulge your campground name. But in order to come up with a plan for better power in campgrounds, we first have to define what the power actually costs. And then we can work pedestal upgrade and maintenance costs into the equation. Email to mike (at) noshockzone.org with the topic campground, and I’ll start pulling this all together.

So, torches and pitchforks down. We’ll revisit this again next month after I get some empirical data to compare to my hypothetical numbers. I invite you all to include your comments on this topic below, but please no name-calling or disparaging remarks. I want a civil discussion about what electricity actually costs campgrounds and see if there’s any way we can help everyone get better pedestal power for their RVs.

Let’s play safe out there….

 

 

Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.

For information on how to support RVelectricity and No~Shock~Zone articles, seminars and videos, please click the I Like Mike Campaign.

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Ed Baldwin

I am very interested in hearing what you find out about the actual costs of electricity at RV parks. I’m sure it will be an eye opener.

Ace

Thank you for this article; as with all your articles, they are informative and they are appreciated.
I have heard other campers say things like “Free power” and other comments that suggest they are using excessive amounts just because they paid for a night at the campground. I have seen other comments where they say their power usage was “$x.xx” dollars a day and it is probably true. However, when trying to get an average use/cost, this may approach the typical “bell curve” where you have the extreme highs and lows. I believe you have a good starting point and it will be interesting to see any responses from the owners of the campgrounds. Thank you

Paul Lundell

Hey Mike I love the work you do. Your more valuable than most would ever think. On to the expense of 50 amp electricity. I live in Utah and have a 2400 sq ft home. I understand your numbers and all looks and sounds correct. I know that I’ve never spent more than $225.00 in a single month for electricity. Without research I’m not sure how much I’ve used just the amount from paying it for over 20 years in this home. But now thankfully I have solar panels and in essence pay zero for an electricity bill.
With the $225.09 a month that’s $7.70 a day. But even if I went to $250.00 a month, that’s still only $8.30 a day. I have a hard time thinking that a 50 amp service is using twice what I do in my normal stick and brick home. But hey I’m never wrong. More like never right. Anywho. Thought I’d throw this out there.

travilenman

Sure puts a damper on the —FREE & CHEAP HEAT— the ads say….I know the guy that invented the so-called Cheap Heat furnace add on….

Drew

Mike,

Very good article and thank you! The map and chart were great to include. I’m not going to forward this to the place where we stay most of the time- they raise their rates enough already and I wouldn’t want to offer up any more ideas to them. It’s very interesting though- I wonder what ratio the campground’s electric bill is verses other large costs. In our case, the power grid feeding the campground itself is pretty shakey- it goes off regularly- for a few different reasons I gather. Otherwise, the rv park is very well maintained including the pedestals and associated wiring. Thanks once again.

Drew

Charles Yaker

Mike

What’s the possibility that problem pedestals are caused by a combination of ignorant owners and ignorant customers rather then cost factors. Just look at how most provide wifi for proof. Seems to me they would be better off not giving free wifi or even paid that doesn’t work when CG is full. Unfortunately Electric provision can’t be optional for them.

Charles Yaker

F.Y.I. I love Heinlein’s writing but for the record he accepted disability payments from the government he railed against.

Bill T.

Great article, thanks Mike. On an additional note I didn’t see where applicable taxes were taken into account in the calculations. With respect to “part deux” of your article, especially the power pedestal picture, I wanted to add that I believe in reasonable expectation for reasonable cost. If I am paying $70/night to stay at a campground I should have a clean and maintained power pedestal and utility hookups. The cost to clean and check the power conditions of an existing pedestal is not expensive and should be part of the owners routine inspections. I don’t believe electricity rates have anything to do with existing maintenance responsibility or cost. Poorly maintained campsite utility connections are the responsibility of the owners and their poor condition demonstrates lack of due diligence for the safety of their customers. I apologize for rambling a bit and perhaps this is not the forum for this but I am tired of needing to hook up to utility connections that are dirty, bug infested, rusty and cracked or broken. A multi-meter, some contact cleaner and a broom are not expensive.

Eddie

I have tried to figure this out in my area as well. According to my electrician and the NEC we should use an 80% duty cycle which I believe will provide you with a more accurate real world cost.
I was interested at the time in trying to figure out the cost for a 20 amp circuit and it came out to $4.70 per day.
Of course, this does not include the cost to install and maintain the equipment and of course a Fair profit.

Friz

Have wondered about this cost many times. I am a member of Boondocker’s Welcome and have hosted 23 times, some overnight, some as long as 5 nights, over the last 11 months. I live in north central Florida and my guests have all been here in the spring, fall and winter. I don’t recall a time anyone has used their AC. Oh, by the way, I provide them 30 amp elec and water au gratis. I am looking for a portable meter, inexpensive, with which I can monitor elec usage at my home and when I am on the road. Any suggestions?

Richard Hubert

Further thoughts on RV Park EV charging – If EVs become more prevalent, and especially if EV RVs are developed, you know that most owners are going to expect that they can re-charge them while staying at an RV park. But if RV parks are going to realistically be able to accommodate this type of electrical demand their entire park wiring will have to be thoroughly rebuilt for a much higher capacity than even today’s 50A service. Not only that, their electrical costs will skyrocket due to the utility demand charges they will be faced with. These are minimal charges utilities charge larger power users, and are justified because even if an RV park might not supply all sites with full power 100% of the time, the utility still has to ensure that their wiring and source power supply can handle the potential max load which might be used.

So – it appears that many RV parks could be very slow – and very reluctant – in converting their parks to accommodate EVs. Just a thought.

Richard Hubert

Re: RV Electrical Supply & Charges –
(1) EVs and RV parks. Some seem to think that since many RV parks have sites with a 50 A pedestal that they would be great for taking your EV car to – and even better once there are EV RVs – for a charge. But EVs of any size take a huge amount of electricity to charge up, and an EV RV would be far greater. You can bet that RV parks will notice this trend and start to charge accordingly for it. And I support them in this. They are not charities. But as of today I expect that the better parks will supply 50A service @ 120v when needed. To accomplish that I expect them to properly maintain their equipment, and in return I have to expect to pay them a reasonable amount for electricity I use.

(2) Electrical rates – I lived in Southern California for 16 years, where our household electrical rate rose to $.36/kwh. They billed us on a tiered rate system, but it seems that we would be at their highest tier within about 6 hrs of each new billing month. They also tried to disguise the total actual rate by breaking down all kind of distribution and equipment sub-fees, but it got so bad that we almost never could run our A/C since it cost us ~ $40/day to do so. But now living in our Class A RV I know that when we need to run the A/C it is to cool a much smaller volume – but it is also essential since we have no place to hide – like a basement, etc..

So it is apparent that there are huge variances in electrical rates all around the country. So depending on the location of the RV park they can only pass on their electrical rates to their customers staying with them – it is only fair.

Steven W. Browning, Sr.

Easy to see that many of the people that are commenting don’t understand that your numbers are based on total usage of the available power rather than actual power consumed.

Dennis D

Not sure about those numbers. We have a 40’ DP, 50A with two 15K ACs. We keep the thermostat about 78 during summer months. The most we have ever paid was $175 for a month. We spent three years full timing and have never paid electric for a daily or weekly stay, only paid electric when we were on a monthly rate. Although we have never been north in winter months and have only experienced moderately cold weather, we only use a space heater for a brief time in the morning to quickly warm up from the night (thermostat set at 63).

Ralph Pinney

Hi Mike,
Excellent timing on this topic for us. We just hooked up to a metered pole for our three month stay at a campground in Florida. I expect we will be learning exactly how much we consume.

Bob Godfrey

Mike,
Correct me if I’m wrong but we have a 40′ motor home and the only power difference that I can see from someone with a 30 amp trailer or coach is that we have 2 A/C units vs their one. I don’t think there is that much more power draw from one additional A/C unit is there? Most RVs have refrigerators, electric water heaters (not all do), battery chargers, TVs so where is the additional draw for the 50 amp service other than the additional A/C?
Also, regarding campground charges we have been billed an additional $3/day for 50 amp service and then an additional $3/day if we wanted to use our A/C units…..needless to say we will not return to that campground.

Roy Long

I question your calculations for a 50 amp service. I have a 7500 watt Onan diesel generator that runs both air conditioners, microwave, lights, etc. If this load is 12,000 watts how does a 7500 watt generator run it!. Just because you are hooked up to 12,000 watts doesn’t mean you are using all of it! Just a thought!

David Allen

No pitchforks here. I am in agreement that we as a group abuse the “free” power. I hear it all the time. Use it as much as you want. You paid for it. We are misers We turn off the water heater when not in use. We keep the rig comfortable but not excessively cool in the winter. We have 30 amp rig and also feel we will never use as much power as a 50 amp rig. I have metered my usage in Florida in the summer and have yet to go over 500 KWH a month. Ever! Now we are not typical but since the seasonal sites charge over a thousand dollars a month for the site and that free electricity, I know they are making money off me. But I also know they may be losing on my neighbor who keeps his AC on 60 degrees with the door open. I agree to the terms so I don’t complain. If I want free, I will move to the midwest and join all the other folks sitting in government land and go solar.