(An example of partners in craftsmanship — solar panel array by Bend’s Zamp Solar helping deliver power needs for Airstream RV | Photo courtesy Airstream)
Mobile Modules Make Major Inroads into RV Market as Off-Grid Options Widened
The horizons for van camping adventures and exploring the freedom of the road in far flung areas off the grid have been expanded thanks to the mobile technology of homegrown sustainability success story, Bend-based Zamp Solar.
The company’s cutting-edge solar-panel modules, designed and crafted in Bend together with battery-charging kits for off-grid use — originally primarily for Recreational Vehicles — has helped open up van life vistas, providing clean quiet power without listening to noisy generators.
Zamp Solar came from humble beginnings when its original founders (Steve Nelson and John Yozamp) sold off-grid solar kits from a small garage in 2010 but grew to design and craft multiple innovative solar solutions that empower people to thrive off-grid, inspired by the company’s Bend roots.
In less than one year, it had expanded into a 2,500-square-foot facility, and as demand quickly increased the team recognized a need in the RV market for high-quality off-grid solar solutions, leading to development of a strong network of dealers and occupying ever larger production space.
In a decade of rapid growth following its debut year, Zamp Solar quickly expanded from an exclusive RV aftermarket solar supplier to also be a strategic Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) partner with the likes of Airstream, Winnebago, Northwood and many more.
In more recent years, Zamp entered the outdoor, marine, tiny home, commercial transportation, agricultural and first responder markets, as a number of other industries became aware of the value of off-grid solar solutions to recharge and maintain batteries.
In 2015, Zamp made a significant commitment to its hometown by moving all offshore solar panel manufacturing to Bend. Every panel became handcrafted in the U.S. and the company gained recognition as the premier manufacturer and innovator of off-grid solar solutions nationally.
By 2020 the company reported annual sales topping $14 million and has continued to expand including taking on larger facilities, currently spanning a 23,000-square-foot space off Jamison Street, together with a 16,000-square-foot space off Murray Rd., and employing a staff of around 55.
The company’s leading-edge technology has proved a major boost to adventurers who like to “boondock” — to stay in areas where there are no electrical hookups, such as beaches, city parks, state parks and the desert — with the solar panel system proving an excellent addition to the RV lifestyle. Solar panels also provide silent power and can minimize or eliminate the need for a noisy generators to recharge vehicle batteries.
While the solar panel system frees the RVer to essentially go and stay anywhere, harnessing the power of the sun to address all electrical needs, Zamp Solar Chief Operating Officer Conor Miller said the company’s employees also walk the talk in embracing the freedom of the open road, adding, “To us, ‘off-grid’ means breaking free from limitations, expectation and the shackles of obligation.
“It is chasing what matters down the road less traveled. It’s building our own dream — whether it’s a new adventure or a new product — rather than clocking in to build someone else’s.
“We are proud to be one of the only U.S.-based off-grid solar manufacturers. Our vast majority of products are designed and crafted here in Bend. Every solar panel is signed by the person who assembled it at our local headquarters.
“Wherever possible, we use locally sourced materials. I was born and raised in Bend, so I’m passionate about the community and proud to play my part in creating jobs and supporting our local economy.
“We all share the same philosophy, and our weekends actually fuel our work week. Our team lives authentically, explores passionately and innovates incessantly to create the products we need to power our adventures in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. If a product doesn’t work for our family, we will not build it.”
Miller said Zamp believes they can truly help a growing diverse range of industries thrive through the power of off-grid solar, offering ultimate freedom and flexibility.
After years of research, engineering and design, Zamp has helped pioneer the future of solar including developing a thin, aerodynamic and lighter-weight solar panel with the efficiency and longevity of a standard panel. They call it the “Obsidian Series” — as it was inspired and field tested during the team’s own outdoor adventures in the epic volcanic landscapes and obsidian flows around Bend.
“Our solar products are built to last. We have a 25-year output warranty — the best in the industry — because we stand by our product. Every detail of our solar products is designed to make sure your solar investment goes the distance with you. We want our products to be handed down to the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts. Like getting your dad’s old green Coleman two-burner camping stove that still works great!
“We nerd out on the science of trying to make the most innovative, most efficient and most durable off-grid solar products ever… because these are the products that fuel our lives too. This approach has led to multiple patents in our space.
“Solar is an investment with lasting returns. Our best-in-class, hand-crafted products are not the cheapest on the market. We say buy it once and buy it right. You get what you pay for.”
The bet that Zamp Solar made several years ago on U.S. manufacturing paid off, when the company was acquired by PulseTech Products Corp. of Southlake, Texas, in 2018.
The deal kept Zamp’s administration, engineering and assembly operations in Bend while bringing an infusion of capital to help keep up with runaway growth and enter new markets, tapping potential for growth in sectors such as agricultural and industrial uses.
The companies operated separately while working to combine their technologies into a new product line.
And the next step in the Bend green leader’s evolution as a major market leader came last year when Swedish-based Dometic acquire Zamp Solar as part of a strategy to broaden a position in the fast-growing market for mobile solar power solutions, particularly in the outdoor context, in connection with Zamp.
With healthy sales, a good operating margin and strong organic sales growth, the expansion in the fast-growing market for mobile power solutions was a strategic priority for Dometic, which is a global market leader in branded solutions for mobile living in the areas of food and beverage, climate, power and control and other applications.
The market demand for sustainable and effective off-grid mobile power solutions continues to rapidly increase as more and more people spend time outdoors using a vehicle or boat as the base, and the acquisition strengthens Dometic’s presence, know-how and distribution network for mobile solar power solutions in North America.
Juan Vargues, president and CEO of Dometic, commented, “We are excited to welcome the Zamp Solar team to Dometic. Zamp Solar complements our earlier acquisitions in mobile power solutions and brings unique in-house design and manufacturing expertise.
“In addition to positioning us at the forefront of vehicle electrification trends, mobile power solutions also address the critical need for people using powered products when experiencing the outdoor lifestyle. Our strategy for profitable expansion in Mobile Living is built on a combination of organic and acquisitive growth.”
Zamp Solar will be reported as part of segment Americas.
Local production has allowed Zamp to provide customized solutions for RV makers like Winnebago, which needed to fit a 200-watt solar array onto the roof of a motor home with little usable space, Miller said. Zamp came up with a unique two-panel configuration consisting of a 160-watt square and a 40-watt rectangle, he said. That’s something other companies wouldn’t take on because they have to buy panels overseas by the cargo container.
Zamp has also come up with unique design features like an aluminum frame that can be mounted from any point, Miller said. That was an improvement over the standard imported frame with two pre-drilled holes, he said.
The finished modules are designed with the off-grid user in mind, Miller said. “Everything becomes plug-and-play and scalable as your power needs change.”
Zamp Solar designs, assembles and sells portable solar charging systems, magnetically mounted solar battery chargers for construction and agricultural equipment, and an array of both portable, hardwired and solar charging expansion kits for RVs, vans, boats and car-camping outdoor enthusiasts. Their products address any device that requires a charge from one or more 12-volt batteries. Zamp Solar’s products are designed to extend the life of the typical 12-volt battery by keeping it topped off via a solar charge — throughout the year.
The company is a member of the RV Dealer’s Association and the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. RV owners enjoy the product as it allows them to have an ample supply of AC power they can use when they are in places (campgrounds, State and National parks) that prohibit them from using their on-board generators during certain hours (typically 7pm to 7am).
Zamp Solar panels are used in all Airstream factory pre-installed solar packages starting in the 2019 model year. That means every Airstream travel trailer leaving the Jackson Center, Ohio manufacturing facility today is equipped with dedicated solar ready hookups. New owners can expect a solar ready trailer with a Zamp Solar Side Wall Port and a 3 Port Roof Cap. The wide array of Zamp Solar rooftop and portable solar solutions make it easy for all Airstreamers to harness the power of the sun. Most Airstream trailers have three factory solar options to choose from.
American solar jobs have increased 167 percent over the past decade, which is five times faster than the overall job growth rate in the U.S. economy. There are now more than 250,000 solar workers in the United States in fields spanning manufacturing, installation, project development, trade, distribution and more.
In 2021, the solar industry generated more than $33 billion of private investment in the American economy.
The new figures come as lawmakers debate infrastructure spending that could boost the solar workforce with hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next decade. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) analysis shows that the solar industry will need to reach more than 900,000 workers to reach President Biden’s 2035 clean energy target. SEIA is advocating for policies that will grow clean energy deployment and lay the groundwork to hire and train those workers.
“The solar industry continues to support hundreds of thousands of jobs across all 50 states, and even during a pandemic, our companies largely were able to keep workers on the job,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA. “We now have an opportunity to quadruple our workforce, adding diversity and supporting underserved communities by taking policy steps that incentivize solar and storage deployment and provide long-term certainty for solar businesses.”