Volta Rally brings fans of clean energy RV, #vanlife travel together

Singer Jason Walsmith and his wife, Emma Walsmith, are among the thousands who hit the road during the pandemic after the shutdown turned their lives upside down. 

The Iowa couple sold their house in 2020 and purchased an adventure van equipped by Volta Power Systems so Jason could host intimate concerts around the country as part of his socially distanced “I’ll Play Anywhere, Man” tour.

Volta not only powers their van but also Jason’s concerts, running his audio and lighting systems. The Volta system lets them go off the grid so they can stay anywhere. 

“We would have had to stop chasing our passion if we hadn't found this particular van because of the Volta power system integration,” Emma says. “Not only is it great for powering our shows, but it also keeps us safe and comfortable as we travel with our dogs.”

Volta owners gather

The couple rolled into Holland over the weekend to take part in the Volta Power Systems’ first-ever Volta Campout. The four-day event, held at Ottawa County Fairgrounds, 1286 Ottawa Beach Road, provided nearly 100 Volta-equipped van and RV owners from across the country with a chance to review the company’s latest energy storage technology.

Jason performed a special concert at the Volta Campout completely powered by Volta lithium-ion batteries.

Jason Walsmith gives a concert powered by Volta on Storyteller Overland MODE LT RV.

Their van is among nearly 5,000 Volta-equipped vehicles on the road. Company estimates show 23 million pounds of carbon emissions are mitigated annually from Volta by eliminating auxiliary generators on those vehicles.

Recreation vehicles equipped with Volta lithium-ion batteries can run A/C, 120V appliances, entertainment, and other equipment without using a generator or plugging into electrical systems.

Volta’s first rally focused on a cleaner, leaner camper that uses advanced energy over generators. The event included training seminars, outdoor adventures, a pub crawl, and a concert.

Powering a growing industry

With more than 600,000 vehicles produced, North American RV production reached an all-time high in 2021, according to the RV Industry Association. The national trade association expects 2022 to be its second-best year of production.

“With sustainability initiatives and RV sales at an all-time high, our user-friendly power systems allow RVers to eliminate generators while camping or boondocking,” says Jack Johnson, chief technology officer and co-founder of Volta Power Systems. “We are excited to bring Volta-lovers and RVers from any manufacturer together for the first time to rally around our tech that has had such a huge impact on the lives of so many van enthusiasts.”

Jack Johnson, Volta co-founder and CTO (right) chats with attendees.

Johnson arrived in Holland 22 years ago as a “farm kid with a couple of degrees,” recruited out of college in Kansas to work at Prince Corp. After the company was acquired by Johnson Control Industries, he spent 16 years working in advanced battery development. In 2008, when JCI won a government grant to build the first large format lithium-ion battery plant, he was on the team that built the plant on Holland’s southside. 

Seeing the potential to make the technology accessible for small businesses, he started his own company, licensing the technology from a California company to build battery packs and inverters and selling them to RV and van manufacturers. 

The company’s Holland plant has produced more than 5,000 systems over the past eight years. 

“We've been growing about double year over year since 2016. And when the pandemic hit, RV production in the United States was around 380,000 and went to 600,000. Demand has been super crazy,” Johnson says. 

The company’s workforce has gone from 20 to nearly 50 this year. Most employees are engineers, but some workers do light assembly.

Johnson sees Holland as a good fit for his growing business, from the quality of life to the economic development support from Lakeshore Advantage. Holland is only a two-hour drive away from Elkhart, Indiana, the capital of RV manufacturing.

Giving campers new freedom

The appeal of the Volta system is that it lets people park their RVs and campers anywhere because they don’t need to hook up to a campground’s power source.  

“You can camp anywhere you stop, anytime you want,” Johnson says. “You don't have to worry about your destination. You don't have to worry about plugging in, and it creates all these new stories and adventures.”

Johnson says the company is driving innovation in the RV world. 

“We're creating all sorts of new value propositions because traditionally, an RV doesn’t have enough energy to do anything,” he says. “That's why everybody goes to campgrounds, because they're dependent on plugging in. Now, when you have more power, you can do more.”

Volta Rally campers gather for Jason Walsmith Concert.

Volta supports the rise of off-the-grid networks or undeveloped camping areas – without electricity or restrooms – that let people travel off the beaten path. Harvest Host, for example, is a network of thousands of wineries that let campers stay for free or at little cost.

The company estimates that during the Volta Campout weekend, Volta’s systems prevented about 28,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere by eliminating the need for generators.

Event attendees toured Volta’s headquarters and attended an educational deep-dive into lithium-ion technology. There were also Q&A sessions with #vanlife influencer and Volta ambassador Scott Watson of the YouTube channel Go Small, Live Large!, which has more than 21,000 subscribers and 100 videos.

Watson lives full-time in his Volta-equipped class B van and teaches tips and tricks for living on the road, including optimizing Volta’s lithium-ion system. He also provides educational training on the Volta system to RV dealers and vehicle manufacturers across the country.

“As a full-time traveler, I know the power of total freedom that my Volta advanced lithium energy system brings to my camper van travel experience,” Watson says.
 

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.