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Jenny takes a trip
Jenny takes a trip

Oki doki folks! Jenny here. Hello out there once more!

Continuing on from my previous article, which can be found here, I shall now home in on some finer details beginning with choice of van, and energy sources, both for powering the van and for power in the van.

Van:  I already discussed in the pre-mentioned article my reasons for choosing a van/minibus to live off-grid in…..but now how do I go about deciding, which van (from this point forward meaning minibus as well as van) to use? Does it matter? Well, from my research I have learnt that yes, indeed it does matter! Especially if, like me, one hopes to use USVO (Used Straight Vegetable Oil) as the fuel – more on USVO specifically in a moment.

  • To use USVO, I need to ensure my van runs on diesel.
  • Ensuring less vandalism/other bother, I would like an inconspicuous-coloured/shaped van; I am thinking white/navy blue/black/dark green will be fine.
  • The van needs to be able to undergo a one-tank conversion to be able to run on the higher viscosity USVO or already have the conversion upon buying; van pumps suitable for this are: Bosch Diesel Kiki, Nippon Denso, Doowon and Zexel. Two-tank conversions work with a greater variety of vehicles, still using diesel at the beginning and end of a drive to warm up the vegetable oil and prepare the diesel tank to be at-the-ready for the next drive… but I would like to avoid using ANY diesel…I am fortunate I do not yet have a vehicle and so do not have to fear discovering that the vehicle is not suitable for one-tank conversion.
  • I am flexible regarding the length and height of the van; seems most practical and flexible to me though that it is not higher than the maximum height of a vehicle allowed into various public places such as car parks – although if I loved everything else about the van or caravan I would not let this prevent me from purchasing it; the times I would use car parks, for example, would be rare.
  • To remain as earth-friendly as possible and to avoid needing even larger sums of money, I would like a second-hand vehicle. Decreasing the chance of being swindled, I can research the source from where I’ll be purchasing the vehicle and search for good or bad references. I think it will be worthwhile taking the vehicle to the mechanics for a check-over before purchasing.

From what I understand, the below webpage lists the car & van manufacturers/models that are suitable for the one-tan conversion (I just need to Google each of them now to see which are vans and which are cars! Hehee. Please check messages below this article in one week to find the results of my findings) . With the one-tank conversion costs just over £1000.


Vegetable oil (peanut, hemp, rapeseed, olive, sunflower…any others too) burns much more cleanly than fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is still emitted but this simply replaces the carbon dioxide that the plant used to grow the oil would remove in photosynthesis. The term ‘straight’ in this acronym simply refers to the vegetable oil not being mixed with others fuel types. I would like to use ‘used vegetable oil’ from restaurants and other catering outlets, who, I have read, are happy to give it away for free as they currently have to pay to have it collected and burnt (cannot be put down sinks as will cause sewage blockages). For example, in the US, 300 million gallons/year of waste vegetable oil ends up in landfill sites/sewage systems. Now, I am not pretending that the amount of waste oil produced by catering outlets is sufficient for all societies across the world to use….even if the world dramatically reduces its reliance upon cars….unless they are going to be practically eradicated (but this is not something I am particularly advocating). It is not sufficient. However, it seems only logical to me to make use of this otherwise wasted oil first before beginning with firsthand oil.

I can collect the oil directly from a willing catering outlet; however, the oil needs to be clean; not with bits of food nor even water in it! Heheee. Some restaurants will do this, but often I will need to be able to filter it myself. There are contraptions that I could buy to do this…However, I do not plan to be so short of money that I will be unable to afford the on average £1 extra per week that is needed to purchase pre-filtered USVO from organisations such as and On the forum, Forum people kindly informed me that an average van usually guzzles a maximum of one gallon per 30 miles. Let’s say that I would actually drive my van a luxurious maximum of 10 miles per week – meaning I’d need only 1/3 gallon of USVO, this is just over 1 litre.

Just to clarify one thing that I was not sure of before I began researching: vegetable oil (whichever form) is a biofuel, not to be confused with biodiesel. Biodiesel is a biofuel that is converted by adding alcohol and a catalyst. This mixture is left to settle and then biodiesel is poured off the top, leaving glycerine at the bottom. I favour vegetable oil as you don’t need to use any other substances or contemplate what to do with leftover products. I can simply store my oil somewhere in the van in a protective container.

The fuel I use may need to be 10% diesel in the Winter due to the viscosity of vegetable oil alone becoming to high. However, several people have found in the last few winters (probably not including this Winter!?) that they have not needed any diesel. I shall be willing to undergo a process of trial and error!

I find the following to be an excellent general information source concerning using vegetable oil in vehicles: .

You may have heard talk of being able to use Algae as a biofuel by 2020!! See

I still need to learn how to drive….there are numerous more ethical alternative driving schools in the UK, especially in London, for example and


Using SVO/USVO actually results being exempt from road taxes!

I will be checking with The Co-operative and Caravan Club to establish if they will provide insurance for a van that I am living in and how much it will cost. Please check messages below this article in one week to find the results of my findings.

Solar Energy:

As the energy source for the remaining devices I would like to run, I was advised by CAT (Centre of Alternative Technology in Wales) to steer clear of wind energy and go for solar energy. Albeit a small windmill on top of the van, it would still produce enough noise to attract unwanted attention and to be labelled as disturbance by locals. It is also not predicted to produce as much energy in a UK location year-round as the solar option.

There is still a negative environmental impact during the production of solar panels but this still amounts to far less environmental degradation than that caused by fossil fuels and the solar cell constituent parts of the panels can be recycled.

The following website will tell you the longitude and latitude of your town: …..these details are needed to discover the direction of ‘true-south’, where I will want my panel to face. These details are also needed to determine the angle I want to place my panel at, depending on the sun’s angle to Earth (which changes throughout the year). The  recommended tilts are shown here after entering your latitude: . Taking account of these factors will increase the amount of energy the cells can produce.

I found a very good site for instruction of how to optimally place my solar panels.

There are different kinds of solar cells. Those made from crystalline silicon (CS) are most widely used. They are a little more expensive but manufacturers guarantee that CS panels still will provide 80% of their maximum energy output after 25 years! Other cells available are thin film cells, comprised from either copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) or cadmium telluride (CdTe) among others. These are cheaper and use less raw materials but are less efficient than CS, though according to CAT, much research is currently being carried out on the efficiency of thin film cells. I will assume I shall use the CS solar panels, but will do further research at the time of buying.

This website can help predict the average potential amount of solar energy that’s obtainable anywhere in the EU: .

According to the book by Nick Rosen, it is possible to power a mobile phone, lap top and a few other low-energy devices if wanted, with just one single 50w solar panel in the UK. I am still working on working this out for myself with all the equations and everything as described here:  I have tried it out a couple of times before but keep on getting new information to alter the information I put into the equations. Please check messages below this article in one week to find the results of my findings. I will try to base my calculations on the average solar energy achievable, or indeed the minimum solar energy achievable. It would not be wise to base my estimations on peak solar energy!

No planning permission is required for solar panels so that is one hurdle I do not have to cross.

I predict that I will purchase two 12V, lead-acid, deep-cycle batteries for the storage of the solar energy. These are the cheapest and simplest type and release energy slowly, perfect for the low-energy-consumption of the few devices I plan to be using. The devices I wish to use are available in 12V versions and even if there is something unavailable in 12V I can purchase a transformer, as is likely to be necessary for a laptop. Two storage batteries enable me to be flexible with my energy usage – if there is insufficient energy being produced at a certain time, I can use previously-stored energy that I did not use. The final requirement for the batteries is that they are at least 100AH (capable of powering a 100-amp appliance for one hour). I will need to ensure all connecting wires are thick as the current is higher and could melt the wires. I will use a shunt regulator to ensure no overcharging nor undercharging of the batteries.

If my energy production is too limited, I can purchase a battery-powered mini- heater if worse comes to worse. This is the only compulsory device I can think of…and this only for winter as well. Though I need to work on this idea – or maybe I will only know for sure after trying it out; will I really be content putting up with the noise…presumably whilst I sleep too….maybe I can find a quiet one that is a little more expensive?? Please check messages below this article in one week to find the results of my findings. I did investigate woodstoves – amazing possibilities. However, I predict that I will be living near other people and I think smoke from the roof of my van will definitely be classed as a disturbance! Of course if I do find myself not living near anyone, I can reconsider using woodstoves.

There are plenty of ethical/environmental companies in the UK and abroad from where to buy all this desired equipment. is just one example.

I hope to convert to a more ethical mobile phone network in the future too. I have found one offered by The Phone Co-op. However, they say the mobile must be a 3G Nokia mobile, which is one of the newer, more expensive versions. I will find out why their network is only compatible with these specific mobiles….as, normally, I would not wish to spend that much (around £96)….especially when 2nd hand mobiles keep on finding their way to me! :-p :-). If it is, for example, for reasons of ethicality (for example Greenpeace have rated Nokia as the most ethical electrical company…or maybe rather the ‘best of a bad bunch’), then I will definitely convert to their network.

I have one final thought and a question to pose for you all: I have been hearing that it is a lot easier to live off-grid in Scotland and Wales than elsewhere in the UK. Whilst this may be true, part of me feels reluctant to aim to live/campaign in those areas; is it not more beneficial to the off-grid movement to aim to live where you would live if living off-grid was not an issue for society? Although I do realise that it is helping the movement tremendously regardless of where off-grid-living is carried out.

And for now……that’s it guys and gals! I look forward to writing and sharing my next article and indeed to the developments on research mentioned in the above article, which I shall add in messages below.

Merry days to you All…

Jenny. :-)

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