Swansea chef powers his mobile barista bar with solar power after watching YouTube videos


A former Swansea chef and barista has successfully converted her mobile cafe business to run entirely on solar power after teaching herself about electronics by researching online and watching YouTube videos.

Ashley Collins, sole trader at start-up Flynn’s Coffee, says she no longer depends on using her diesel van to double-charge her leisure batteries that power her barista gear after learning how to draw solar energy.

She says she can now run her mobile barista business using solar panels while selling her coffee at festivals and events in South Wales between two company bases in Swansea Marina.

“Right from the start of the business, my goal was to run on solar power. Most people said that was not possible,” said Ashley, who for the first time successfully ran her business. only solar powered in April this year.

She started learning the basics of electronics in 2017 with the ambition of starting her own solar-powered mobile cafe business.

She said: “I did a lot of research online, watched loads of YouTube videos about electrical installations in motorhomes and vans that were also mobile cafes. Many of the ones I found on the mobile cafes, they used the main source power from festivals rather than leisure batteries.It took forever to find an example of this to begin with.

Ashley said she quickly fell down a “rabbit hole of YouTube videos” trying to figure out how to use a hobby battery to power her mobile barista bar.

She said: “I found a video that showed how leisure batteries were installed in a boat, but I thought I needed more power. I had to do a lot of math to figure out how much power I would have. needed and eventually went to Go Outdoors to get some batteries to test my theory.”

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Ashley finished installing her mobile coffee van in 2019 and started trading at small food festivals while working full time as a chef and barista. She was preparing to take Flynn’s Coffee to festivals in 2020 while working as a chef before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

“The week I was about to start working in the kitchens, all the restaurants had to close. I spent two months rewriting my business plan and researching attendance at local parks. Luckily Swansea Council had a slot available in Singleton Park so I set up there and have been there for the past couple of years. The lockdown has really pushed me to adapt,” she said.

Ashley started learning the basics of electronics in 2017 with the ambition of starting her own solar-powered mobile cafe business.

Before reaching solar power in April this year, Ashley was charging leisure batteries (a power source for 12V appliances and equipment in motorhomes designed to provide a constant level of power over a period of time). extended) either at home or using a separate charger in their van on their way to an event.

“It was expensive either way, running a diesel van to charge a battery or using large amounts of power off the grid. It also meant I only had electricity for a while before the battery does not discharge,” she said. said.

“To solve this problem and not waste energy, especially now that the energy bills are high, I thought of diving into solar energy. The first weekend I tried it, it was very successful and I have been using it ever since.”

After purchasing the wiring kits needed to carry the volts from the solar panels to the batteries, Ashley found a professional electrician to install the solar panels.

“I am not qualified to do it myself, but I found an auto electrician who was able to do it for me and told him what I needed, what I wanted and where. They said that ‘they had never seen or installed anything like this before, so it was all new to him,’ she said. “Then I had everything tested by PAT and now everything is fine.”

Ashley now has solar panels located next to the van that charge leisure batteries to power her garbage disposal, refrigerator, card payment module and other electrical equipment for two to three days.

“The solar panel needs to plug into something that’s going to hold a charge for you. I use hobby batteries because they’re very portable and you can get all kinds of power for your needs,” she said.

The coffee machine is the only piece of equipment that does not run solely on solar energy because the water heating element consumes a lot of power.

“The amount of power needed to run the heating element is quite high. I’m now trying to figure out what larger power source I would need to cover that power consumption,” Ashley said, adding that currently uses LPG or liquefied petroleum gas. , for its coffee machine, which is low-carbon and efficient fuel.

Ashley Collins Flynn's Cafe
Ashley serves coffee from her mobile barista bar in Swansea Marina

The total cost of building the facility was around £1000 which includes electrical kit and wiring, leisure batteries, the solar panels themselves and payment for an engineer to install the equipment.

Ashley said: “It’s about the same price as a low-end generator, but I get a huge amount of use out of it and I don’t actually have to pay anything to use it. Whereas ‘with a generator, you pay the fuel costs, because you use gasoline or diesel to run it.’

It also means that Ashley won’t have to raise her prices to cover rising energy costs.

“It’s cheaper for the business as a whole in the long run and it means I don’t have to raise my prices if energy costs go up again. Now I don’t pay energy costs anymore. energy apart from fuel for travel,” she said.

The setup is also much quieter than using a generator to power her mobile cafe and Ashley can recharge the batteries while she serves her customers.

“I was recently at a campsite in Gower and had to set up early in the morning with a half-charged battery. When the sun came up it fully charged while I was still using the machine full throttle,” she said. “As long as it’s fully plugged in, everything works fine. It can last two to three days easily. In the summer, I shouldn’t have to change the batteries at all.”

What about coffee supply during the darker winter months?

“I looked at different types of solar panels, how much power I can get on a cloudy day, and which batteries can I upgrade to hold a higher charge,” Ashley said. “Perhaps like a household battery that charges from solar power and then runs for an entire month with very little sunlight. That’s my next research step.”


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