Photo by Dmitry Naumov @ 123RF.com
As the world becomes aware of the climate change emergency, more people are embracing a green lifestyle. This has boosted the sustainable energy industry with technological innovations emerging every day. Therefore, portable solar panels are now more popular than ever.
So, are portable solar panels worth it? While portable solar panels may not be as financially efficient as stationary solar systems, they are incredibly flexible, especially for off-grid adventures. In most cases, the pros of solar panels outweigh the cons.
|They enable you to escape the scorching sun||You have to park to collect energy|
|They are space-conscious||Protection of the solar panels at all times can be difficult|
|You don’t need any complicated installation||Constant setting up of the solar panels can be tedious|
|You can source power from numerous locations||They aren’t reliable during periods of little to no sunlight|
|They’re incredibly easy to maintain|
|They are adaptable|
|You get clean and quiet energy|
|They use sustainable energy|
|They are lightweight cargo|
This article will detail the good, the bad, and everything else you need to know about portable solar panels so you can decide whether they are worth it to you or not.
The Pros of Portable Solar Panels
Portable solar panels have become remarkably popular, and it’s because they carry loads of advantages. The following pros of portable solar panels are why they are worth having:
They Enable You to Escape the Scorching Sun
The worst part about the traditional RV solar panels glued to your roof is that you have to stay where the sun is. This mostly means that you can’t afford to park under shade if you need some power. The UV rays from the sun not only damage your skin but also cause UV car damages. The first remedy to this is parking in the shade.
However, with portable solar panels, you don’t have to follow the scorching sun. You can enjoy the cool in the shade and still source power by putting the solar panels where there’s direct sunlight.
They Are Space-Conscious
Portable solar panels are often compact, so you won’t have to worry about large solar panels taking up lots of your space. Even if the solar panels are sizeable, they’ll have a foldable design that’ll help with packing.
You can store them in any minimal space where you expect no impacts during your travels, such as the extra space under your bed, under your seats, or in cabinets. So, the roof of your RV can keep your adventure gear like kayaks, floating mattresses, canoe, or surfboards.
You Don’t Need Any Complicated Installation
This is a great pro for the inexperienced who also don’t want to spend more money on professional roof installation. A few connections and you’re good to go.
All you need to do is connect the solar panels to the battery and inverter with the charge controller. Once the setup is done, you can plug in your devices to the inverter to power them. This can take as little as 10 minutes.
Here’s a portable solar power system set up to help you do it yourself:
You Can Source Power from Numerous Locations
Whether you’re visiting the Grand Canyon, going on a Route 66 road trip, or merely camping by a nearby lake, you’ll likely get some sunlight during the sunny seasons.
So, it doesn’t matter whether you go to off-grid locations or not; you’re capable of sourcing power from the sunlight. This helps you explore your favorite destinations without worrying that you can run out of power without access to its source.
They’re Incredibly Easy to Maintain
Some of the main maintenance requirements of solar panels are the regular cleaning of debris and checking for any defects. This would mean regular climbing on the roof for traditional solar panels, which can be tedious and lead to neglect.
On the contrary, portable solar panels can be maintained at any time during setup and before storage. Generally, portable solar panels don’t collect much debris, and you can also identify and fix any issue before it escalates.
They Are Adaptable
Built with durable frames and protective features like waterproofing, portable solar panels can survive almost anywhere. You can use them when you go fishing and transport them back to the mainland when you want to go camping in the mountains and much more.
Don’t think of these compact solar panels as a fragile kid who can’t handle the ups and downs of outdoor adventure. These pieces of innovation were born to serve even in the harshest environments.
You Get Clean and Quiet Energy
Gone are the days when you have to carry noisy gasoline generators so you can power your cooler during camping. You no longer need to make angry neighbors at a campsite. You don’t have to create a carbon footprint when powering your devices.
With portable solar panels, you can convert solar energy to electricity in a subtle clean way. Even when you use a solar generator, you won’t make any loud noises to ruin your fun.
They Use Sustainable Energy
In an attempt to embrace climate change adaptation in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goal 7(SDG7), things like the portable solar panel were born. It’s not only for today’s good but also for future generations.
Using renewable energy is a significant perk since you know there’s never a shortage of it in typical situations. Moreover, no matter how much you use it, you’re not in any way reducing it for someone else or the generations coming after you. In a nutshell, it’s guilt-free.
They Are Lightweight Cargo
When you want to pack portable solar panels for outdoor adventure, or you may just be moving, they’ll make up one of your lightest cargo. This is important since you don’t want to haul heavy weight to get power.
You don’t have to worry about loading your RV with heavy solar panels on the roof. These beauties only weigh a few pounds, so you’ll feel no load.
The Cons of Portable Solar Panels
As with most products, some disadvantages come with the advantages. Portable solar panels are no different. Fortunately, they’re less than the pros and don’t weigh that much for most people. So here are the cons of portable solar panels:
You Have to Park to Collect Energy
Although you can park under the shade and use the portable solar panels, it comes with a major disadvantage as well. The fact that you have to be stationary to collect energy is sometimes inconvenient.
For instance, if you’re looking to reach a particular destination at sunset and your driving hours can’t fit in an hour of parking to charge your battery, it might mean that you won’t be able to power your devices. So if the need to park is too much of a dealbreaker for you, then you’ll have to get the traditional solar panels. Otherwise, you always have to make time for parking.
You do have the option of using the exceptionally compact portable solar panels you can hang against your windows to collect solar energy in transit. Unfortunately, they produce very little energy – enough to charge a few USB devices.
Protection of the Solar Panels at All Times Can Be Difficult
Although they aren’t flimsy or fragile or damage upon the slightest rough handling, keeping the portable solar panels protected at all times can be a hassle. For instance, you have kids running around jumping on stuff, yet you have to keep the very gear you’ll use to power your devices out of harm’s way.
You must also be diligent about keeping your solar panels in a safe place. Since they’re portable, someone can easily grab and run with them.
Constant Setting Up of the Solar Panels Can Be Tedious
One drawback of portable solar panels is that you must set them up each time you need them. During an extended vacation, you will have to set it up several times throughout your vacation. Although it only takes a few minutes, during those times, you might crave a more “set it and forget it.”
They Aren’t Reliable During Periods of Little to No Sunlight
Solar panels depend on sunlight. Therefore, if you use them, you’ll be dependent on the weather. This is less inconvenient if your panels are on the top of your RV, and you can catch any streaks of sunlight while maintaining mobility.
However, when you are dealing with portable solar panels, and you have to park every time you need to charge your battery, it’s going to be a hassle. You might schedule your stop but realize that during that time in that location, sufficient sunlight is nowhere to be seen.
Even though you still can take advantage of the little sunlight you get, it might not be sufficient for the charging of your devices. This means you have no luxury of using electrical appliances in all seasons if your only source is a portable solar panel.
What Exactly Are Portable Solar Panels? An Overview of Their Features
To know whether portable solar panels are worth having, you have to know what they are. As the name suggests, portable solar panels are small panels with photovoltaic cells to change solar energy from sunlight to electricity. They work like traditional solar panels — only on a smaller scale.
How Portable Are They?
Most portable solar panels weigh from 3 to 10 pounds, which is far less than the weight of traditional solar panels whose average weight is 40 pounds. You can easily carry them around for set up and storage.
How Do Portable Solar Panels Work?
When the photovoltaic cells absorb the sunlight, an electric field is created. This electric field is channeled to fill a battery that will be used to power appliances, or it can be sent to your grid system depending on your setup.
Here are the unique features of portable solar panels:
- Waterproof to handle harsh weather conditions.
- Adjustable designs like foldability to make them ultraportable.
- Kickstands and other support systems to angle them to the direction of maximum sunlight.
How Much Do Portable Solar Panels Cost?
These panels vary their price according to the panel wattage, but one thing is clear: the higher the wattage of the solar panel, the cheaper it gets per watt.
For instance, most portable solar panels featuring 10 watts and below cost up to $100. However, those 50-watt or more portable solar panels cost up to $500. It’s kind of like the way buying goods in bulk is cheaper. Keep in mind that these are average prices based on the best portable solar panels.
You’ll often get a portable solar panel kit instead of a single solar panel. This kit might come with an inverter, charge controller, and chargers, among other accessories. Portable solar panel kits can cost anywhere from $100 to $1000.
How Long Do Portable Solar Panels Last?
According to EnergySage, quality solar panels can last 25 to 30 years. However, due to the mobility of portable solar panels, they can last anywhere from 1 year to 25 years.
You can know how long a particular portable solar panel can last, depending on its warranty period. But it doesn’t mean that you have to throw away the panels after those years. If you get 1, 2, 10, 20, or 30 year-warranty, know that that’s how long the panel will likely work optimally. Any period after that will mostly give you less than the usual output.
Solar panels have no moving parts, so there’s no mechanical damage done to them just by functioning. But if they’re exposed to harsh impacts and debris, they’ll likely reduce their lifespan depending on the extent of the damage. That’s why portable solar panels feature lower warranty periods.
How Much Energy Do Portable Solar Panels Provide?
Portable solar panels vary their energy output depending on wattage. Generally, you’ll find portable solar panels from 5 watts to 200 watts. So, the energy a 5-watt solar panel will produce will be different from a 200-watt solar panel under the same sunshine hours and temperature conditions.
Before choosing a particular solar panel, you will want to check its wattage rating. This rating is determined after monitoring performance under the Standard Test Conditions (STC) of solar panels. They are exposed to the sunlight at 1000 watts per square meter when the mass of air is 1.5, and the temperature of the cell is 25 degrees Celsius or 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
But why does the wattage rating matter to you? After calculating your wattage needs, you can determine what size of solar panels you need, and this will lead you to the right purchase.
Here’s how to calculate your wattage needs:
- List all the things you need to power and their equivalent wattage. If you don’t see wattage information, multiply the Amperes with the Voltage (Watts = Amps × Volts)
- Multiply each device wattage with the number of hours you’ll be using it per day (Watts × Hours = Wh)
- Add all the appliance watt-hours, and the result would be the amount of electricity you’ll likely consume per day.
- Divide your total daily watt-hours by the number of hours you can expose the solar panel to sunlight. For instance, if you need 90Wh and you can expose your portable solar panel to 3 hours of peak sunshine, then you’ll need a 30-watt solar panel.
However, don’t overestimate the solar absorbency of your solar panel since the STC ratings are performed with controlled conditions. You need to buy a bigger size if you want all your needs to be met. So, if you use 90Wh, it’s best to buy a 40-watt panel instead of a 30-watt one.
Generally, the lesser the size of the panels, the lesser the energy output. So, an extremely portable solar panel you can mount on your backpack would probably only charge your phone and other USB devices. While one you can carry around and set up on the ground can power an entire RV.
Common Uses of Portable Solar Panels
Now, you have explored the positive and negative aspects of portable solar panels, and you might feel like you know whether they are worth it for you or not. Before deciding, check out the following factors to find out when these compact solar panels can come in handy:
Charging Portable Devices
In this technology-driven era, you might pack a couple of electricity-dependent devices when out and about. This could be during a picnic, hiking, road trip, camping trip, or even an outdoor party. Even if you’d be off-grid, it doesn’t mean that you have to be without electricity.
Here are portable devices you can charge with a portable solar panel:
- Bluetooth speaker
- Respiratory products like CPAP machines
- Blood pressure monitors
Think of any portable device you own and want to carry with you everywhere you go. It could be one to keep tabs with your work, health, or even an entertainment gadget. You’ll need your camera up and running all the time so you can document any memory that’s worth saving.
Some portable solar panels can be strapped on your backpack to keep charging your battery. This is something you’ll want anywhere you have to stop for electricity. Your outdoor life has been made much more comfortable.
Providing Electricity for an RV
An RV could be anything from a travel trailer to a truck camper; it doesn’t matter. If you buy portable solar panels that provide sufficient electricity for your appliances, you’re good. You would no longer have to carry bulky and heavy generators for your RV. You no longer need to tolerate the unbearable noise that comes with them or their pollution.
You can get portable solar panels for your RV, whether it’s a rental or not. If you’re not a hardcore RV user, you can use them for other purposes during “non-RVing” seasons.
Powering Your Boat
If you go sailing from time to time, one of the most significant challenges you face might be sourcing electricity. However, with portable solar panels, you can power everything from appliances to your boat itself.
The open waters provide an easy chance to charge your solar panels. Whether you’re near the mainland or out in the middle of nowhere, the solar panels will always provide you with a chance to access electricity. When you’re back from your water adventures, you can use those solar beauties for other purposes.
Powering a Campsite
Clean and quiet electricity generation is a craving many campers have. Most popular options like gas powered inverter generators aren’t clean and can be quite noisy. Moreover, they are more costly than some campers can afford.
Portable solar panels are affordable, eco-friendly, and quiet, plus you can easily expand them according to your needs and budget.
The Best Portable Solar Panels
After looking into the various aspects of portable solar panels, it should now be clear of whether they are worth purchasing. The following are the best portable solar panels to give you a further look into what they entail.
Jackery Solarsaga 60W Solar Panel
Jackery, a company founded in California, specializes in supplying green power products to the explorers of the outdoors. The Solarsaga 60W Solar Panel is one of the most powerful portable solar panels and weighs only 3 pounds.
Apart from its lightweight, this panel has an adjustable kickstand to help you angle it in the best direction of sunlight. It also comes with a solar charger for tablets, smartphones, and other USB-charged gadgets.
You can power your RV with this solar panel depending on your needs. And with a portable solar generator, you can power anything whether the sun is up or not.
Tp-Solar 60 Watt Foldable Solar Panel Battery Charger Kit
This Tp-Solar Portable Solar Panel has made many customers happy. One of its coolest features is the USB smart charging, which is compatible with all USB devices. It has a smart integrated circuit chip that identifies the device you plug in, maximizes its charging speed, and still controls the charging to prevent overcharging and overloading.
This solar panel kit comes with a controlling box that can charge car batteries and boats, among other moving crafts directly, while preventing overcharging. At a weight of 4 pounds, you can carry this portable solar panel easily and even manage to hang it up using the supplied handles.
With its advanced waterproof laminated technology and Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), it promises 15+ years of life. You’d want this portable solar panel if you wish to use it everywhere you go.
Renogy Foldable Solar Suitcase Panel
The Renogy Foldable Solar Suitcase Panel is known for its durability. It comes with heavy-duty handle plus latches, an adjustable corrosion resistant stand, and it’s all stored in an equally strong suitcase to withstand harsh conditions.
This Renogy solar panel can charge many batteries, including lithium-ion types. You can see operating information from the LCD attached to it. Whether you want to power your boat, RV, or trailer, you can use this solar panel. Just set it up where the sun’s shining and keep adjusting the angles using the stand.
Dokio 160 Watts Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Panel Kit
If you wish to be packed with a high wattage solar panel even when hiking, this solar panel from Dokio could be a good fit. Although it only weighs 9 pounds and measures 0.9 inches in thickness, it can give out energy up to 160 watts.
These powerful panels not only stay protected in a canvas pocket but also come with a traveling suitcase. They can charge various batteries, plus they are capable of powering most of the appliances in your home.
Because the panels are flat, you can lay it on the top of your car, securing it with some grips, so it doesn’t get blown away. This way, you can take advantage of the intense overhead sun. Like the TP-solar panel, you have a robust source of energy to carry with you anywhere.
Chafon Portable 80W Solar Panel
The Chafon Portable 80W Solar Panel is compatible with the most popular generator brands and batteries. It’s foldable and also features a sturdy kickstand so that you can get the most from all sun positions.
This Chafon panel also features a smart chip to help avoid overcharging, overvoltage, overcurrent, and even high temperatures. Its robust build is ideal even in extreme temperatures plus corrosive environments. With its suitcase, you can carry your Chafon panel overseas during your global adventures.
In the right situations, portable solar panels can be very useful. Generally, portable solar panels are ideal for anyone who goes for extended trips to off-grid locations or people who find themselves often in need of charging in places with no electrical outlets. If you’re any of these people, portable solar panels could be worth a look.