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My portable solar briefcase review highlights the ACOPower PLK 100w with a built-in controller. Weighing up its pros and cons. Looking at what other briefcases there are in the range. And comparing it with the Newpowa and Renogy 100w portable solar panels.
Product: ACOPower PLK 100 Watt Solar Briefcase With Solar Controller
Dimensions Folded: 24.21 x 20.27 x 1.97inch/615 x 515 x 50mm
25 year 85% power output
Accessories: 12-month material
Portable Solar Briefcase Review
A bit about ACOPower
Aco Power was established in 2011 and is based in Los Angeles. They produce solar panels, generators, controllers, inverters, batteries, and accessories. They invented the world’s first portable battery-powered fridge/freezer.
Portable solar panels have an advantage over panels permanently mounted on a roof
I know what you are thinking. Why would I use a portable solar panel instead of mounting panels to my recreational vehicle, boat, or outbuilding roof? The answer is that free-standing portables are more flexible and convenient in their use. “How so?” I hear you say;
- Roof-mounted solar panels can only be used to charge batteries housed in your vehicle.
Portable solar panels can be used to charge many kinds of batteries. Such as a portable power station as well as leisure and starter batteries.
- If your vehicle becomes shaded you will have to move it to carry on collecting sunlight. This can be really inconvenient if you have found the perfect spot. A portable can just be picked up and moved back into the sunlight. Leaving your peace and tranquility undisturbed
- Mounted panels collect the best sunlight for 4 hours per day on average. This is because the sun needs to be directly above the panels for maximum exposure. But portables can be pointed directly at the sun all day. This means your batteries will charge faster especially if they are seriously depleted.
- Installed panels need constant maintenance like cleaning and wiring checks. Whereas portables need only a 6-month checkup. So much less hassle than getting up there with the sponge.
- The cost of mounting panels can run into many thousands of dollars. Not to mention the time it takes to install them. Are you any good at DIY? Plus it might mean drilling holes in your very expensive vehicle. Portables are relatively inexpensive compared to an installation. Leaving your wallet heavier and a smaller hole in your bank account.
How Does The ACOPower PLK 100w Portable Solar Panel Briefcase Work?
What is the ACOPower 100w solar briefcase?
The portable solar panel is actually two 50w panels joined together. They are wired in parallel, this gives the panel its 100w power rating. They are held together with metal hinges and latches that fold like a past table. The PLK designation signifies it is a lightweight panel.
The monocrystalline solar cells are encased in a metal frame with corner protectors. With an attached handle, 2 built-in fold-out metal stands, and 20A solar controller. The whole unit has an exterior protective case that makes it look like a briefcase.
|Specs||ACOPower PLK 100w Briefcase|
|Module Type||2 X 50w|
|Solar Charge Controller||20A|
|Dimensions||24.21 x 20.27 x 1.97inch/615 x 515 x 50mm|
|Open Circuit Voltage||22.4V|
|Short Circuit Current||5.35A|
The 100w solar panel is encased in metal, with metal hinges and latches. This makes it highly durable. The portable panel can withstand most weather conditions barring hurricanes and tornadoes. The corner protectors will help with small knocks and bumps. Dropping it from height or standing and jumping on it may damage the solar cells. Damaging the solar cells will ultimately reduce their performance.
All other normal weather conditions will have little effect because the solar panel itself is waterproof. But the electrical connections may not be. For example where the electrical wires meet the controller to attach to your battery. This means you need to be careful around liquids. But this shouldn’t cause any problems under normal working conditions. It may be worth buying separate rubber masks to cover the wire terminals. If you want to be super cautious about it.
Remember the casing, hinges, and latches are made of metal and can be prone to rust. If it isn’t in its protective case. never leave the briefcase outside for prolonged periods of time.
The briefcase comes with a protective soft bag to keep it in. With a 25 year 85% efficiency warranty. You will be enjoying the 100w portable solar panel for many years to come.
Solar panels are made from Photovoltaic (PV) cells. These cells react to sunlight and convert its energy into usable Direct Current (DC) electricity. The cells are encased in a metal or plastic frame to form the solar panel. There are generally three accepted types of solar panels:
Are single (mono) solar cells manufactured from the purest silicon. The solar panels are recognizable by their dark color
Are manufactured from multiple crystalline solar cells. The solar panels are recognizable by their blue speckled color
Made by covering material with one or more thin layers of PV cells. Thin-Film solar panels are recognizable for their extremely thin and lightweight characteristics.
The portable briefcases’ solar cells are monocrystalline. So its efficiency is of the highest rating. And the higher the efficiency rating the better it will convert sunlight into electricity. Currently, the solar industry standard is 17% to 19%.
But as a guide, most portable monocrystalline solar panels have a rating between 20% to 23%. ACOPower has not released the 100w solar suitcases’ official efficiency rating. So erring on the side of caution I have given it a rating of 20% to 23% (approx). In line with most other portable monocrystalline solar panels. Making the solar briefcase highly efficient.
The 100w solar briefcase is highly portable and the carry handle makes it easy to move around. You should be able to find a place for it to live. Because it’s dimensions are 24.21 x 20.27 x 1.97inch/615 x 515 x 50mm . It will fit easily into a smaller campervan, motorhome, or trailer/caravan for transportation.
When you arrive at your destination, all you have to do is point it at the sun. Pull the support legs down so the solar briefcase is standing up at an angle. And not lying flat on the ground. Hook the solar panel to your battery bank with crocodile clips. And all that free power from the sun is yours to enjoy.
I mentioned earlier that the PLK designation signifies it is a lightweight panel. To illustrate this there is another 100w briefcase available and we can compare them.
|PLK 100w Briefcase||100w 12V Portable Solar Panel|
|Dimensions||24.21 x 20.27 x 1.97inch/615 x 515 x 50mm||27.17 x 19.88 x 2.36inch/690 x 505 x 59mm|
|Legs||2 x Built-In Fold Out Metal Stands||2 x Built-In Legs With Adjustable Guide Rail|
The PLK 100w is a much lighter portable solar panel. This is because the PLK is made of metal and fiberglass. And the leg supports are much lighter too. This is what makes the PLK 100w significantly lighter than a glass-fronted panel.
The system can be expanded to 200 watts by adding the 100w expansion solar briefcase. This is a unit that is supplied without a solar charge controller. And is added to the system via MC4 connectors. But a 1 x 100w panel is the maximum expansion. This means you are unable to create a solar panel bank with 3 or more panels. As a portable solution would you really want to extend beyond this anyway?
What Is The Built-In Solar Charge Controller
Proteusx 20A Charge Controller
The 100w portable solar panel comes complete with a waterproof PWM 20A solar controller.
In case you didn’t know
Pulse-width modulation (PWM), or pulse-duration modulation (PDM). Is a method of reducing the average power delivered by an electrical signal. It effectively chops it up into discrete parts. And is one of the primary methods of reducing the output of solar panels. So that it can be utilized by a battery. (Source: Wikipedia)
What Are The ACOPower Proteusx 20A Solar Charge Controller Specs?
|Nominal Voltage||12V/24V DC|
|Maximum Input Voltage||50V|
|Dimensions||5.59 x 3,7 x 1.06inch|
What batteries will the Proteusx Controller charge?
It will charge 8 types of batteries via the Anderson connector:
Charging portable solar power stations
Portable solar power stations like the ACOPower 400wh can be charged via the MC4 connector. It will charge most power station makes and models, as long as you have the right adaptor.
The display is a blue backlit LCD display and is easy to use. The screen shows which battery type you have selected to connect. This is done through a push-button clearly marked battery type. Cycling through them is pretty straightforward. It also shows the number of volts charging the battery.
The LED icons on the front of the unit light up when a solar panel is attached. Red when a panel is attached and blue for incremental states of charge.
Not MPPT Enabled
Although the Proteusx PWM 20v controller will do a great job. It may well be worth considering swapping it out for an MPPT controller. If you are any good at DIY that is. This is because it will make the solar briefcase more efficient. This means it will charge your leisure batteries faster and more efficiently.
In case, you didn’t know;
Maximum power point tracking (MPPT). Optimizes the DC match between the solar panel and the charging 12V battery. This means the MPPT keeps the power transfer between solar panel and battery, at its highest efficiency.
What other Portable Solar Panels Are There In The Range?
|Specs||ACOPower PLK 120w Briefcase||ACOPower 60w Briefcase|
|Module Type||2 X 60w||2 X 30w|
|Efficiency||High Efficiency||High Efficiency|
|Solar Charge Controller||20A||10A|
|Dimensions||24.2 x 20.3 x1.97 inch / 615×515×50mm||13.8 x 25.6 x 2.9 inch/351 x 650 x 74mm|
|Weight||13.9 lbs/6.3kg||21.2 lbs|
|Open Circuit Voltage||23.4V||22.3V|
|Short Circuit Current||6.42||3.64|
As I mentioned earlier there is also a heavier 100w solar briefcase. And an expansion solar briefcase without a controller creates a 200w system available.
ACOPower Versus Newpowa Versus Renogy 100w Head To Head
|Specs||ACOPower PLK 100w Briefcase||Newpowa 100w Portable Solar Panel||Renogy 100w Solar Suitcase|
|Module Type||2 X 50w||2 x 50w||2 x 50w|
|Efficiency||Highly efficient||Highly efficient||Highly efficient|
|Solar Charge Controller||20A||10A||20A|
|Dimensions||24.21 x 20.27 x 1.97inch/615 x 515 x 50mm||25.59 x 19.88 x 1.18inch/650 x 505 x 30mm||19.9 x 27.2 x 2.8 inches/505 x 691 x 71mm|
|Warranty||25 year 85% power output efficiency|
18-month workmanshipAccessories: 12-month material
|25 year 80% power output efficiency2 year workmanship.||25 year 80% power output efficiency5 year-95% efficiency rate.|
10 year 90% efficiency rate.
3-year material and workmanshipAccessories: 12-month material
None of the manufacturers have published the official efficiency rating of their panels. This suggests to me that the portable solar panels do not have an advantage over each other. When it comes to efficiency and performance. They are all monocrystalline which are the highest rated solar cells currently available.
Solar charge controller
The ACOPower and Renogy portable solar panels have a higher-rated built-in charge controller. This is so that more than one 100w portable solar panel can be used in an array. This means using more than 1 x panel will speed up charging.
If you don’t know what that means;
The number of amps of a solar charge controller. Signifies the number of watts that can be inputted into it from solar panels. This is calculated by multiplying the number of volts (e.g. a 12v leisure battery). By the number of amps (e.g. the solar charge controller) therefore;
|10A Solar Controller||20A Solar Controller|
|12v system||12V battery x 10A controller = 120w solar input||12V battery x 20A controller = 240w solar input|
|24v system||24V battery x 10A controller = 240w solar input||24V battery x 20A controller = 480w solar input|
I am not sure if a wattage increase would be important to you. Because everybody’s situation is different. But adding more solar panels kind of defeats the object of a 100w panel. Given that more panels are going to take up more space. And the hassle of setting up 2 panels. When it would be easier to buy a 200w portable solar panel. Like the Newpowa 200w Sunwanderer or Renogy 200w Solar Suitcase.
In terms of size and thickness, the Renogy seems to be a larger panel than the other two. This might be a consideration for you if transportation space is limited. Those extra inches might be the deal-breaker.
If weight is a problem for you then the ACOPower 100w is going to be the best choice. The Renogy is near twice as heavy and the Newpowa sits in the middle.
All three have a decent warranty. But for extra peace of mind, Renogy takes the biscuit. Although ACOPower is offering a 25 year 85% output warranty. Compared to the other two’s 80%. That certainly gives you something to think about.
The ACOPower is the most expensive and the Renogy the least expensive. The $55.00 is justified in my opinion due to the weight and size difference. Because after all if you have a smaller camper or trailer/caravan. You will want the portable solar panel to be as small and lightweight as possible.
The pricing ultimately makes little difference anyway. Because you will soon recoup it on fuel savings.
What’s Good About The ACOPower 100w Portable Solar Panel
The big score with the PLK 100w briefcase is its weight. Although I will say that there are different weight values attributed to it on different websites. Between 11lbs/5Kg and 14lbs/6.53kg. I think this is because some give the weight without the controller and some with. So I went with 14lbs/6.53Kg. For such a top-quality 100w mono portable solar panel it is very good. I doubt you will be left struggling for breath after carrying the panel around.
20A Solar Charge Controller
The 20A controller is dead easy to use. Ok, the icons may be a bit hard to remember. But the overall reviews for it are really positive. I could only find one bad review. And I think that was down to a faulty unit. Plus if you really want to. It will allow you to add a 100w expansion portable solar panel.
The PLK 100w can charge 8 different battery types including lithium and LiFeP04. The best part about this is that you will have few worries if it will charge your battery. After you have opened the box to start charging your leisure or vehicle batteries.
What’s Not So Good About The ACOPower 100w Portable Solar Panel
Rather than use a leg on each side with a rail for adjustability. ACOPower has opted for 2 x built-in u-shaped swing legs. They do not look as sturdy as heavy-duty legs. And have a limited angle adjustment. But they are able to adequately do the job of standing the panel up. And are really a compromise to help reduce the panel’s weight.
The portable solar panel is billed as waterproof along with the controller. They both are. So no worries there. But as discussed earlier in the post. The terminal wires at the controller are a little exposed to the elements. So be careful around liquids and rain.
The solar controller has an array of icons. But it can be difficult to remember them all. So don’t lose the manual !! And the display itself can be difficult to see from an angle. Try to look at the display head on especially in the sun.
What’s in the box
- 1 x 100W Portable Solar Panel
- 1 x 20A Charge Controller
- 2 x User Manual
Is The ACOPower PLK 100 Watt Solar Briefcase With Solar Controller Any Good?
If you are looking for a lightweight compact portable solar panel. You could do much worse than the ACOPower PLK 100 Watt Solar Briefcase With Solar Controller. I know some of you will think it a bit on the expensive side compared to similar panels. But they cannot match its weight and size to achieve the same quality and output.
Just before I leave you. If you have read any of my other product reviews I try to be balanced in my opinions. And say the facts about the products as I find them. And I never gush about one company over another. But looking around at customer reviews about ACOPowers products. I have to say the overwhelming majority of customers. Say that the products are of the highest quality. Just something for you to think about.
I hope you enjoyed this review and have found it helpful. If you have any questions about the ACOPower PLK 100 Watt Solar Briefcase With Solar Controller. Or want to leave your own personal review, please feel free to leave a comment below.
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