What is the best portable solar panel? I suppose, we need to start at ground zero to start to answer this question. Your motivation for buying one is the key factor. Yes, they are a wonderful invention, in their current form solar cells have been around since 1957. However, it is all about what you want to use them for and why.
Is it because, you like a road trip, driving around in your RV finding new places. Maybe, you like camping by a secluded lake with nobody around for miles. Or perhaps, you just like the great outdoors, enjoying the fresh air, taking in the views. All these activities take you away from an electricity supply, begging the question. How am I going to charge my camera? To capture my vacation, or the views or points of interest.
Traveling to locations were you’ll be off-grid (souce: Wikipedia), doesn’t mean, you need to give up your electronic devices or appliances. I mean, you still want to call your loved ones or have some light at night, or boil water without lighting a fire.
This buying guide is intended to help you decide, which type of panels, what wattage and which type of power pack, best fits your needs.
What Is The Best Portable Solar Panel?
Choosing the best portable solar panels for your needs, seems a bit daunting at first. This is because if you visited a website that sells solar panels, without first doing a little research. The volume of choice can be bewildering. However, the type of system to choose isn’t as difficult as would first appear.
Types of uses:
RV’s, Boats and Caravans.
Fitting solar panels to your RV, boat or caravan is the best option due to the nature of the use of the solar panels. For instance, if you wanted to watch TV, with the lights on, pump water, use a coffee maker and charge a laptop all at the same time, A small portable system just won’t cut it. Solar panels are fairly easy to fit, if your OK with DIY. If not, you can always have them fitted by a professional installer, garage or workshop. No need to worry about curved surfaces because, semi flexible panels are available.
An example of a kit :
200 Watt 12/24V Solar Panel Kit for an RV or Boat :
2 X 100W Monocrystalline Solar Panels,
Solar Charge Controller
All wiring and brackets
Camping, Camper Vans and Days Out
A portable solar kit is the best option when camping or traveling around or for days out when you are off-grid. This type of kit has the capability to charge your electronic devices to powering a microwave. Smaller capacity solar kits will charge your mobile phone, laptop, music devices, tablets, camera, hand held game devices and drones.
They will also power some appliances like a TV, electric blanket, cooler or fan, but for only short periods of time. For instance, you could power a TV for around 3hrs. But, it would be shorter, if you were also powering lighting for example at the same time. All good for charging electronic devices but, powering appliances needs careful consideration.
An example might be:
288Wh Portable Power Station with a 100W Solar Panel
Mid Range kits will charge and power the same as smaller kits. Plus they can also charge a heated travel mug and power a mini fridge or blender (list not exhaustive). This type of solar kit will power a TV for around 7 hours. So, if you have greater power needs than a smaller kit mid range is for you. Again powering lots of devices with mid range products will drain the system quite quickly. So, you need to think about what you will be using the solar kit for, very carefully.
A mid range example could be:
518Wh Portable Solar Power Station with a 100w Solar Panel
Large kits can charge and power everything a smaller and mid range kit will, but for longer. Plus they can also power an electric grill, ice shaver or coffee maker. This type of solar kit will power a TV for up to 14hrs. The even higher rated portable systems (and higher priced, typically over 2,000), are able to power a hairdryer, electric stove, air conditioner or refrigerator. However, there is still a limit to the amount of appliances you can charge or power at once. I would stagger use, to enable re-charge in between
A great example of a larger kit would be:
1500Wh Portable Power Station with 2x 120W Solar Panels
Hiking, Backpacking or Generally Out and About
Even a small capacity solar generator would be pretty cumbersome when traveling about on 2 feet. The best solution for charging your mobile phone, music player, Apple Watch or Fitbit is to buy a small foldable solar panel. These portable solar panels are lightweight and can easily be stowed in a backpack. They can even be attached to the rear of your pack. So, you don’t have to stop and lay the panel on the ground to harvest sunlight. No need to worry about the rain, as many are waterproof.
A mobile phone charger example might be:
Foldable Portable Solar Panel with built in Power Pack and 3 USB Ports
What Is The Best Type Of Solar Panel?
There are three recognizable types of solar panels monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. Monocrystalline are the most efficient but, are more expensive. However, the extra cost is well worth it because you will get more bang for your buck.
When you, look at solar panels on the roof of a residential home they are very large. However portable solar panels are very compact and many fold into the size of a briefcase. They are easy to store, even the largest will fit comfortably into an average sized car.
The best type of solar panels to attach to your RV, boat or caravan are rigid monocrystalline panels. If your boat or vehicle has curved surfaces you can fit monocrystalline semi-flexible panels as well.
For camping, camper vans and days out, the best panels to use are foldable monocrystalline solar panels.
For hiking, backpacking and generally out and about, The best panels to use are small foldable with the power pack built in.
Examples of Portable solar panel types:
- 50w portable solar panel
- 100w portable solar panel
- 150w portable solar panel
- 200w portable solar panel
- 300w portable solar panel
Portable Solar Power Stations, Generators And Power Packs
Solar power packs, power stations and generators (energy storage devices) are essentially a battery. This stores the suns’ energy, collected by the solar panels. Enabling you to charge electronic devices, or power electrical appliances.
The term portable solar power station is really a battery with a built in controller and inverter. An inverter converts DC electricity to AC for powering mains appliances. Solar stations are measured in watt-hours (wh). Which is the rate of energy your portable solar power station will produce, to charge or power an electrical application per hour. That means the higher the wh, the faster you can charge.
Solar power pack is a term used to describe a smaller battery. This would be used in or with, a solar panel for hiking, backpacking or days out.
Solar generator is used to describe a complete portable solar kit – a portable solar power station and solar panels.
What Are The Best Wattage (w) Solar Panels To Use?
The wattage (w) is an indication of the rate of power output, your solar panels transfer to a battery. This will determine, how quickly the panels will re-charge your battery. This means the higher the wattage the faster your energy storage device (battery) will charge.
The usual wattage solar panels to accompany a portable solar station would be between 60w and 300W. As an illustration of the best wattage panels to adopt, I am going to use the Jackery portable solar generator range.
- 160 generator 167wh – 1 x 60w panel
- 240 generator 240wh – 1 x 60w panel
- 300 generator 293wh – 1x 100w panel
- 500 generator 518wh – 1x 100w panel
- 1000 generator 1002wh – 2 x 100w panels
- 1500 generator 1500wh – 4 x 100w panels
- 2000 generator 2060wh – 4 x 200w panels
The smaller systems may benefit from using a larger wattage panel say 100w for quicker re-charge times. However, if that doesn’t worry you that’s OK.
All solar panels have their limitations. If they, become shaded charging will stop. So, placing them in open spaces without overhangs is important, especially in forested areas. Checking them now and again, just to make sure they are not in a shady spot, is the way to go.
Portable solar panels, can be slow to recharge. This is because of their lower wattage compared to a residential system. The residential system may have six 350w solar panels on its roof producing 2.1kWh (6x350w) of power. As, the rate of charge is governed by the amount of available sunlight. If there is little direct sunlight consequently, charge rate will be reduced. Although, panels do still charge in overcast conditions.
Sun Power, I Need Some Help
The original question appears to have produced a complex answer. It turns out, that the best short answer is, it depends on what you want to use a solar panel for. Simply put solar panels harvest sunlight for energy to be stored in a battery, for later uses, like charging electronic devices.
All this performed whilst using the most abundant energy source on our planet, the sun. I mentioned in one of my previous posts that it will still be around for another 4.5 billion years. If, you are still undecided which type of solar panels fit your needs. Ask yourself
I hope this guide has been of use, to you.
Please feel free to leave any comments or feedback