What To Look For When Buying Portable Solar Panels

What To Look For When Buying Portable Solar Panels - Featured Image

It is a common misconception that you need to be some sort of techie nerd. To know what to look for when buying portable solar panels. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Anybody can choose the right portable solar panel without making a mistake. By firstly asking themselves this question;

What type of battery do I want to use the portable solar panel to charge?

Because the first thing you need to understand when buying a portable solar panel. They do not provide direct electricity to power appliances. Instead they collect sunlight which is converted into direct current (DC) electricity. Which is then used to charge a battery. 

What types of batteries can portable solar panels charge?
  • Vehicle Batteries
  • Leisure batteries
  • Portable Power Stations
  • Any kind of USB enabled device for charging  – e.g. a phone or a USB fan.

I know what you are thinking. My friend John has a motorhome fitted with solar panels. He powers all sorts of household appliances with his portable solar panels. That is correct he does. But, I know there is always a but !! His solar panels still work in the same way as previously explained. 

He has added an inverter to his system. An inverter converts the DC current produced by his leisure batteries. To alternating current (AC) which household appliances run off.

Buying Portable Solar Panels - Diagram
Sunlight – Portable Solar Panel – DC Current – Battery – Controller – DC Current – Inverter – AC Current 

 If this is still unclear to you. You can ask me further questions at the bottom of this post

When Will The Portable Solar Panel Be Used?

This may seem a silly question at first. But to avoid making a mistake when buying a portable solar panel. You need to choose the right panel for the activity you are using it for. 

For example; A 21 watt solar charger isn’t going to charge a battery that will power a fridge freezer. Similarly a 200 watt panel won’t fit into a backpack.

These examples seem pretty obvious. But manufacturers’ literature can  sometimes be a bit misleading. When it comes to what the product is capable of achieving. This is because they want you to buy the product. And very often people make the mistake of choosing price over usability. 

For instance; Coupling a 500w solar power station with a 50w portable solar panel. To save money on the solar panel. Because the manufacturer suggests the 50w portable panel will do a great job. Will leave you frustrated and disappointed. It will take forever to charge the power station with it. It needs a 100w – 200w panel to charge it effectively.

What Activities?

Portable solar panels are very versatile and can be used in a variety of off-grid situations.

Buying Portable Solar Panels - Trailer
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Traveling Abroad
  • Days out
  • Recreational Vehicles
  • Trailers/Caravans
  • Trucks
  • Outdoor events
  • Boating
  • Emergencies
  • Power Outages

To name just a few. These activities are going to decide which type of panel you will be buying.

Which Type Of Battery Needs Charging?

BatteryPortable Solar Panel Type
Phone and Small USB devicesSmall Rigid or Foldable Solar Charger
Power BankSmall Rigid or Foldable Solar Charger
12v Leisure Batteries For Recreational VehiclesFoldable/Suitcase/Briefcase or Installed Flexible/ Rigid
Power StationsFoldable or Suitcase/Briefcase

Related === >>>>>>>>>> Renogy Smart Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery Review 12V 100Ah

A solar charger or a small rigid portable solar panel can be used to for;

Buying Portable Solar Panels - Trailer
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Traveling Abroad
  • Days Out 

They can even be used to trickle charge 12V vehicle starter batteries. Or directly power a small USB device like a fan. It must be noted that a solar charger does not store electricity. Unless it has a built-in power bank. A power bank Is a small rechargeable portable battery.

A foldable or suitcase/briefcase portable solar panel can be used for all the above and;

Buying Portable Solar Panels - Power Outage
  • Recreational Vehicles
  • Trailers/Caravans
  • Trucks
  • Outdoor events
  • Boating
  • Emergencies
  • Power Outages

Some foldable and suitcase/briefcase panels have a built- in solar controller. These enable you to directly charge USB devices like phones. Through built-in USB charging ports. 

8 Things To Look For When Buying Portable Solar Panels

The main things to look for when buying portable panels are; 

  • Solar Cell Type
  • Output
  • Efficiency
  • Weight
  • Size
  • Durability
  • Warranty
  • Price 
Buying Portable Solar Panels - Price

I know it all sounds very exhausting but actually it isn’t. Manufacturers normally include these things in their product descriptions.

Solar Panel Type

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 – polymer frame to form the solar panel.  There are generally three accepted types of solar panels:

  • Monocrystalline
    Are single (mono) solar cells manufactured from the purest silicon. The solar panels are recognizable by their dark colour
  • Polycrystalline
    Are manufactured from multiple crystalline solar cells. The solar panels are recognizable by their blue speckled colour
  • Thin-Film
    Made by covering a material with one or more thin layers of PV cells. The solar panels are recognizable for their extremely thin and lightweight characteristics.

The best cells are the monocrystalline type but they are also the most expensive.

Buying Portable Solar Panels - Solar Cell
Output

There are a bewildering variety of wattage output figures. Anything from 5W to 300w portable solar panels. But when buying, which do you choose? As a rule of thumb. The higher the wattage the quicker and more efficiently. The panel will charge a battery. Again it is all down to what you will be using the solar panel to charge. But as a quick guide here are some suggestions;

  • A Mobile Phone – 15 to 70 Watts
  • A Laptop – 50 Watts plus
  • A Power Bank – 15 to 70 Watts
  • A Leisure Battery – 50 Watts as a bare minimum and it will be slow
  • A Portable Power Station – 50 Watts as a bare minimum and it will be slow

The higher the wattage of a solar power station the higher the wattage of a portable solar panel. Will be required to charge it. I would use a 100w plus panel for anything over a 200w power station. Similarly for leisure batteries a 100w to 200w solar panel will achieve far better results.

Efficiency

To achieve the best sunlight collection. You will want the efficiency to be as high as possible. Manufacturers do not always publish a panel’s efficiency rating. They sometimes describe it as highly efficient. 

Currently the solar industry standard is 17% to 19%. But as a guide most portable monocrystalline solar panels have a rating between 20% to 25%. So if the manufacturer has not published the panel’s rating. I would be cautious and work on 20%. And if it turns out to be much higher, fantastic !!!

Weight
Buying Portable Solar Panels - Weight

This can be really important if you have a disability, physical impairment or bad back. Some of the larger 200w portable panels can be quite heavy. For example the Go Power 200w is 51lbs/23Kg and the Renogy 200w is 35.9lbs/16.28Kg. As you can see that is quite a difference. But ultimately if weight is a problem for you. You may have to compromise when it comes to efficiency and power output.

Size

This boils down to portability. If you are a hiker or cyclist for instance. You will want the panel to fit easily into your backpack. If you have a small vehicle a large 200w panel isn’t going to fit. Other than these instances you should be able to fit a portable solar panel into any vehicle.

Durability

You are going to want your solar panel to stand up to most normal weather conditions. Take a few knocks and bumps and not fall to pieces. This should not happen buying from a reputable manufacturer. If you are using it on a boat, is it waterproof? Many times manufacturers say it’s waterproof but are the electrical connections? You need to make sure !!!! 

Warranty

The warranty is very important. Because many manufacturers give long solar output efficiency warranties. Some up to 25 years. While this is reassuring to know you will still be using it for many years to come. Take a closer look at the materials, workmanship and accessories warranty. 

Buying Portable Solar Panels - Warranty
Price

When it comes down to it. If possible, price should not be the largest consideration. When buying a portable solar panel. Ok if it is $300.00 or more you will need to think carefully. But you only ever get what you pay for as the old adage goes. And doubly so with portable solar panels. 

There are a lot of cheap solar panels out there that promise the earth. They say they perform the same as a top brand. But do they? Look deeper into things like the warranty and the type of solar cell. What it is made from and the way it is constructed. Because otherwise you might find you are giving it to the trash man after a couple of years. 

Three Portable Solar Panel Reviews

I have included these three different reviews. To illustrate the importance of knowing what to look for when buying a portable solar panel. And that you do not have to be a techie nerd to know what you are looking for. All you have to do is sit and think about how you want to use the panel. Look out for the 8 points I have outlined and you shouldn’t go wrong 

The BigBlue 28w Solar Charger

BigBlue 28w Solar Charger
  • 28w solar charger
  • Dimensions folded: 11.1 x 6.3 x 1.3inch/282 x 160 x 34mm
  • Dimensions unfolded: 33.1 x 11.1 x 0.2inch/840 x 282 x 5mm
  • Weight: 21.0oz/595g
  • 2 x USB ports
  • Waterproof
  • Can charge: Smartphones, tablets, cameras and more
  • Suitable for: Days out, camping, hiking, picnics, fishing, boating and more

The Allpowers 100w Solar Suitcase

The Allpowers 100w Solar Suitcase
  • Wattage Power: 100w
  • Solar cell: Polycrystalline
  • Efficiency: Up to 22%
  • Dimensions folded: 20 x 25.6 x 1.2inch/510 x 650 x 30mm/
  • Dimensions unfolded: 48 x 25.6 x 0.4inch/1220 x 650 x 10mm
  • Weight: 7.9lb/3.6kg
  • Open Circuit Voltage (Voc): 22.4V
  • Short Circuit Current (IOC): 6.0A
  • Maximum Power Voltage (Vmp): 18V
  •  Maximum Power Current (Imp): 5.4A

The Allpowers 100w Foldable Solar Suitcase is made from nylon and is waterproof. Because of its nylon construction it is up to a 1/3rd lighter than its competitors’ equivalent. Coupled with Allpowers 666wh 500w portable solar power station. It becomes a larger solar power generator for camping. I have included this polycrystalline model because of its weight.

The Renogy 200w Foldable Solar Suitcase

The Renogy 200w Foldable Solar Suitcase
  • 1 x 200w 12volt monocrystalline foldable solar suitcase, with a built-in controller.
  • The solar panel has a built-in stand and the controller is totally waterproof.
  • It’s folded dimensions are 35.6 x 25.9 x 3.1 inches.
  • The panel weighs 27.05 lbs.
  • The portable solar kit comes complete with connecting alligator clips with a fuse to the battery.

    *There is a 100w version available
This is the Renogy 100w Foldable Solar Suitcase. But the 200 Watt is the same setup but larger

I hope you enjoyed my post and have found it helpful. If you have any questions about buying a portable solar panel. Or want to leave your own personal thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below

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6 Comments on “What To Look For When Buying Portable Solar Panels”

  1. Hi
    I have gone through your web page, it looks absolutely great, very well presented,
    quite a lot of ways of using a solar panel, which I was totally ignorant of. It’s amazing to know.
    It looks you have really a great knowledge about solar panel.

  2. Greetings! This is a great and informative post indeed. I am one of those people who thought you need to be a technician to know about solar panels. But, after reading this post I’m glad I learned something different and helpful. the information is outlined in a clear and straightforward way. Next time I wish to buy a solar panel I will definitely consider these factors. 
    Thanks for sharing such an important information with us, I will be sharing it further too.

    1. Hi Kokontala

      I am so glad you now know that you don’t need to be technically minded. To enjoy the benefits of portable solar panels. And the great thing is they are really easy to use. 

      If you follow the 8 points I have outlined you will have few problems. 

      Regards

      Steve

  3. What an interesting post! How would a portable solar panel pack work whilst you are hiking?  Can you carry it on your backpack and would you need anything else to be able to use it? My sister is an avid walker and she would find this very interesting. Thank you

    1. Hi 

      No problem with hiking. One of the reviews I suggested reading at the end of this post is exactly for that purpose 

      The BigBlue 28w Solar Charger

      28w solar chargerDimensions folded: 11.1 x 6.3 x 1.3inch/282 x 160 x 34mmDimensions unfolded: 33.1 x 11.1 x 0.2inch/840 x 282 x 5mmWeight: 21.0oz/595g2 x USB portsWaterproofCan charge: Smartphones, tablets, cameras and moreSuitable for: Days out, camping, hiking, picnics, fishing, boating and moreThe Link for it is here

      If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to ask

      Regards
      Steve

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