Charging a power station with portable solar panels is both environmentally friendly and cost effective. But what type of portable solar panels charge a power station?
If you perform a search on google for portable solar panels. The number of results is about 63,000,000. That is a lot of results so which one do you choose? The first 10 pages or so are dominated by adverts and product reviews
So if you are looking for information about portable solar panels and the different types you can use. You have come to the right place.
What Type Of Portable Solar Panels Charge A Power Station?
“Any type of portable solar panel will charge a power station. These include those bought from a manufacturer to panels that you have put together as a DIY setup. There are generally 3 types of portable panels offered by manufacturers. They are suitcase/briefcase, foldable and concertina. You will notice that they are described by the way they fold. Portables come in various different wattages to accommodate different power station wattage outputs.”
For instance hooking a 100w solar panel to a 2000w power station will take forever to charge it. But connecting the same portable solar panel to a 200w power station will do just nicely. So it is important that you know the maximum amount of solar power. That can be input into a power station.
Solar power stations have built-in solar charge controllers. So there is no need to worry about adding one to a portable panel. In a DIY setup it doesn’t matter if you do. Or if you are using the solar panel to also charge vehicle or boat house batteries Because it won’t conflict with the one built-in to the power station.
There Are 3 Types Of Portable Solar Panel You can Use To Charge A Power Station
There are two types of solar cells that manufacturers use in portable solar panel construction. That is normally used to charge a power station. They are monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar cells.
Monocrystalline solar cells
So named because they are manufactured from a single (or mono) silicon cell. The mono cells make the portable solar panel look dark in colour, some almost black. These types of solar cells are the most efficient on the market. And can be found in all three types of portable solar panels.
Polycrystalline solar cells
Polycrystalline solar cells are manufactured from multiple silicon cells. They make the portable solar panel look blue in colour. These types of solar panels are less efficient than their mono cousins and they cost less.
The colour difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. Is a good way to be able to tell the difference if there aren’t any markings on the back plate.
As far as efficiency goes at the time of writing the solar industry solar panel standard is 15-19%. But some portable monocrystalline solar panels can achieve up to 23 to 25% efficiency. Notably SunPower, a solar cell manufacturer that produces one of the most efficient.
So if you use a portable solar panel made with SunPower solar cells the efficiency will be one of the best. It needs to be remembered that these types of results will have been achieved under lab test conditions. And as we all know real world conditions can be very different.
3 types of portable solar panels
The industry will make it appear that there is only one type of portable solar panel to charge a power station. That being a foldable this is true but within that there are 3 different variants of panel.
1 – Suitcase/Briefcase types
These types of portable panels are usually made from metal and glass but can also be made from polymers. They have two solar panels that are joined together by a fold in the middle.
In the case of a metal and glass manufactured solar panel. The fold will be on metal hinges rather like a past table for transportation. A polymer constructed suitcase/briefcase will fold on a spine. This makes them really easy to move around and store.
The two foldable solar panels are of equal wattage and make up the final portable panel output. So for instance a 100w output suitcase/briefcase panel will have 2 x 50w solar panels. And a 200w portable panel will be constructed from 2 x 100w solar panels.
They are very sturdy when unfolded and will survive most weather conditions and a bit of knocking about. Many come with an outer protective case to make sure the delicate solar cells are not damaged or chipped during transportation.
Equipped with an adjustable kickstand so the perfect angle to the sun can be obtained. The glass and metal type panels can have a weight disadvantage. With 200w panels weighing between 35lbs and 51lbs.
Having said that they are very easy to set up and use and are perfect for use with a portable power station.
2 – Foldable or fold-up types
Foldable portable solar panels are made from industrial strength polymers and fabrics. And usually have multiple single solar panels sewn into them. They can also be referred to as portable solar chargers.
As an example a 100w foldable solar panel can have up to 15 x 6.66w individual solar panels sewn into it. If these use SunPower solar cells (mentioned earlier) it will be quite a powerful portable solar panel.
Foldables fold down length and breadth ways into the size of a briefcase. So they are easily transported and will fit into the smallest of vehicles.
They usually come with a small built-in controller (not a solar charge controller). This is because they have a couple of USB ports for charging electronic devices like smartphones. And this is where the DC port is housed to connect to a power station.
Because they are very light they can be hung from objects. Like the side of a vehicle, a tent or even hung from a tree to gather sunlight.
Lying them flat on the ground to harvest sunlight is a disadvantage compared to panels set upright on an angle. This is because when lying flat they can only harvest full sunlight when the sun is directly overhead.
This equates to about four hours per day. Whereas a panel set on an angle to the sun can collect sunlight all day. This is because it can be moved and pointed directly at the sun.
The other problem is heat on a baking hot day. You probably don’t know that solar panels lose efficiency when they become too hot. This will especially affect a solar panel lying flat on the ground. Standing it up on an angle will create an airflow behind it, keeping it cooler. This means it will lose less efficiency in baking hot conditions.
3 – Concertina types
This type of portable solar panel is constructed from 3 or 4 individual solar panels. As an example a 110w portable solar panel can contain 4 x 27.5w individual panels. These single panels fold down concertina style into the size of a suitcase/briefcase.
In many cases they are constructed from industrial strength polymers. Which makes them much lighter than their glass and metal constructed counterparts. They also have kickstands so they can be set up on an angle to the sun. So they also have an advantage over the foldable type when it comes to sunlight collection.
An added bonus is because they are light they can also be hung from vehicles, tents and trees. Again ideal for charging portable power stations.
Portable Solar Panels For Power Stations The DIY Option
Any solar panel will charge a power station with a little cable adjustment. Most solar panels are equipped with an MC4 or Anderson connection. MC4/Anderson connections would have to use a DC5221 – DC5525 adapter cable.
But you would need to check the size of the DC input port on the power station. To make sure the end would plug in snuggly. So I would buy an adapter cable that had multiple ends available for it. Or check with the manufacturer for the exact power station DC input port size.
Flexible solar panels as a DIY option
It is unlikely that you would use a rigid solar panel as a portable DIY option to charge a power station. This is because of its weight, bulk and limited maneuverability making it difficult to move around and transport.
But if weight is a problem for you a flexible solar panel could be a great DIY option. They are very thin and light. Flexible solar panels usually weigh under 4.5lbs/2Kg. This means if you have a disability or find carrying weight a problem. A flexible solar panel as a portable DIY option could be the way for you to go.
Even though they are very thin and light you would need the room in your vehicle to accommodate its length. For instance the ACOPower 110 Watt SunPower Monocrystalline Flexible Solar Panel is; 44.7 x 21.3inch/1070 x 540mm – that is 3.73 foot/1.07 meters long.
Although this doesn’t seem very long in isolation with a vehicle packed with people and things. The length and breadth could prove to be a space problem. So this DIY option will need careful consideration unless your vehicle is an RV, van or trailer.
Easily deployed to capture sunlight to charge a portable power station. A flexible solar panel can be laid flat on the ground or stood up against a vehicle. They usually have grommets fitted with eye holes, These would normally be used to fix the panel to a vehicle or boat.
But you could use the eye holes to hang the flexible panel in the same way as a foldable portable solar panel. Speaking of which because a flexible panel doesn’t have a kickstand. It will have the same disadvantages as a foldable panel.
Although if you have good DIY skills you could fashion a kickstand from a very light metal or plastic material.
Power Station Types To Use With Portable Solar Panels
There are lots of different portable power stations/generators available. For portability they range between 100w and 3000w output. All have a built-in solar charge controller and inverter and the wattage refers to how many watts it can handle.
By that I mean the load (appliance) wattage it can handle. So for instance to run an 1800w outdoor induction hob you would need a 2000w portable power station. You cannot use a power station with a 1800w peak output. This is because the station inverter needs to run at a constant 1800w not at peak power.
The wattage (W) is not to be confused with the power stations watt hours. The watt-hour (symbolized Wh) is a unit of energy equivalent to one watt (1W) of power expended for one hour (1h) of time. The watt-hour is not a standard unit in any formal system, but it is commonly used in electrical applications (Source:WhatIs.com)
Portable solar panel wattages for use with a power station
It is true that the higher the wattage of portable solar panels you use to charge a power station. The faster the solar generator will charge. But they all have a limit to the amount of solar you can input.
This means you have to find out the maximum solar input measured in volts. This information can be found in the manufacturers specifications and if not email them and ask. Some even measure the maximum solar input in watts. I know it can be confusing!!
So for instance the EcoFlow River Max 600W – 576Wh portable power station. Has a solar input maximum specification of 200W 10-25V DC 12A. This means you can use a maximum wattage solar panel of 200w with an open-circuit voltage up to 25V.
My Closing Thoughts
Any type of portable solar panel can be used to charge a portable power station. The type of portable panels you use comes down to personal preference. The power output of the panel will depend on the power stations manufacturers specifications
When it comes to panel costs that will be down to your personal budget. But remember the cost of your solar panel will eventually pay you back. This is because of the rising cost of fuel to charge a power station by car or at home . This will be offset by charging with portable panels instead.
If you already own a power station and are currently not charging it with portable solar panels. I hope I have given you enough information to be able to choose the right portable panel for it.
And if you are looking for a lighter weight DIY option I hope I have given you an idea or two using flexible solar panels.
If you are looking to buy a power station and portable solar panels you can find further information here.
I hope you enjoyed my post and have found it helpful. If you have any questions about charging a power station/generator with portable solar panels. Or want to leave your own personal thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below