Folding solar panel kits are good for off grid applications.
Depending on the size of the panel you get, they will generally be used for different things:
- A Large 120 Watt type folding solar panel (such as the Go-Power 120 Panel) – will be better for 12 volt battery set ups like RV’s, cars, boats and ATVs
- Small 5-30 Watt folding solar panel – better for small handheld battery devices, and USB type devices like smartphones, tablets, radios, GPS systems etc.
How do you know what should be included in each of these different types of folding solar panel kits if you’re a first time buyer?
We will tell you below…
Folding Solar Panel Kits: A Starters Guide Of You’ll Need To Get Going
Small Folding Solar Panel Kits
These kits are usually VERY straightforward. Even the most technologically challenged user should find them a breeze.
Let’s take the Goal Zero 20 Watt Folding Solar Panel for example.
You buy the panel, and it comes with everything you need to get charging.
The in-built charging chip allows you to connect DC battery and USB devices directly to it.
There are two accessories or extras you may choose to get with it that some users choose suits their needs:
- Solar Generator – a battery essentially that allows you to store charge in it to use when the sun isn’t out or it’s a coudy day for example
- Adapter Cable – provides a different type of connection to charge from your car or from your re-generator, or panel.
Large Folding Solar Panel Kits
We are talking about a kit like the Go Power! GP-PSK-120 120W Portable Folding Solar Kit with 10 Amp Solar Controller.
Already you can probably see this panel kit includes a solar controller. But, you should know a full kit will look something like this:
1. The Panel
Large folding solar panels come in sizes of generally around 100-120 Watts, but do come in smaller sizes around 50-60 Watts too.
Generally, 1 x 100 or 120 watt folding solar panel will be enough to charge 1 x 12 volt DC battery – as long as you are getting plenty of sunlight during the days.
From a compatibility perspective, you want to make sure the panel is at least an 18 volt panel, as a a standard 12V re-chargeable battery needs roughly 13.6 volts to charge.
This makes them great for charging banks of RV batteries.
If you want more information on how to estimate the amount of Watts and number of panels you will need for your battery set up – you can read more in this guide.
It’s worth noting with a folding solar panel – they fold out with a metal stand on the ground, so you don’t have to worry about fixings.
They also usually come with a travel case that you can pack them away in.
2. Junction box and connectors
The junction box is usually built into the panel and comes with diodes on either end. Check that the junction box is sealed and waterproof.
The connectors are usually MC4 connectors, or Anderson connectors.
MC4 connectors make it easy to connect from the panel to other connectors when you are connecting more than one panel together (as long as you have male and female connectors).
You can also connect from the panel to a solar controller if you are just using one panel.
If using Anderson connectors, check to make sure they are compatible with your battery set up that you are charging.
3. Solar controller
Without getting technical – a solar controller balances/regulates the charge coming from the panel/s into your batteries.
There are two types of solar controller’s – the PWM type, and the MPPT type.
9 times out of 10, for a basic folding solar panel setup with 50 or 100 watt panels, you’ll be fine with the cheaper PWM controllers.
The Go Power! folding panel actually comes with a PWM solar controller included.
Two other things with the solar controller to look out for:
They usually come with some type of LCD display to measure the panel performance. You may choose to get a separate display device to track panel and battery health and performance, as these controller displays can be basic
You may choose to have several panel connected together that funnel into the one connector, OR, you can choose to have each panel connected up to their own solar controller
4. Cables – trey cables or extension cables
Cables are pretty self explanatory – they connect the controller to your batteries, wherever they are located.
Make sure you look at the length of the cables that come with the solar panel (if they come with any).
Also, look at the distance between where your panels and controller are located, and where your batteries are that you want to charge.
You want to have long enough cables to span this distance – so extension cables are a good idea
Batteries are not a part of what you usually get with a solar kit, but they are the end part of the system where the solar power travels to.
We are talking RV batteries for example.
Usually, they are 12 volt batteries assembled in a bank of batteries – so, you need to make sure that the total voltage of your solar panel bank is enough for the total voltage of your battery bank.
6. Other Accessories
Sometimes a pin trailer type connection is used to charge a camper trailer for example.
You can get other specialty type connections too.
7. AC Inverter (optional)
If you want to convert the DC energy your folding solar panel produces into AC household energy for household items – you’ll need an inverter.
8. Regenerator (optional)
A regenerator is a box or device to store the DC energy from your solar panel.
The panel sends energy to the regenerator – which stores the energy – so that you can use it whenever you like, for example, at night or when it’s a cloudy day.