How do you know what to look for in a good portable solar panel?
From the type of panel, to the watts, voltage and even number of panels – it can be good to have somewhere to start in your research or buying process.
That’s what this quick guide is for – to provide you all the important pieces of information in a handy list.
What To Look For In A Portable Solar Panel
1. How and where will you be using it
Before you look into the best portable solar panel, you should consider where and how you will be using it.
As an example, here are a few of the ways modern portable solar panels can be used:
For an RV
Boating and Marine Uses
On remote cabins
On cars and vans
For motorbikes and touring bikes
In addition to the range of uses, portable solar panels will charge mainly two types of batteries/devices:
1. 12 volt DC batteries (for RVs, boats, cars, vans, cabins etc.)
2. Small handheld device batteries, and USB type devices (phones, radios, tablets, lights etc.)
When you are looking at the type of solar panel that appeals to you – see if you can match it up to the activity you want to use it for and the type of charging you are looking to do by reading the product description.
2. The type of panel
Portable solar panels come in 3 main types:
- Rigid/Stiff Solar Panel
We are talking about panels like the Renogy 100 Watt Rigid Solar Panel.
These panels are:
Good value for money per Watt
Good mostly for charging 12 volt batteries in RVs, boats, cabins etc.
Stiff, and not bendable
Come with mounting brackets – so they are usually temporarily fixed
A company like Renogy is well established and has good customer and technical support
Used with an external solar controller
- Folding Solar Panel
There are the smaller portable folding solar panels and the larger folding solar panels.
Small Folding Solar Panels
These are panels like the Goal Zero 20 Watt Folding Solar Panel.
Small folding solar panels are:
Best for handheld battery operated devices and USB devices
Ultra lightweight and durable
Can be carried around with you on or in a backpack – good for hiking
Some are waterproof like the Voltaic Systems 6 Watt Solar Panel
Come with an in built chip for charging
Large Folding Solar Panels
The large folding solar panels are the 80 Watt + panels like the Go Power! GP-PSK-120.
Large folding solar panels are:
Can be folded up into a travel case
Folds out really easily onto the ground with a metal stand
Good for 12 volt batteries
Good for RV’ing and camping
The Go Power! comes with Anderson connectors which a lot of people will like for hooking into the input/output near their tow bar of their trailer or RV
Used with an external solar controller
- Flexible Solar Panel
Flexible panels are usually 50 Watts to 100 Watts like the Allpowers flexible solar panel.
Honestly, they can be fantastic for the right use and as long as you check out the customer and technical service of the company who manufacturers the panel beforehand.
If you buy from a bad company, they can have their problems.
Flexible solar panels are:
Usually bendable up to 30 degrees (but some are just lightweight – so check this before you buy)
Used mainly for charging 12 volt batteries
Good for uneven and curved surfaces
Made of layered laminate
More vulnerable to sharp or rough surfaces than rigid panels
Can be permanently or temporarily fixed – or even hung up on a tent
3. Size/watts, and voltage of the panel
If you are looking for an idea of the watts and voltage to get for your portable solar panel, a good start could be:
For small mobile and handheld devices – a 20 Watt 18 volt folding solar panel (with a regenerator if you want to store the power for when the sun isnt out)
For 12 volt batteries – for one or two 12 volt batteries, a 100-120 watt panel 18 volt panel or two would be a good start
You might like to read this guide for more information of how you might calculate the size in watts of your portable solar panel.
4. Number of panels
The number of panels will depend on the number of devices or batteries you want to charge.
Refer to the above guide, and read the manufacturer’s instructions of the panel you are looking to buy for an indication of the charging capabilities.
But also, if charging 12 volt DC batteries for RV’s or boats for example, take into consideration whether you are charging the batteries in a bank or separately.
This will effect the number of panels you need and their size + you’ll need to make sure the solar controller is rated for the total load you have going through the cables.
5. Portable Solar Panel Setup/Kit To Get Started
A good portable solar panel kit to get started would be:
Regenerator (optional for storing power)
Inverter (optional if you want to convert DC to AC and charge AC items)
For the small folding solar panels, generally the panel itself comes equipped with everything you’d need except for maybe a device specific connection, or a regenerator.
**NOTE: this is an informational guide only. You should always read the manufacturer’s instructions of all products you have or purchase for best use, and seek professional expertise where necessary in installing and setting up a system.
This also applies to calculating loads for different devices and batteries