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  • Sarah Lozanova

Portable Solar Panels: What They Are And When To Use Them



Solar panels aren’t just for roofs and fields anymore — there are plenty of options for your clients to use solar energy when camping, hiking, on road trips, or in emergencies. These alternative solar options could help your clients fulfill different needs compared to rooftop solar.


From portable cell phone chargers to small solar panel arrays, there are now numerous products on the market to provide clean energy on the go. For example, plug-and-play kits contain one or more solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, lights, an MPPT solar charge controller, and USB ports for charging devices. Other kits include inverters and standard outlets, allowing them to power a greater array of devices.


Portable solar panels can take the place of a generator, yet do not need a fuel source and are quiet when operating. They are ideal when power is useful, but it isn’t possible to easily access the grid power. Because they aren’t permanently mounted, the solar panels often contain a foldable stand or case to prop them up at an angle.


What Is A Portable Solar Panel?

Whereas most rooftop solar panels contain a frame and are anchored to the roof, portable solar panels have a compact and lightweight design. Most portable modules are monocrystalline solar panels that produce an electrical current, but they are often made of a flexible or foldable material.


They range in size, design, and capabilities and can power anything from a single device to an entire RV. The wattage of the solar panels can vary from just a few to 300 or more.


These solar panels are easy to set up on the ground or to hang from a vehicle or other surface. Often, the modules contain a frame for propping them up on the ground. They are ideal for providing power when the grid is far away or difficult or expensive to access. Portable solar panels can also be helpful in disaster preparedness kits because they operate independently of the power grid.



Features To Consider

When your clients are selecting a portable solar system, it’s critical to consider the desired use and application. For example, will the system charge just a cell phone or two or power an entire RV?


Key considerations:

  • Capacity of the System: This varies depending on the number of solar panels, their wattage, and the battery. It’s important to match this with the power loads.

  • Size: Some kits contain several larger solar panels that need more space to set up than smaller kits with just one modest panel.

  • Durability: If your clients will leave the panels outside during windy or stormy weather, it’s helpful to get a more weather-resistant system that can withstand the elements.

  • Storage Capacity: The battery life will depend on the size of the battery pack and its use. A larger capacity battery is helpful in areas with more cloudy weather or for applications with heavier loads. Some systems are designed for the solar panels to charge the battery in one day, while others require several days of full sun.

  • Solar Incentives: If an RV is a primary or secondary residence, your clients could qualify for the federal solar tax credit. This can significantly lower the total cost of the system.

  • Power Output Jacks: Some systems have only USB ports for providing power, while others have standard household 120-volt AC outlets.

  • Expandability: Some RV solar kits can be expanded by adding additional solar panels. Expandability opens up more options in the future because the system is more flexible.

  • Price: The cost of portable solar panels varies widely from tens of dollars to thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.

  • Financing: Financing might be essential for your clients when purchasing a more expensive system. This is often available on Amazon or through other retailers.

  • Warranties: Portable solar systems often come with warranties, but they are typically shorter than the ones available for residential solar equipment.

  • Weight: Some setups will weigh more than others. This is a critical consideration for clients with an inability to lift somewhat heavy things. Some solar generators can be fairly heavy, making them less convenient on the go.

  • Efficiency: High-efficiency solar panels will generate more electricity with a smaller footprint.


Uses For Portable Solar Panel Systems

Portable solar panel systems are designed to serve various purposes and come with different configurations and capabilities. For example, some contain alligator clips for connectors and flexible solar panels. We’ll talk about the two most common applications below.


Charging Small Devices On A Road Trip

These systems commonly have solar cells, a battery, and sometimes lights. Some setups allow the battery to be charged with grid power and not exclusively from solar power. Often, the connector type is a USB port, which limits the devices that can be charged


More sophisticated systems will also have an LCD power display and wireless charging capabilities. Such systems are also helpful during power outages.


Camping And RV Travel

These systems commonly contain a battery, charge controller, and inverter and can power various loads for camping trips or RV travel. Some are configured like portable solar generators and are also helpful during power outages.


Pros And Cons Of Portable Panels


Pros:

  • They provide electricity and operate independently of the power grid. This enables campers and people on the go to have portable solar power, even in remote locations.

  • Your clients can control the angle of the solar panel, ensuring it's at the optimum angle given the season, the position of the sun, and shading.

  • They are great for “solar curious” individuals that aren’t ready to invest in a rooftop solar array.

  • Although DIY portable solar panel kits range in capabilities, they often cost far less than a home solar system.

  • They make the benefits of solar energy available to a larger segment of the population, regardless of home ownership.

  • These off-grid systems can provide emergency solar power during power outages, assisting in emergency preparedness.

  • Portable solar panels can allow RV users to reduce their fees at some campgrounds that charge for electricity.


Cons:

  • Because they are not fixed to a surface such as a roof, they must be set up each time they are in use.

  • Portable solar panels aren’t typically anchored to anything. Therefore, severe weather can damage them, and theft or vandalism can also be an issue.

  • Residential solar panels tend to have an aluminum frame and glass or a polycarbonate material on the face. Most portable solar panels do not, making them less durable.

  • They only provide benefit when assembled and are rarely used continuously, unlike a home solar system that produces value daily.

  • The warranties on portable solar panels are typically shorter than rooftop panels.

  • Many portable solar systems do not qualify for the federal solar tax credit. However, some RVs that are primary or secondary homes may be an exception. Clients should consult a tax professional for more information.


What Are The Best Portable Panels On The Market?

The best portable solar panels tend to be monocrystalline instead of the less efficient polycrystalline solar panels. Therefore, these modules can be very efficient in converting sunlight to electricity.


Bluetti PV200 Solar Panel: This 200-watt monocrystalline solar panel has a 23.4% conversion efficiency and features a foldable design. It is compatible with most solar generators with MC4 connectors.


Bluetti PV350 Solar Panel: This 350-watt panel features the same high conversion efficiency and uses advanced laminated technology. It does say it can be splashed with water but should not be left in the rain or submerged in water.


Jackery SolarSaga 200-Watt Solar Panel: This panel has a conversion efficiency of up to 24.3% and is positioned using three kickstands. This foldable solar panel has a carry case and an IP67 waterproof rating.


100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase with Voyager: This suitcase contains two 50-watt solar panels and an adjustable corrosion-resistant aluminum stand. It includes a charge controller with overcharge protection and a 10-year warranty but is a bit heavier than the other best portable solar panels at 26.6 pounds.


EcoFlow 160W Solar Panel: This PV module features a foldable design and weighs just 15.4 pounds. It features IP68-rated dust and water resistance, and the carry case doubles as a kickstand.


Are Portable Solar Panels Worth It?

If your clients are interested in mobile solar systems with a compact design, there are many excellent options available. These portable power stations allow users to charge devices or even power an RV. They are more portable than rooftop solar panels but are also less durable and usually have shorter warranties.


For more on up-and-coming trends and technology in the solar industry, check out the top solar trends in 2022.