Portable solar panels have become commonplace among residential and commercial properties throughout the U.S.
You will come across solar systems in entire neighbourhoods, as more and more individuals begin to realize the benefits that they offer.
But one niche that had not yet been filled initially, entailed solar panels that were easy to transport.
What is a Portable Solar Panel?
These are exactly as implied in the name- small-sized solar panels, which are incredibly easy to set up and can be carried and used anywhere.
Like any other solar panel, these units have the capability to convert sunlight into electrical or heat energy.
Portable solar panels are made up of several photovoltaic cells. Every panel consists of smaller cells, whereby a cell constitutes thin layers of silicon.
Even though these solar panels differ significantly in terms of size, even the largest portable solar panel can still fit inside a car’s trunk.
How Do Portable Solar Panels Work?
As already mentioned, every cell comprises of several layers of silicon.
So once the sun’s rays reach the panel, photons are emitted creating an electric field amongst the layers of silicon in every cell.
Each solar panel comes with metallic strips attached to it. These are responsible for channelling the electric field and sending it to the battery or grid on the base of the system.
Portable solar panels are smaller in size than those installed in residential and commercial properties.
They’re usually equipped with a couple of extra accessories to enhance their use, such as a foldable design, a carrying case or kickstand. But for the most part, they consist of:
Solar Regulator or Charge Controller
This is a tiny box, which is usually positioned between the panel and the battery.
Its purpose is to control the amount of charge being generated from the panel, and the one which flows into the battery bank. This helps to prevent the batteries from being overcharged.
In some instances, the charge controller is also used to provide a direct connection to appliances whilst recharging the battery, simultaneously.
In other words, it channels electrical energy directly to the appliances while bypassing the battery bank.
A battery is used to store the energy produced by a solar system. This way, solar energy will only be used when it’s needed.
This is one of the most essential components of a solar electric power system.
It’s the element that transforms the fluctuating direct current (DC) output from a photovoltaic cell into alternating current (AC).
The AC current can then be used to power an array of household appliances.
How Much Energy Does a Portable Solar Panel Generate?
Considering that portable solar panels don’t produce as much power output as their bigger counterparts, you might be wondering just how much energy they produce.
The truth is, there’s no specific amount of electricity they generate. It varies depending on: the panel’s efficacy, the particular size of the solar system and level of exposure to sunlight.
When looking for a portable solar panel, you’ll come across a majority of them that produce between 210 and 320 watts.
This is because it’s the amount of electricity that should be produced based on the Standard Test Conditions (STC).
One aspect that impacts the amount of electrical energy produced is exposure to sunlight.
If you live in an area that experiences minimal sunshine and a lot of cloudy weather, you might not get as much power output as you might have been expecting.
In 2018, the average amount of electricity used by a household within a month was 914-kilowatt hours (kWh).
This translates to about 30 kWh per day. A portable solar panel produces enough power to meet 5 to 10% of your daily electricity needs.
Important to note is that if you’ve invested in a solar panel that stores solar energy in its battery system, then the efficiency of your solar unit will be directly related to the charging and discharging mechanism.
Here are a few statistics to give you a rough idea of what a portable solar panel can be used for:
- A small-sized 45-watt portable solar panel is enough to charge your phone and other electronic devices
- To power a few LED lights and a mini-fridge, you need a 120-watt portable solar generator
- RV systems that rely on electricity can be powered using a 160-watt solar panel
- If you’re planning outdoor excursions, then you need at least a 320-watt panel, a battery and an inverter to meet your electricity needs
5 Portable Solar Panels (Reviews)
The invention of portable solar panels has facilitated the use of solar technology from anywhere.
Unfortunately, one glaring issue with these units is the fact that they don’t have enough power output. But then again, they’re designed to power small-sized appliances.
In this post, we’ll discuss more benefits of purchasing the best portable solar panels, explain how they work and recommend the top-rated models on the market.
1- Renogy Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit
If you’re looking to purchase a portable solar panel, the Renogy Monocrystalline Starter Kit is a great option.
It comes in what we regard as a highly-functional design, and it’s intended to produce a decent amount of power that can keep your RV’s appliances running with ease.
All other things equal, the Renogy Starter Kit produces an impressive 100 watts.
The best part is, it allows you to expand the system to a whopping 400 watts by incorporating three more solar panels. But keep in mind that you’ll need more space to install the additional panels.
Furthermore, the manufacturer incorporates an 8-foot cable in the package. This makes it easy to connect the battery and solar regulator.
If you’re buying the solar panel for your RV, the long cable means you can configure the panel far off in the event that you park in an area that receives minimal sunshine.
For the best outcome, the manufacturer recommends setting the device early on in the day.
If the weather is sunny enough, the panel will be able to produce at least 500Wh each day. This is enough power to charge a 50Ah battery from mid-way charge within 3 hours.
Investing in this kit also helps you utilize the negative grounding controller. This is to facilitate the vast off-grid applications and to enhance safety.
- Designed to generate 500Wh every other day if the conditions are right
- Capable of fully charging a 50Ah battery
- Can be expanded to produce 400 watts
- The efficiency of the solar regulator can be improved
2- BigBlue 5V 28W Solar Charger
The BigBlue Solar Charger gets our second spot because of its good selection of features.
Between the built-in ammeter and its use of SmartIC technology, this unit has everything you’d need to charge a variety of household appliances.
A pleasant feature of this 4-solar panel system is the fact that it’s compatible with a majority of USB rechargeable devices up to an efficiency rate of 21.5 to 23.5%.
The efficiency of a solar panel that exceeds 20% is pretty good.
A distinct feature of this system is the integration of an ammeter, which is unique to the charger.
This is truly a big bonus- it makes it possible to determine when and in which position your solar panels are working optimally.
This means you can take advantage of the available sunshine, and charge it fully.
There’s just one flaw with the BigBlue Solar unit, that is, the built-in zipper pouch.
On the surface, it seems like the pouch is tailored for holding any device you may want to charge.
Unfortunately, this pouch comes in a black shade and it faces upwards, toward the sun.
This means that if you place a device on it, it will be exposed to the harsh UV rays, creating the risk of overheating.
- It’s backed by a 2-year warranty
- Constructed using a special PET polymer surface to protect the solar panels from external elements
- Includes a built-in ammeter to help with strategic placement for optimal exposure to sunlight
- The features of the built-in pouch should be refined to prevent the risk of gadgets overheating
3- HQST Polycrystalline Solar Panel
If you’re looking to invest in a solar system that puts out a decent amount of power, the HQST Polycrystalline Solar Panel makes a strong contender.
Designed to provide years of service, this solar panel is equipped with handy features to meet every consumer’s needs.
To be specific, it comes with a corrosion-resistant aluminium frame and complex encapsulation material to boost cell performance.
Given this high-quality and durable construction, it comes as no surprise that the manufacturer offers a 5-year limited warranty.
What this means is that they’re ready to cover any damages that are the result of poor materials or workmanship.
Another feature that drew us to this solar panel is the ease of assembly. For ease of installation, the panel arrives pre-drilled with holes on the rear to allow for quick mounting and securing.
Better yet, the panel is designed in such a way that it’s compatible with most mounting systems including pole mounts, z-brackets, and tilt mounts.
So even if it’s your first time installing a solar panel, you’ll find the process to be a walk in the park.
Under the right conditions, the solar panel generates 500Wh per day. The unit is fitted with bypass diodes that reduce power drop, which could result from the shade and low-light conditions.
- Easy to install thanks to the pre-drilled holes
- Generate a decent amount of power
- Equipped with bypass diodes to prevent power reduction due to low lighting
- Comes with a 5-year warranty
- A bit bulky
4- Renogy Portable E.Flex Monocrystalline 5W Solar Panel
If you’re purchasing a solar panel to use on your outdoor expeditions, then it’s important to choose one that is as lightweight as possible.
The Renogy Portable E.Flex, which weighs a measly 11.7 ounces fits the description of a lightweight solar system perfectly. In fact, the charger alone weighs 8.7 ounces.
However, don’t mistake its lightweight design for being fragile. It may be ultra-lightweight but it’s just as sturdy to withstand outdoor elements.
Like the HQST, this is another solar panel that’s very easy to install, making it suitable for beginners.
The manufacturer has provided several attachments to make the process hassle-free. These include 4 suction cups and carabiners.
Also important to note entails the built-in monocrystalline solar cells that provide optimal efficiency.
There’s also a new auto-optimization charging component that facilitates a continuous charge the minute you expose the panels to the sun.
On a sunny day, the E.Flex can power a 300mAH external battery from 0 to 100% capacity within 6 hours.
However, it’s important that you angle the panel towards the sun for maximum exposure to sunlight.
This particular solar panel we’re reviewing boasts a power output of 5 watts. But if you need to power large-sized appliances, the unit is also available in 10watts version.
- Ultra-thin and lightweight for easy portability
- Installation is a breeze thanks to the provision of suction cups and carabiners
- The port on the rear is not waterproof
5- Go Power! GP-PSK-120 120W Portable Solar Kit
If you can’t afford to stay out of touch when you go off the grid, the GP-PSK 120 is enough to meet all your power requirements.
This solar kit is available in 3 versions: a 40watt, 80watt and the 120-watt model that we’re reviewing here.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that it has a high price tag. But for the extra cost, you’ll get features that you’ll not find in lower-priced models.
For instance, it has one of the highest power outputs at 120watts. This is adequate to keep several of your RV appliances running when you go out camping.
Besides, the solar kit comes in a compact and easy-to-carry design. When opened, its dimensions are 32.5 x 39.8 x 1.4 inches and when folded, it measures 32.5 x 19.9 x 2.8 inches.
Its foldable mechanism means it takes up less space; thus, convenient to carry on long trips.
Also, while most manufacturers provide zero to very short warranties, Go Power backs this product with a 25-year warranty.
Another thing we like about the GP-PSK is the fact that it can be set up within a short time. All that’s required is unfolding the unit and attaching the clamps to the battery.
Plus, unlike other solar panels, this one comes equipped with a solar controller to regulate the power being discharged from the panels.
- It’s fitted with a solar regulator
- Produces a whopping 120 watts
- Quick and hassle-free setup
- Comes with a 25-year warranty
- A carrying case is provided
A Complete Buying Guide for Portable Solar Panels
If you have zero experience using solar panels, then you might feel overwhelmed by the watts, voltage, amps and other terms.
To help you, here are the main features you should focus on when choosing a portable solar panel:
When it comes to types, there are two main kinds of solar panels to pick from Polycrystalline and Monocrystalline.
The primary difference between the two lies in the variety of silicon solar cells that either one uses.
In the case of monocrystalline, solar cells comprise a single crystal of silicon.
With polycrystalline, the solar cells constitute many silicon fragments that have been melted together. Here are the merits and demerits of each type of solar panel:
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
- The solar panels sport a rugged and durable build. They last much longer than their polycrystalline counterparts.
- As long as the conditions are right- there’s adequate sunshine outdoors – these work much better than the latter
- The most recent monocrystalline solar panels are designed to be lightweight for easy portability
- Usually, they aren’t as lightweight as the polycrystalline solar panels
- If they’re being used in partially-shaded areas, they won’t produce the best outcome
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
- They’re pretty low-priced compared to the monocrystalline units
- Most of these solar panels are also durable
- Compared to monocrystalline solar panels, these are slightly less efficient.
We live in an era where we rely heavily on electronic gadgets. Even when we’re camping outdoors, we use flashlights for illumination, power banks to charge our cell phones and more.
Unfortunately, we may not always have ready access to electricity to power our appliances, which is where portable solar panels come in handy.
These are small-sized, and lightweight solar chargers designed to meet your power requirements on the go.
With adequate exposure to sunlight, these devices can power your flashlights, tablets, smartphones and more.
If you’re looking to purchase a portable solar panel, there are a couple of points you should keep in mind.
One, you’ll need to decide the type of solar panel to purchase, that is, choosing between the monocrystalline and polycrystalline.
Other factors you should look into are wattage, amperage, efficiency, size and weight.
A portable solar panel that strikes a good balance between these features is the Renogy Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit.
It boasts a power output of 100 watts though it’s expandable to 400 watts. This solar panel can churn out 500Wh each day, and it comes with a long cable for a flexible installation.