Portable solar panels are some of the most useful and energy-efficient products known to humankind. They provide backpackers, adventurers, thrill-seekers, and off-grid homeowners with a sustainable, green, and mobile energy source for all their appliances and gadgets.
You can clip the solar panels onto your belt or put them in your pocket. You can use larger versions of portable solar panels to charge bigger appliances. In this article, we look at how you can use portable solar panels in various outdoor situations and off-grid living.
What Are Portable Solar Panels?
Unlike a conventional solar panel that goes on your roof, a portable panel is generally encased in a sleeve made with plastic or mesh fabric. Small panels can produce 5 to 50 watts. On the other hand, bigger ones can produce 300 watts or higher – the same as a regular rooftop panel. Small-sized panels are usually a single sheet of silicon solar cells, whereas bigger panels might have two to three panels in a foldable case.
Portable solar panels have a single jack or multiple jacks to supply power to several devices. You might also find a USB port and a DC output jack to directly charge your electronic devices. In a lot of cases, portable solar panels are connected to a lithium-ion battery so that you can use their power under all conditions. The battery can have a vast number of output devices, from DC output jacks to ordinary 120-volt AC outlets.
How to Set Up Portable Solar Panels for Off-Grid Living?
Here’s how you can set up your solar panels for off-grid living.
Step #1 – Understand Your Power Needs
Solar energy is an incredibly flexible source of energy when it comes to size. Thus, you have to start off by deciding the size of the system you require, i.e., the amount of energy needed.
The first step is to list down the appliances that you wish to operate using your portable solar panels. This can include anything from a refrigerator, mobile phone chargers, LED lights, microwave, coffee maker, etc.
Now, add the power consumption of all the devices. For instance, the refrigerator totals 200 watts, lights 30 watts, fans 20 watts, and around 150 watts for other devices.
Step #2 – Choose the Solar Panels
After you’ve calculated the total amount of energy needed, it’s time to choose the type and size of solar panels. Let’s assume that your total energy requirement is 400 watts.
For this particular example, it would be a wise decision to opt for 500-watt solar panels, keeping unpredictable sunlight levels and efficiency losses in mind.
You can either go with five 100-watt, 12-volt monocrystalline solar panels or ten 50-watt solar panels. You can either pick flexible panels, rugged panels, and regular portable solar panels.
Even though all solar panels work the same at the fundamental level, each of these has its benefits. Conventional, rigid solar panels are most pocket-friendly, whereas flexible solar panels are incredibly easy-to-carry and durable.
Portable solar panels have protected edges which makes them more durable. You can easily place them at the right angle using mounting kickstands. Therefore, it’s convenient to install a solar panel system using portable modules.
Step #3 – Charge Controller and Battery
When you have to use off-grid power, you will need a battery to store solar energy and use it at night, along with a solar controller to allow your battery to charge safely. Before you decide on the size of the battery to purchase, you need to know the amount of power you have to store. The five 12-volt 100-watt solar panels are going to generate almost 4,000 watt-hours of energy, assuming you live in an area that receives four hours of proper sunshine.
To have a battery system that can store 4,000 watt-hours, you need to use the following equation to get the battery size in ampere-hours.
Watt hours ÷ Volts = Ampere-Hours
Hence, 4,000 ÷ 12 = 333 Ampere-Hours
Keeping a buffer for depth of discharge and efficiency losses, it would be advisable to go with a 500 Ampere-hours battery. Various kinds of batteries are available for solar kits. However, to reduce maintenance issues, you should opt for maintenance-free options, either lithium or lead acid batteries.
Step #4 – The Inverter
An inverter is important as it converts DC electricity from your solar panels or AC or batteries. You can use DC-powered appliances that your batteries power directly. This way, you won’t need an inverter altogether. However, it’s recommended to have an inverter-based system to power regular appliances too.
The inverter needs to handle the power conversion when all the appliances are working at the same time while also having some margin to account for a potential power surge.
Step #5 – Do the Wiring
The last step is the most crucial part of installing your portable solar panel system. If you’re going with a 12-volt system, you can connect your 5 x 100-watt panels in parallel. However, if you’re setting up a 24-volt system, you can simply connect them in series by connecting the positive terminal of one panel with the negative terminal of the other panel.
While connecting the solar panel system, make sure the panels aren’t exposed to sunlight, as DC current can be dangerous. It’s imperative to disconnect or connect solar panels safely.
Portable Solar Panels for Outdoor Uses
Apart from those who need off-grid power, portable solar panels can easily be used by travelers, campers, or others who need a supply of electricity when they cannot access grid power.
Camping is an excellent use of portable solar panels. You can install larger solar panels on top of your vehicle to provide solar power for RV as an alternative to gas or propane-fueled generator. Compared to a smelly and noisy generator using fossil fuels, a battery charged by solar panels is odorless, clean, and quiet. As even the larger panels are easy to move around, you can place them in the sun while your RV, camper, or tent is parked in the cool shade.
If you are on a long camping trip and wish to keep your mobile charged for emergency reasons, a small portable panel that fits into your backpack will be perfect for you.
Install solar panels on your boat’s deck or any other flat surface of your boat, and you can power an electric motor with the energy stored in a battery. The panel will also work as a shade to shield you from the harmful rays of the sun while you’re out in your boat. When connected with a solar battery, solar panels let you sail without depending on the wind or bearing the smell and noise of a gas-powered engine. As long as the sun continues to shine, you can continue to sail without having to stop for refueling.
3. Power Breakdowns
If you work from home and there is a power breakdown, your router and model are going to stop working. Thus, if you don’t have Wi-Fi, you won’t be able to use the internet. However, when you have a solar battery backup, you can easily run your router, laptop, and modem until the electricity comes back on.
4. Pump Water
Solar water pumps are handy machines for pumping out water from ponds and wells. They use solar power to produce electricity with then used to pump out water. Additionally, these pumps have a higher efficiency than other types of pumps as they don’t need any external energy source such as a wind turbine or gas engine. In addition, they’re simple to install, eco-friendly and quiet.
5. Outdoor Vending Stalls
For individuals who sell food items or other products on the street, it might get difficult to find an energy source that’s affordable and reliable. For instance, if you’re selling ice cream or hot dogs at a carnival, you are going to need the energy to light up your stall, keep your food items warm, and keep the cash register working smoothly. Portable solar panels offer a perfect way for vendors to earn money while saving electricity costs.
6. Outdoor Media Production
Portable solar panels are a great choice for outdoor media production. From remote broadcasts and live feeds to field reporting, you can easily transport these lightweight panels from one location to another without sacrificing energy. You can use solar energy to keep your camera and equipment running at all times. Thus, you won’t have to worry about your camera running out of battery when you need it. This is particularly important if you wish to capture wildlife in action.
7. Workshops and Sheds
Portable solar panels are an excellent way to power anything you have to power in your workshop or shed. You can use them to power heaters, fans, lights, and even small appliances. Sheds are generally not connected to any grid power supply. Thus, if you wish to use power tools in your shed, you have to ensure that they have their battery packs or charge from an external source such as wind turbines or solar panels.
This makes it easy to have light without running extension wires from the garage or your home into your shed. It even eliminates the need for harmful extension wires if you are using an electric machine that has to be plugged into an outlet with a heavy-duty cord.
Last Few Words
Portable solar panels are an excellent way to power your remote cabin or RV or enjoy an entirely off-grid life. One of the biggest benefits of portable solar panels is that they are low maintenance and can provide you with dependable power output almost anywhere in the world. These benefits are something that other portable power sources, such as gas generators, really cannot match.
At BLUETTI, we have a vast range of portable solar panel kits to cater to all your needs. Check out our shop to have a look at some amazing portable solar power systems.