Besides homes, outdoor lighting, and electric fences, portable solar panels can also be used to provide power for food stands at outdoor festivals.
You can place solar panels on or around the stand to obtain direct sunlight and convert it into free electrical energy. And it’s possible even on cloudy days.
In this guide, we will talk about what solar panels are, the benefits of using them, the factors you should consider before choosing one, and how you can determine the number of portable solar panels that your food stand or food truck will require.
What Are Portable Solar Panels?
A solar panel that can be transported and used to generate electricity away from your main residence is referred to as "portable." As you can expect, portable solar panels are smaller than typical ground-mounted or rooftop solar panels – a regular solar panel provides around 250 to 400 watts of power, while a portable solar panel delivers close to 100 watts.
While portable solar panels will hardly ever outperform their traditional counterparts in a head-to-head comparison, they do provide a few distinct advantages in a few niche applications. For one, portable solar panels are a cheap way to take use of solar energy when you do not have access to grid electricity.
Other than that, they are quite movable and can be relocated to wherever you may require power at the moment. While they may not deliver the kind of power generated by regular solar panels, portable panels are a great way to make use of sunlight to power your food truck appliances.
Because they are smaller, some portable solar panels come with distinct features like USB ports, a kickstand, or they may be foldable to make it easier for the buyers to use them on the go.
Reasons to Use Portable Solar Panels for Outdoor Food Stands
Solar energy is a financially viable source of power for numerous food truck businesses. For a food truck operator using a traditional generator, fuel can cost $5 to $10 per day on average. Besides, conventional generators require a lot more effort, maintenance, and upkeep – which can make them considerably more expensive than solar panels in the long run.
Low or No Pollution
The vast majority of food trucks are powered by gasoline or diesel generators only meant to function for a short time. Despite that, these generators frequently run continuously for up to 14 hours, which leads to large emissions of greenhouse gases, particulate matter, nitrous oxide, and carbon monoxide. Noise is perhaps the worst of all pollutants.
When you consider the negative consequences and how solar energy may reduce operating costs, it is not hard to understand why solar panels are becoming more popular by the day. Considering that sunlight is a free source of energy, the only ongoing maintenance required with solar panels is the battery replacement.
Factors to Consider When Buying Portable Solar Panels for Food Stands
When selecting portable solar panels for your food truck, you must consider how much electricity your electrical equipment uses (both in terms of starting and running watts) and the number of hours it will run on an average day.
For instance, a typical mobile catering unit will feature commercial catering equipment like freezers, fridges, microwaves, sandwich presses, and griddles which would operate for around 7-9 hours on a regular day (longer in bigger events).
You must also take into account any appliances you could buy as your business develops. In order to avoid having to upgrade your solar generator every few years, it is recommended to get one with more capacity than you currently need.
On the other hand, you can go for a smaller model if you do not want to use solar energy for all your food stand appliances.
If you plan to transfer the solar panels to different places or in and out of the food truck, it is also important to take its portability into account.
To simplify transportation, we recommend choosing a portable solar generator with wheels and a pull handle (the kind you have on suitcases).
The Required Number of Solar Panels
The typical range for portable solar panels is 200-350 watts per panel. The higher the per-panel wattage, the lower the number of panels you will need to fulfill your wattage requirements.
For instance, you would want six 300-watt solar panels to completely charge a 2000-watt solar battery.
How long it takes to achieve full charging capacity will depend on the amount of available sunlight.
If you plan to place the panels on top of your food truck, the amount of available surface area will also play a role in the number of panels you can safely accommodate.
How to Determine the Number of Solar Panels Required for Your Food Truck
Determine the Required Equipment
The size of your job and the tools you'll need to use should be determined first.
This step is essential to help you determine how much power your new food truck will require to operate effectively.
So, if you're getting ready to start a coffee truck, you need to think about getting specialized equipment like espresso machines and coffee grinders, commercial blenders, coffee brewers, and refrigerators.
If you plan to serve some hot food in addition to coffee, you will also need burners, a griddle, and a fryer – three concession items that can be used to cook pretty much anything.
Additionally, equipment such as freezers, coolers, sandwich prep stations, and steam tables may also be required.
However, the higher the number of electrical equipment you use, the greater the capacity of your portable solar panels will need to be to effectively power all those appliances.
Your Kitchen Design
After carefully selecting the items, the next step is to decide on your kitchen's layout. This decision will have an impact on the truck that you opt for.
Consider whether you require a large kitchen to accommodate a large number of equipment, or just a small one to accommodate the espresso maker and other smaller items.
Designing your kitchen is an important step, and you may need professional help to walk you through it and suggest the best additions to make your kitchen better fit your products.
Power Requirements for the Kitchen
To determine the number of solar panels you will need, you must calculate the amount of power that your food truck uses on a typical day.
You can calculate this based on your kitchen design and the equipment you have (both of which have been covered in the above sections).
Generally, you can find the appliance values on the tag nameplate or appliance stamp.
Other than that, the appliance user manual will also mention the voltage, running and starting wattage, and the current in amperes.
Using this information and the below steps, you can easily calculate the power requirements for your food stand:
Step 1 – Determine the food truck wattage.
Step 2 – Determine the number of hours you use your food truck on a typical day.
Step 3 – Multiply the food truck wattage (the number calculated in Step 1) by the number of daily operational hours (the number calculated in Step 2).
Although the precise wattage requirements will vary, most food trucks, to be on the safe side, use a 5000-7000 watt generator to cover their power needs and still have some access capacity.
Another thing to consider is the number of hours you plan to keep your food truck open on a regular day.
For example, if you only intend to run the unit for around three to five hours every day, you will not need the kind of capacity that someone who plans to serve at all-day events requires.
For our example, we will assume that we need 5,000 watts to power all our equipment and we plan to run our truck for seven hours on a typical day.
Now, using the above formula, we will need our portable solar panel system to produce (5,000 watts into 7 hours) = 35 kilowatt-hours of energy on a given day.
Calculate the Solar Panel Energy Requirements
To make this calculation, divide the solar panel wattage by the number of hours of direct sunlight you get on a regular day.
For instance, if you live in Chicago, you get around 3.14 peak sun hours on a typical day. So, in order to generate 35,000 watt-hours of energy, we will need (35,000/3.14) = 11,147-watt solar panels.
So, to be able to effectively power your food stand, you will need fifty 200-watt panels or a 10,000W solar generator.
Naturally, then, the more peak sun hours you receive, the lower your solar panel energy requirements will be, and the lower the number of solar panels you will require.
Leverage the Power of Solar Energy for Your Food Stand
Although most food trucks use solar energy to become more environmentally-friendly, utilizing the power of sunlight can also save you as much as $1,000 every month.
Previously, conventional generators, which run on diesel or gas, were used to supply heat, light, and cold for food trucks that were open for as long as 10-12 hours every day. Of course, the longer you operate the food stand, the more fuel your generator will require, and the higher your monthly operating expenses would be.
Even though solar panels require a higher initial expenditure, they do not have a lot of moving parts that would require frequent maintenance, repairs, or replacements. Thus, the lower operating and maintenance expenses of solar panels make them considerably more cost-effective in the long run. What’s more, you can even generate an income by selling off excess power to solar companies, or leverage the government rebates offered to businesses that utilize solar power.
Over the last few years, enviromentally-friendly food stands have become immensely popular. There is no reason for food businesses to overlook the many benefits of using solar energy, which include lower operational costs and a smaller carbon footprint.
If you are looking for a portable solar generator to power your food stand at outdoor festivals, we invite you to check out our wide range of options. We offer a number of portable solar generators and can help you pick the one that best serves your budget, kitchen design, and power requirements.
To learn more about using solar panels for food trucks or to explore your options, please feel free to reach out to us.