Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Camping Solar Panels

The sun sends more energy to the Earth every 60 seconds than humans currently produce in 360 days. With global climate change looming, learning how to harness and use this alternative energy source remains crucial.

Fortunately, “going green” has never been easier, no matter where life takes you. In fact, portable solar power allows you to harness the power of the sun whether you’re camping in the outback or enjoying a little R&R at home.

Let’s dive into how portable solar panels for camping work and how you can utilize them whilst on holiday and at home.

Camping Solar Panels 101

Solar panels are comprised of photovoltaic (PV) cells. These PV cells convert sunlight into electricity. Comprised of two thin layers of silicon, when sunlight hits the PV cells, photons generate an electric field between the layers.

This electric field gets transported via busbars (thin metallic strips) to a battery for storage. Voilà, you have a reserve of electricity that is now, portable power.

Now, in yesteryear, these panels proved downright ungainly. Heavy and difficult to transport, installation proved permanent.

But solar technology has come a long way. Today’s portable panels are compact and lightweight for ease of transportation. They also come with convenient features such as:

  • Flexible solar panels

  • Solar blankets

  • Kickstands

  • Folding solar panel designs

  • Carrying cases

  • Removal of rigid aluminium frames for logistical improvement

Besides the panels themselves, you’ll need a few other items to ensure your solar kits can power your appliances without a hitch. These include a solar charge controller, potentially an inverter, and a battery.

Components Essential to Successful Solar Power

Yes, a portable solar panel converts direct sunlight into electricity. But you need a few accessories to control the flow of the energy, store it, and make it usable with certain appliances.

The Solar Regulator or Controller

Let’s start by talking about the solar regulator or controller. This device guarantees a consistent electrical flow from the 12v solar panel to the battery where the energy gets stored. Without a controller, you might easily overcharge and ruin your battery.

The Battery

Your solar setup will need a receptacle for all of the electricity that you harvest from the sun or else your efforts will come to nought. But which kind of battery should you look for?

At a bare minimum, a high-quality 12 volt, deep-cycle battery with proven reliability. After all, you’ll constantly be in the process of keeping the battery charged, draining, and recharging your battery. So, it requires serious staying power.

The Inverter

The type of current your battery can store is Direct Current (DC). But many appliances require Alternating Current (AC).

What to do? Get an inverter to transform DC to AC.

There’s also the issue of the right voltage for appliances. You’ve got two options here.

First, your inverter can adjust the voltage of the current from your 12-volt battery to make it compatible with appliances that require 240-volt power sources. Second, you can invest in camping appliances that run on 12-volt DC power.

Camping appliances that run on 12 volt include:

  • Slow cookers

  • Coolers

  • Lights

  • Mini-fridges

  • Stoves

Depending on your situation, it may prove handy to run these appliances without the assistance of an inverter.

Decoding Solar Panel Specs

When it comes to choosing the right portable solar panel kit, you need to understand how to read solar panel specs. These include:

  • The Standard Test Conditions (STC) rating (how well the panel performs in ideal conditions)

  • The panel’s power ratings (including the amperage at maximum output, the voltage at maximum power, and the maximum nominal power)

  • ETFE protective coating (seen in the latest solar panels and blankets, they make cells scratch and UV resistant as well as anti-reflective)

These ratings will give you a much better sense of the strengths and weaknesses of various solar panels on the market. But your research mustn’t stop there.

Physical Characteristics of Solar Panels

Besides these important ratings, you’ll also want to keep in mind factors such as:

  • Whether the panels are semi-flexible or rigid (semi-flexible panels prove easier to fold and pack, and they provide a larger overall surface area)

  • The dimensions of the panel (smaller panels prove easier to pack, but they also collect sunlight more slowly)

  • The weight of the panel (portability remains the operative word here)

  • When the panel was manufactured (because older products don’t come with the benefits of cutting-edge technology)

You’ll need to factor the solar cells and panel specs and characteristics above with your ultimate goals for a portable solar power unit. These include thinking about how much charge the unit will return to the battery and where you’ll use it.

You’ll also want to consider the ease of set up and how easy it proves to adjust panel angles for ideal sun exposure. Some panels even feature mounts with a tilting feature. That way, you can conveniently chase the sunlight all day long.

Technologies on the Market

Three technologies get utilized in the production of portable solar panels. They include monocrystalline cell panels, polycrystalline cell panels, and thin film panels.

Monocrystalline panels cost the most. But they offer a high efficiency of up to 22-24% percent. Because of their construction from large, single crystals of silicon, they boast first-rate resilience and performance.

Ever seen blue-hued solar panels? If so, you were looking at polycrystalline panels.

Constructed from silicon fragments melted together, they don’t offer the same efficiency as monocrystalline panels. But they prove less expensive, too.

Finally, thin film panels prove the most affordable of the three options. Just don’t expect anything close to the same efficiency you’d get with crystalline panels. But they remain easy to install and highly portable.

Electricity Generation Considerations

Three factors determine how much electricity you can generate with any given solar panel unit:

  • Exposure to sunlight

  • The efficiency of the panel

  • The size of the solar panel

Solar panels generate between 5 and 400 watts. The rate at which a panel produces electricity corresponds to its STC rating. But, remember, this rating requires optimal conditions, so your panel will seldom function at its STC rating.

What does this mean in real-world terms? The average household consumes 30 kilowatt-hours of electricity daily. Portable solar panels can meet between five and ten percent of these daily needs.

Whilst this is a fraction of your overall needs, reducing your electricity consumption will still accumulate in beneficial ways, both fiscal and environmental.

Of course, when camping, you’ll also use fewer appliances. This means solar power can meet even more of your electricity needs whilst on the road.

Some campers still bring along a generator. That way, should the weather factors make the use of solar panels impractical, they’ve got options.

Tailor Your Needs

We’ve considered a wide variety of factors in this post from geographic location to different types of technology. But you also need to evaluate exactly how much electricity you need whilst on the road.

For example, will you use your solar panel to power specific appliances such as a mini-refrigerator or cooler? If so, you may not even require an inverter.

But if you want to power something like a TV or laptop that only has 240v plugs, then you’ll definitely need that inverter.

Powering a caravan battery, however, represents an entirely different proposition. This requires a more complicated, larger solar power kit with numerous panels as part of a series.

Of course, you can always start small and add more capabilities and accessories to your solar power assembly as you gain confidence and know-how.

Join the Portable Solar Power Revolution

“Going green” with portable solar panels can bring new peace and quiet to your camping experiences. Just imagine powering your favourite camp setup without the obnoxious noise and smells of a generator.  

When it comes to solar power, there’s a definite learning curve. But once you better grasp the products on the market, you can custom tailor your solar power setup.

Take time to assess your current electrical needs and which appliances or batteries you’d like to power. Keep in mind the geographic locations where you’re likely to power your panel, too, as well as weather and the seasons.

Powering Your Lifestyle

Whether you want to reduce your fuel bills or increase the comfort of your next camping trip, portable folding solar panels and their power offers the perfect solution.

What’s more, you’ll take significant steps towards reducing your energy footprint. After all, small actions lead to big consequences. So, become part of the eco-friendly revolution whilst still powering your lifestyle.

Now that you’ve gained a better understanding of how portable solar generation works, check out our range of portable solar panels now.