Portable Solar Panel Comparison & Guide

 

G’day green energy lovers.

This post is a portable solar panel comparison, comparing solar panels that fold (usually in half), come with stands to angle them towards the sun at camp and are for 12 volts systems.

There are a lot of options when looking at solar panels, so this post will consist of portable solar panels, while there will also be posts covering:

As the top portion of the fixed solar panel comparison post is just general solar panel information, you will find that it is the same across all three posts, so feel free to skip it on the other posts.

In the portable solar panel comparison post you will see the pros and cons of this particular choice of system, be sure to check out the other posts for their respective pros and cons.

To make the portable solar panel comparison easier for the reader, the tables provided will be sortable so you can organise the data as you see fit. The table of contents is also clickable so you can skip to the desired section.

The portable solar panel comparison scatter plots are an interesting visual aid but should not be taken too seriously as a buying guide.

Often things such as weight, quality and dimensions will be the defining factor in what panel you end up looking at, although price is also important.

 

12 volt comparisons

For those who don’t know about 12 volt systems, I have written a very detailed post about how to plan a 12 volt setup that includes all of the information you could possibly need.

*Disclaimer

Affiliate links may be present on this page. These are links to websites such as Amazon, where if you decide to purchase something, then they will offer me a tiny commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and is just a way for me to try and support myself and the blog.

Why I did the portable solar panel comparison?

 

As someone who is currently in the process of a 4WD build, this was my own research that was going on for my benefit in the background, but it would be a waste not to share it with others.

Although my initial interests are mostly towards a fixed solar panel, I was eager to have a look through portable panels and solar blankets as well.

I saw them as an addition to a fixed panel, a way to better target the sun at camp and compliment the fixed panel, so I decided to look into the costs and weights of portable solar panels with this future development in mind.

The size of your lithium battery will play a large part in determining how much solar you might be interested in, check out my lithium battery comparison here.

The other aspect that will play a part is the period of time that you plan on being stationary in camp, your outputs and the climate that you travel through.

As far as sizing is concerned, I don’t really know what I am after as I haven’t yet purchased the fixed solar panel, so it is hard to judge how large the additional panel requirements might be.

In this portable solar panel comparison though the panels are all ranging from 100W to 200W, with one 250W system thrown in as well. I can’t see myself needing any larger.

 

 

What brands are included in the solar panel comparison?

The brands that you will see in this post are listed in no particular order below, click their titles to be taken to the solar panel section of the respective websites.

Being in Australia, these brands were selected for the solar panel comparison based on availability to me here.

 

Redarc

Often referred to as the cream of the crop in 12 volt systems here in Australia, Redarc have a great track record when it comes to being bullet proof as well as innovative.

 

Enerdrive

Possibly the most popular brand out there, a good mixture of quality without the high prices, although nor is it cheap by any means.

 

Kings

Kings are a budget brand that sell out of 4WD Supacentre stores across the country.

A good brand for those looking to make their first purchases without breaking the bank.

 

Camec

Camec are predominantly a caravan and RV parts supplier, but this of course includes 12 volt solar panels. Found throughout Australia and New Zealand.

 

Dometic

Dometic are a Swedish company known mostly for their fridges, but they also provide all sorts of 12 volt stuff, including solar panels. They have a good reputation with their fridges so hopefully the solar panels are good quallity.

 

Powercon

A company that I do not know the origins of, nor can I find their website. The reason they are listed here is because they were available to me via an auto parts store here in Perth.

A brief rundown on solar panels

 

When it comes to solar panel comparisons, it can get quite confusing.

The three types of solar are fixed, portable and blankets. You can combine all three of these if you wish to boost your system’s power by paralleling the panels.

This post is about portable solar panels, but there are posts for the other two types as well. Just so everyone is on the same page here is a very brief explanation of the different types available.

FIXED
These are the panels that will be permanently mounted to a roof, canopy, caravan etc. They can be removed but are not getting packed away daily as they are bolted down.

BLANKETS
The blankets are the most technologically advanced, it will fold multiple times and pack away very small to take up a tiny footprint. They offer the best performance when looking at their weight against output.

PORTABLE
The portable panels are like the fixed panels, but they fold in half and get packed away when not in use, they come with legs to angle them towards the sun and get the maximum efficiency from your system.

 

 

Why you should consider getting a solar panel

 

If you want to set up camp for a few days and don’t think that you’ll be driving around, then solar is really important to top up your batteries.

Solar can allow you to run a smaller battery capacity in some instances as you know it will get refilled to some degree, so you don’t need a bucket load of amp hours to get you through an extended stay somewhere.

The way people travel these days with the amount of technology that needs a recharge, a solar panel will help you go further and maintain creature comforts. A panel is good clean energy and the system can be built up to the appropriate size over time.

Output amperage vs. Input amerage

 

Some manufacturers will advertise the output of the panel, others the theoretical input into a 12 volt system. In the solar comparison tables below I have added a column for both of these values.

Let’s do a little bit of simple math to get started, who doesn’t love math?

Solar panels often operate on a voltage of 17-19 volts, this gives them headroom to provide enough voltage to charge a battery in poor conditions: late afternoon, overcast, shade covered, or very hot days where resistance increases etc.

In these poorer conditions the voltage is hopefully above 14 volts and can charge a lithium battery. When conditions are good, this means that your solar regulator can input a higher amperage into the battery than that being measured at the solar panel.

This is because of a variant of ohm’s law: Power = Current x Voltage.

Therefore: Current = Power ➗ Voltage

The “power” of the solar panel is fixed, for example 100W of power. Your solar panel does not get hooked up directly to a battery, it goes through a regulator first (DCDC chargers often have built in solar capabilities).

A regulator will be outputting 12 volt** to the battery, this means that the current will be higher to compensate for the lower “voltage” of the equation, keeping the maths correct.

Simple theoretical example for a 100 watt panel with 20 volts max output:

100W =  20 Volts x Current

Therefore current = 5 amps.

 

MPPT regulator transforms voltage to 12V**

Current = 100W ➗ 12

Current = 8.333 Amps into battery.

 

**it’s not actually 12 volt, it is higher, but for the purpose of the theoretical maths in the tables I just used 12, because of the naming scheme “12 volt systems” etc.

Voltage Open Circuit

 

Voltage open circuit is not listed in the tables below as all of these panels listed are in the 20-23 VOC range.

BUT it should be noted that you can’t use just any panel on your 12 volt system!

The panels are especially made for this type of activity, they are different to the panels found on houses for example. Where the VOC becomes relevant is making sure your solar regulator can handle the panel’s VOC.

Solar panel accessories

 

Please note that you cannot hook a battery directly to solar power.

The voltages are too high and they need to be regulated, so they need to go through a regulator. Most DCDC chargers these days offer solar input built in, so be sure to buy a DCDC charger to suit.

See what the maximum power of each regulator or DCDC charger is so you don’t overload your system.

When it comes to solar regulators there are 2 types: PWM and MPPT.

Without going into details, MPPT is the option that will get you more power from your solar panel system and is the preferred method of regulation.

MPPT regulators will give anywhere from 20-30% more power back to the battery depending on the conditions.

 

Portable solar accessories

The portable solar panel will usually come with a solar regulator, a carry or protective bag, and a 5m extension lead to place the solar panel out in the sun away from the vehicle.

Can you combine solar panels?

 

Yes, you can combine solar panels, provided you know about how you are connecting them.

You want to combine the solar panels in parallel to boost your wattage, the solar regulator will be the limiting factor so make sure you are aware of what it can and can’t handle.

Do not connect your solar panels in series as this will add the voltages together and you will more than likely ruin the solar regulator, or it will auto shut off.

People can and do connect in series, but I don’t think those people will be confused about why they do it, so for the purpose of most people, it is always in parallel.

Combining solar panels is a very popular thing to do provided you have the space and budget, as it allows you to combine the advantages of each system, which will be discussed further down in the solar panel comparison.

You forgot about [insert brand here]!?

 

Look, I am sure I missed out a few brands but these are the brands that were readily available for me to buy and look at, therefore the easiest to research and compare.

No further brands will be added to the tables but feel free to use the tables to make your own solar comparison and find the best product for you in your region. I hope it helps in some way.

 

Portable Solar Panels

 

Portable solar panels are similar to fixed panels, but they come on stands with adjustable legs to get the most energy out of the sun as is possible.

Generally they fold in half for storage, although some may fold more times than that.

Portable solar panels are cheaper than solar blankets for the same output and have more angle control to increase the performance capabilities even more.

This comes at the cost of weight.

Avg $/Watt = 3.34

Avg Watts/kg = 11.62

In comparison, fixed panels:

Avg $/Watt = 1.71

Avg Watts/kg = 15.38

 

Solar blankets:

Avg $/Watt = 4.09

Avg Watts/kg = 29.16

 

The portable solar panel gives the lowest “watts / kg” but this can be misleading as they can be more efficient the more you are willing to move them around, but they are definitely the heaviest.

Who are portable solar panels for?

 

Portable solar panels are for those who want to get the most out of their time in camp, regardless of the weight increase. They are much more common in caravans and RV set ups than they are in 4WD setups, but they definitely have their place.

Even for a lightweight setup, some may find the portable panel more beneficial to carry for the increased control of the panel in the morning and afternoon when it is hard to get production out of a blanket or fixed panel.

Depending on what you’re willing to spend, the differences in weight range massively anywhere from 2-10kg heavier for the same output.

They are also good for those who are just doing a weekend camp and can’t afford to have their roof rack constantly taken up by a fixed solar panel.

 

Portable solar panel pros

 

  1. The best control of the angles of the panel to maximise available sunlight hours.
  2. Necessary for campers in campgrounds that ban the use of generators.
  3. Pack it away vertically when you don’t need it, it will slot nicely in a custom made recess and take up very little floor space.
  4. Park the vehicle in the shade and run the panel out to the sun, so you get the best of both worlds.
  5. Thanks to its design it allows more air flow around the panel keeping it running efficiently.

 

Portable solar panel cons

 

  1. These are the heaviest of the panels on offer with some systems being twice as heavy as the same sized blanket.
  2. They have a larger footprint than a solar blanket when stored away in the vehicle.
  3. Most come with PWM regulators and not MPPT.
  4. They are not set and forget, the bet power gains are made from setting them up and moving them around.
  5. Unlike fixed panels, these need to be set out and packed away at each stop.

Pricing

 

Wherever possible the pricing used was from the manufacturers’ websites. This was done regardless of if there was a sale on at the time of the table being made.

However the opposite may occur and prices may also go up after the making of this table, so understand that everything is fluid and forever changing.

Clicking the solar panel tag under “brand” will take you to see the latest pricing on Amazon or eBay, these are affiliate links but they don’t cost you any extra (as described below the intro).

Clicking the “price” will take you to the product on mygenerator.com.au

To see what other fixed solar panels are available at mygenerator.com.au that didn’t make the cut here, click to be taken to the relevant page. The website often has bundle deals if you’re after more than one panel.

Portable Solar Panel Comparison Table

 

I have set the lower limit to 100 watts here as I couldn’t see myself bothering to buy something smaller than that as the input into the battery would be too small.

You can of course buy smaller panels, but they’re less common below that size.

BRANDWATTSCOSTWEIGHT (kg)$ / WW/kgWxLxD (OPEN)WxLxD (CLOSED)MAX VOLTAGEMAX CURRENT AMPSTHEORETICAL AMPS INTO 12V BATTERYWARRANTY
POWERCON100$335113.3509.091052x664x35524x664x7517.805.6208.33
CAMEC100$427104.27101052x664x35664x524x7517.805.6208.331
DOMETIC120$49912.254.1609.791068x754x35534x754x7018.106.30101
ENERDRIVE120$46915.53.9107.741100x850x40545x850x851806.6710
REDARC120$46906.33.9119.041030x715x25515x715x502006102
CAMEC120$494124.12101266x664x35664x631x7517.606.82101
POWERCON160$45515.52.8410.321338x758x35758x664x7518.108.613.33
ENERDRIVE160$535243.3406.66780x1350x40780x670x8018.608.6113.33
CAMEC160$618143.8611.431332x758x35664x758x751808.8813.331
KINGS160$16913.11.0512.211340x670x30675x675x6517.609.0913.331
DOMETIC180$699173.8810.591614x758x38538x758x11518.109.94151
REDARC200$76509.53.8221.051370x675x25790x675x50201016.661
KINGS250$229190.9113.161400x1060x331060x700x6518.213.7320.831

Portable solar panel comparison scatter plot

Below is the portable solar panel comparison scatter plot, this might help you decide between two panels that you hadn’t really been able to split before, or help you rule out a panel that you think represents bad value.

Portable solar panel comparison thoughts

 

When I look at the portable solar panel comparison scatter plot I see that they are all quite evenly matched with the following outliers.

On the higher priced models (to the right of the chart), Redarc seem like the best choice by far for a 4WD build due to the massive weight savings against the competition.

They cost the same amount per watt, but they give that performance at half the weight in some instances!

The other outlier here are the Adventure Kings offerings. If anyone has any experience with their portable solar panels then I’d love to hear it. I have heard of a lot of people being bitten in the arse with these panels not performing as advertised though so be wary.

For the other brands they all seem to offer similar output with these two metrics, so the defining factor could come down to brand reputation, sale price or just an opportunistic purchase.

Portable Solar Panel Comparison – Things To Consider

 

There are a few things to consider when looking at this data. Things that could shape the way you decide to go with your purchase.

 

Buying cheap vs buying reliable

There are two different types of purchase here. If these panels are purely supplementary and are simply topping up an existing system, then you might be able to go for the cheapest option.

Just be warned that countless people find that Kings “200W” for example will only ever give you 100W of power, so factor that in to your decision.

However, if you are buying these as your primary source of solar energy than I strongly recommend that you buy a better quality product that will perform as advertised and won’t let you down.

 

Brand reputation

As above, this goes a long way. This goes beyond the performance of the panel and also considers what sort of customer service you will get.

Both in the way of repairs, but also technical assistance over the phone if something has gone wrong.

 

Warranty

Only Enerdrive and Redarc come with more than a 1 year warranty here. The more you use the panel, the more this is worth to you as well.

Warranty details can be hard to find, so if any of the time frames I have listed are incorrect feel free to let me know the true warranties.

 

Weight

This may not factor into an RV or caravan so much, but for 4WDs this can be a big issue and a determining factor. You might prefer to go for a solar blanket over portable panels.

 

Features

All of these panels are rather similar from what I can find.

Camec do offer a larger amperage on their packaged regulator, with most being 10 amps, they offer 15 amps.

Redarc have a different design than most to save a lot of weight and claim that it makes the panels less fragile.

Other than that it would be best to view each panel in person to see how they differ. The dimensions of the panel in its folded state could be a deciding factor if all other things are equal.

Which portable solar panel did I end up choosing?

 

I have not chosen yet.

I am planning on getting either a portable panel or a solar blanket down the line, but only as an addition to a fixed solar panel. So it may be quite some time before I decide which portable solar panel to go with.

That is of course if I  don’t decide that a blanket would be easier. At the end of the day it will also depend on how the fixed solar panel arrangement performs.

I do like the idea of the Redarc system though as weight savings are a priority for me.

Portable solar panel comparison – Final thoughts

 

There’s plenty of competition out there, more than I could ever list in this post. I personally see these as a supplementary item to a fixed panel, but for those who don’t want a fixed panel these are a great item.

They will be the most efficient option if you’re willing to move them around a bit and they are less likely to be stolen than a solar blanket. They’re also cheaper.

I hope this has been of some help, if for nothing more than to get you thinking.

If you can think of anything else that needs to be discussed feel free to comment, but I won’t be adding any more panels to the comparison as I have redone this table about 3 times as I kept considering more and more options.

Now you can critique your panel of choice if it isn’t presented here and compare it against the panels that are.

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