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Top folding solar panels for portable off-grid use

Views:2598 Author:Site EditorPublishTime: 2021-02-12Origin:Site

If you’re into camping or you’re a DIY solar enthusiast, foldable solar panels are a great choice for portable but durable off-grid power.

If you’re reading this during coronavirus times, you might be giving the idea of getting out of town and going off the grid more thought than usual.

Whether that’s the case or you’re just normally into outdoor activities like camping, boating, or hunting, one thing that most people want is portable power. You might only need to keep some low-power devices charged like some phones or a tablet, or you might have more extensive electricity needs for things like a portable fridge to keep your drinks cold.

Folding solar panels vs. flexible panels

No matter what your needs are, there are plenty of options for portable solar panels. Previously, we’ve written about solar phone chargers for small device requirements and flexible solar panels if you have power requirements up to a few hundred watts.

Flexible solar panels, in particular, are a nifty product if you’re into camping, or want to install solar panels on an RV without drilling holes into the roof. They’re very lightweight, and the panels we recommend are made with crystalline silicon, which produces more electricity per square inch than thin-film solar cells.

While these flexible panels are great if weight reduction is very important, the tradeoff is durability. Flexible crystalline silicon cells are made with the same materials as conventional solar cells, except that they are sliced extremely thin. It’s this thinness that gives these cells their flexibility - up to 30° of bending - but this makes the cell weaker and less durable.

Because of this, flexible silicon solar panels often come only with a 1 year warranty. In contrast, high quality panels designed for residential or commercial use from companies like SunPower, LG, and Panasonic come with 25 year product warranties.

This is why portable folding solar panels can be a better alternative. You trade off a little bit in weight and size, but they’re made with thicker conventional silicon cells. Because of this you get a more durable product, but the package folds in half so that you can still pack it around easily. These panels are designed to take up little space when stored and can be deployed in seconds.

What are folding solar panels good for?

If you have a lot of smart devices (phones, tablets, laptops) that you need to charge, or a smaller appliance such as a 12v coffee pot or portable cooler, a single 100 watt solar panel will provide enough power to keep you going as long as you have a sunny day. (Often you will need some portable battery storage as well, either in the form of traditional 12v lead-acid batteries, or a newer technology lithium-ion power bank.)

One of these 100 watt panels will usually weigh somewhere between 20 and 30 pounds. That’s a lot heavier than a flexible solar panel that might weigh only 5 pounds for the same power output, but remember that if you want your flexible panel to be portable too (as opposed to being attached to the top of an RV) you will need something to mount it on, like a sheet of plywood and an aluminium tilting frame. Once you add those up, your lightweight flexible solar panel becomes a lot heavier.

The other thing that’s handy is that foldable solar panels often come with charge controllers built-in. This is useful if you want to charge a ”dumb” battery, such as a deep-cycle lead acid battery. But a charge controller isn’t needed if you go with a solar-ready power station that has a built-in charger controller. Your needs will differ, so this article lists foldable panels with and without built-in controllers.