Back to The Power Lab

4 Things To Look for in Portable Solar Panels

By Jeff Cocking

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy,” said Thomas Edison in 1931, long before Bell Labs invented the first functional silicon solar cell in 1954. We’ve come a long way from those early days of solar energy when solar cells were mainly used to power satellites. Today, you can buy portable solar panels to charge your electronic devices while on the go.

But before putting your money on portable solar power panels, you should first establish the core qualities you want in a solar system based on your energy needs. Although this can usually take some legwork, Power Wizard has your back.

Our mission at Power Wizard is to help you make the best energy decisions and choose an energy plan that fits your bill and gives you more bang for your buck. We’ve done some knowledge hunting to empower you to purchase the best portable solar panels for your use. Let’s jump to it.

What you should consider when shopping for portable solar panels

Solar panels are a long-term investment you want to get right the first time. Ideally, a quality and efficient panel should serve you for over two decades, so you don’t want to be stuck with a substandard unit. You also want to avoid the risk of chucking out your $300 solar panel after some months of use because of low energy output or some other post-purchase pet peeves.

To avoid such common pitfalls, weigh the following factors before purchasing your portable solar panel.

Foldable panels

How much space do you usually have for storing your solar panel when traveling? If you have a small RV, you may want to avoid large solar panels as they can take up more space than you wish. Fortunately, many solar panels can fold down to save up space on the road.

Portable folding solar panels make travel charging effortless and more convenient. Thanks to their space-efficient design, it’s easy to get around with foldable solar panels.

Besides being space-efficient, foldable solar panels are exposed to less tear and wear over time because they have a protective casing that acts as a shock absorber. That’s why you should check if a solar panel is foldable before buying, especially when seeking portable solar panels for camping.

Power output

Portable solar panels come in a wide variety of different watts of power, from as low as 50 watts to as high as 300 watts. Your ideal choice will depend on the maximum output you need to power your devices.

Say you’re an avid backpacker who loves to explore the many hiking trails like South Rim Trail that the Lone Star State offers. In that case, you would need a lower-wattage portable solar panel of maybe 50 watts to charge your smartphone or power bank during your backpacking trips.

However, you may need more power for running a couple of devices during long trips. Therefore, determine beforehand how much energy you need to power your devices. It will help you choose an efficient panel with sufficient wattage. Typically, manufacturers specify how much wattage their devices can take, so you’ll have an accurate figure to reference.

Also, when traveling in cloudy areas or those without ideal conditions for solar power generation, you may want to invest in a power bank, solar battery, and solar battery maintainer. Having reliable power storage options will keep your devices charged even when there’s no sunlight to feed your solar panels.

Efficiency ratings

The efficiency rating of a solar panel depends on the type of Photovoltaic (PV) cells it contains. There are three types of PV cells:

  • Monocrystalline
  • Polycrystalline
  • Thin-film

Monocrystalline panels have higher efficiency ratings (about 20%) than polycrystalline panels (about 15-17%). Thin-film panels (about 11%) come at the bottom. You want a portable solar panel with a higher efficiency rating to harvest maximum solar energy.

Recently, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) invented a solar cell with the highest efficiency rating of 39.5%. This is good news because a more efficient solar panel yields a better return on investment (ROI) in the long run.

Compact design

The design of a solar panel determines its portability. For travel charging, a foldable briefcase solar panel kit is most convenient. The ideal one would have a rubber carrying handle, an integrated kickstand, a waterproof canvass exterior, and a metallic or reinforced outer structure.

When reviewing a portable solar panel’s design, prioritize portability and charging convenience. Go for those with a lightweight, easy-to-carry suitcase with integrated charging cables and alligator clips.

What are your solar panel options for portable panels

Thankfully, you have a pool of options to choose from once you’ve established how much wattage you need from a solar panel and whether you want a foldable or compact design. For the most part, portable panels come in 50 watts, 100 watts, and 200 watts.

When you run a portable solar panel find query on search engines, you’ll get many solar panel options with varying features. The idea is to research and review each option until you find one that suits your needs best.

However, searching for and selecting the best portable solar panels this way may be challenging, given the many worthy options at your disposal. Consider asking for expert help to simplify and speed up the process. Power Wizard is there to give you professional advice on your energy consumption needs and provide tools and services you can use to make an informed buying decision.

Good uses for portable panels

Because portable panels offer lower wattage, they have limited uses compared to residential and commercial solar panels. These are the two best use cases for portable panels:

Power electronic devices

With a 50watt portable solar panel, you can charge your mobile phone, power bank, camp showers, 12v batteries, and other low-voltage devices. A 100watt portable solar panel will power medium-voltage devices like laptops and cooling fans, while a 200-300watt panel will charge high-voltage devices like a medium fridge.

Provide electricity while camping

For your camping trip, you need your mobile phone, power bank, flood light, camp showers, and other essential devices well-powered for comfort and security. If you’re RV camping, a high wattage panel (200-300 watts) is an excellent option. In the same light, the best portable solar panel for camping in a tent would be a low-wattage one, preferably 100 watts or 50 watts.

Consider investing in a portable solar panel kit to generate clean energy

A 2020 report from the International Energy Agency indicates that solar PV generation recorded a 23% increase to reach 821 TWh in 2020. This shows that more homeowners and enterprises worldwide are embracing solar power as a clean green energy solution.

While you may already have installed residential solar panels in your Texas home, investing in a portable solar panel will allow you to create and use clean energy while on the road. Whether you’re backpacking at the Guadalupe Peak, RVing at the Pedernales Falls, or touring the Big Bend National Park, a portable solar panel kit will enhance your convenience and comfort.

But before you start looking for the best portable solar panels for camping and purchase one, audit your energy needs to know how much solar power you need while on the road. If you’re not sure how to calculate your energy consumption, Power Wizard can help.

At Power Wizard, we leverage transparent and unbiased smart technology to determine how much solar energy you need and recommend the best deals in the market customized for you. Learn more about how Power Wizard works and how it can help you find your way to more affordable and environmentally friendly energy sources.

More From the Power Wizard Blog

  • Carbon Offset
    Solar Energy

    Sustainable vs. eco-friendly homes: What to expect

    Environmentalists often interchange the phrases ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco-friendly’ when discussing improving the environment. Despite both focusing on environmental awareness and social responsibility, these terms have different meanings. So, what can you do to create a sustainable vs eco-friendly home? An in-depth take on both phrases will help you realize the distinct dissimilarities between eco-friendly vs. […]

    View Article
  • Solar Energy

    How You Can Benefit From Community Solar?

    Interest in solar energy has increased in the last couple of years, particularly in Texas, where sunshine is ample in many locations. However, not every home is a good candidate for solar panels. Some houses are simply in cloudy areas that prevent a high energy return. Others face north instead of the south or have […]

    View Article
  • Solar Energy

    Your guide to residential solar energy

    There are many ways to reduce your monthly electricity bills. Steps like swapping out your light bulbs, unplugging electronics to avoid phantom energy drain, adjusting your thermostat settings, and making sure your large appliances are in good working condition can help reduce the amount of power your home uses. When you use less energy, you […]

    View Article
  • Solar Energy

    5 tips to increase your solar panel efficiency

    Installing solar panels on your roof is one of the most effective ways to reduce your electricity bills. It makes sense: You’re generating most, if not all, of your own power. You can also sell the excess electricity you produce back to the grid, earning bill credits from your electric company. As an added benefit, […]

    View Article
  • Solar Energy

    What to Consider When Shopping for Solar Panels

    As solar technology advances, it gets more affordable — especially with current government incentives bringing the cost down.  Power Wizard can help you shop for solar and enhance your savings by finding you an electricity plan that best suits your needs and doesn’t include any hidden fees. But, since solar technology is new, choosing your […]

    View Article
  • Solar Energy

    Solar Energy: Definition, Options, and Costs

    Are you considering solar energy for your home? Power Wizard can help you figure out how to proceed. Power Wizard believes in helping with the latest knowledge, tools, and solar energy solutions. We want you will to be able to undertake this challenging step toward sustainable energy. We want you to take this step with […]

    View Article