Portable Solar Panels: Advantages and Disadvantages

Portable Solar Panels: Advantages and Disadvantages cover image

Solar panels are commonly used nowadays. However, most people don’t know the advantages and disadvantages of solar panels. For this reason, I’ll be revealing their various uses, pros, and cons.

Portable solar panels are great because you can move them anywhere. Generally, using solar panels can also reduce electricity bills.

Interestingly, solar panels also have a low cost of maintenance. Moreover, they’re useful anywhere where direct sunlight is available. While you’re hiking, camping, or performing other outdoor activities, solar panels can be a significant contributor to keeping your devices charged.

There are several factors to consider when researching solar panels. One of the first features to consider is the type of solar cell used in the panel itself.

There are three basic types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film.

Different solar panels are suitable for various homes and other applications. Choosing a solar panel for your home can be based on several parameters.

Depending on what you want, various brands produce portable solar panels. In most cases, people use portable solar panels for camping, hiking, and outdoor activities.

Portable solar panels can, in most cases, be folded to fit into a backpack easily. However, there are different kinds of portable solar panels.

For example, there are suitcase-style solar panels that fold in half and can be carried from a handle. These panels are the bulkiest of any portable solar panel, but most of them are fully waterproof.

What are the Main Advantages of Portable Solar Panels?

Nekteck 21W Portable Solar Panel

Portable solar panels are versatile. You can make use of them at home or on a trip. Here are a few of the main advantages of utilizing portable solar panels: 

Versatility

Portable solar panels can adapt to different functions or activities. For instance, a solar panel is useful in a fixed position as well as for mobile use.

Fixed use mainly deals with portable solar panels on rooftops of homes and buildings as well as on top of vehicles. Using solar panels for these purposes usually involves combining the solar panels with a battery and other elements to make a full-fledged portable power system.

Most portable solar panels are not ideal for fixed use. They are designed for someone using it on the go. Mobile use of portable solar panels can be used to power/charge small electronics like smartphones and lights.

Portable solar panels are great for activities like camping, hiking, fishing, and the likes. Typically, these portable solar panels work alongside portable solar generators. They are used to charge solar generators for backup power.

Water droplets on grassWaterproof Rating

Most portable solar panels that are small and foldable are water-resistant, not waterproof. Most waterproof solar panels are ones that can be mounted on your home, cabin, or vehicle. Some examples of waterproof solar panels are Goal Zero Boulder solar panels.

Moreover, the waterproof feature can apply to the charge controller as well. The Renogy solar suitcase kit comes with a waterproof 20A Voyager charge controller.

This feature contributes to its versatility. By purchasing waterproof panels and accessories, you can be certain of their success under heavy rain.

High-Quality Solar Cells

On most occasions, portable solar panels are typically monocrystalline. For this reason, there is a slightly higher efficiency rating.

In the manufacturing process, the silicon is formed into bars and later cut into wafers of monocrystalline cells. Interestingly, the term “monocrystalline” implies the use of single-crystal silicon. Due to the single-crystal silicon, electrons move more freely about and as a result, provide more power from the panel to the device being charged.

Similar: Monocrystalline Vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels – What’s the Difference?

Overcharge Protection

Some portable solar panels come with charge controllers. Hence, these charge controllers offer overcharge protection.

Also, some of these charge controllers allow for fast charging and other eye-catching features. In essence, they limit the rate of flow of electric current from batteries. Without charge controllers, devices may get damaged.

Aside from overcharge protection, charge controllers may also protect against overvoltage. When there are cases of overvoltage, there can be a drastic drop in battery performance. Please note that overcurrent and overvoltage may pose a safety risk.

Therefore, it is best to find a solar panel that has a charge controller that protects against these occurrences.

Offers Renewable Energy

As you know, the sun emits renewable energy in the form of solar energy.

In turn, this energy is harnessed by solar panels. Amazingly, renewable solar energy is not restricted to any particular location. The beauty of solar energy is its availability all over the world.

Fewer Utility Bills

Paying energy bills may be overwhelming for a lot of people. Fortunately, solar panels also help with that issue. By installing a solar panel system in your home, you can drastically reduce the cost of your utility bill. 

Using solar panels greatly reduces the use of commercial electricity. For instance, you can use power-consuming appliances like microwaves with solar energy.

However, the size of your solar panel still has a significant role to play. The larger the panel, the more efficient it is to trap the solar energy. Ultimately, saving money on utility bills using solar energy is a great way to help reduce you and your family’s expenses. 

Low Cost of Maintenance

Man holding 20 dollar bills in hand

Amazingly, there is very little maintenance required with solar panels.

It is best to clean the solar panels once per month for optimum efficiency. Usually, distributors of solar panels offer warranty deals that can last as long as 25 years.

Therefore, if you have issues with your solar panel within a specific period, you can always contact them.

Asides warranty, there is no extra maintenance requirement. All you need to do is follow the regular cleaning routine.

Similar: What Size Portable Solar Panel Do You Need? (Detailed Overview)

What are the Main Disadvantages of Portable Solar Panels?

For every product, there are usually one or more disadvantages. Typically, this is due to personal taste, product build, or another reason. Due to those reasons, I have decided to show you a few disadvantages of portable solar panels.

Reliability

Portable solar panels are not reliable, and they are unable to meet the standard electricity demand. Majorly, this is because they depend on a lot of driving factors. For instance, when there are adverse weather conditions, they will be less reliable.

In storms, cloudy, or rainy days, they will not function at their optimum level. The actual output energy is much lower than the potential output energy.

Pollution

Pollution from smoke stack

Solar energy is a very clean source of energy. In other words, it doesn’t particularly affect our direct environment.

The problem is in the manufacturing process. While manufacturing solar panels, there’s usually tons of toxic waste involved. Unfortunately, these toxic wastes are very harmful to the environment. 

As of now, there are tons of cadmium and lead spread over. Moreover, during production, wastes like silicon tetrachloride aren’t correctly managed.

Silicon tetrachloride in the environment can cause gradual irritation of the eye and the upper airway. Sadly, cadmium in the environment can also affect the kidneys, bones, or liver in humans. In plants, cadmium can be a very harmful substance.

Expensive

Portable solar panel cells are costly to make. Generally, solar panels cost more money than high-tech systems. The installation of solar panels adds to the overall cost.

However, you can always get good deals on portable solar panels. Companies like Goal Zero, Rockpals, and Jackery typically sell various solar panels by size and type. 

For instance, Goal Zero sells the Nomad 50, Nomad 100, Boulder 100, and so on. Similar-styled solar panels can be found from the other companies mentioned previously. In the commercial and residential space, most solar power companies offer deals to attract buyers. That doesn’t change the fact that these solar panels are still relatively costly.

Requires Space

Although this factor doesn’t apply to most portable solar panels, this does apply to most suitcase-style portable solar panels because they are bulky even when folded.

No matter where you’re trying to install your solar panels, space is vital. Without having somewhere to mount your solar panels, they wouldn’t work.

Space will be an issue for suitcase solar panels if you live in an urban environment with little available sunlight access to place the panel(s).

This also applies if you intend to use a suitcase solar panel on top of your car during excursions. Make sure the solar panel size is small enough to fit within the parameters of your rooftop.

In general, the vast majority of portable solar panels can be used in nearly any situation as long as they are easily foldable and small in size.

Similar: Top 15 Best Solar Generators for Camping (Small to Large)

Solar Panel Types

Fundamentally, there are three types of solar panels. However, each one of them has its unique pros and cons. Below is a list of these three kinds of panels, and what is peculiar about them.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Renogy 100 Watt Eclipse Monocrystalline Charge 20A Voyager Waterproof Controller Solar Suitcase side view

In simple terms, a monocrystalline solar panel is a solar panel that consists of monocrystalline solar cells. Interestingly, these solar cells are one of the most efficient ways of harnessing solar energy. 

In monocrystalline solar panels, each module comprises of silicon crystal.

Monocrystalline solar panels typically have a black color. Please note that they can also have an iridescent blue color.

Monocrystalline solar panels are slightly more expensive than the other types of solar panels because they are more efficient than the other types. Monocrystalline panels have an average of about 24.5% efficiency.

Typically, solar panels have glass protection over them. However, if you are in an area prone to roof damage, this might be a significant problem.

Some conventional producers of monocrystalline portable and mountable solar panels are Goal Zero, Rockpals, and Jackery. These companies provide products to people who need solar power when the power goes out and/or for outdoor activities. These companies are not residential solar installation companies.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

rich solar polycrystalline panel
RICH Solar polycrystalline panel

Due to the presence of many crystals, there is a limited degree of freedom for electron movement in polycrystalline panels. Compared to monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline has slightly lower efficiency. 

The effectiveness of these panels is between thirteen to sixteen percent. The low efficiency is a result of low silicon purity. On most occasions, people install polycrystalline solar panels in the home.

Typically, polycrystalline solar panels have a blueish color. Due to the reflection of light off the silicon fragments, the blueish color becomes more evident.

Unlike monocrystalline solar panels, the process of making these panels are less costly. You may need to cover an ample space for you to get the same results as the monocrystalline solar panels.

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Unlike the monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, the thin film consists of several materials. The thin-film solar panels majorly comprise cadmium telluride (CdTe).

In the process of making these solar panels, the producers place a layer of cadmium telluride. The presence of CdTe helps capture sunlight. For protection from damage, the solar panels also have a glass layer.

Asides making these solar panels form CdTe, a-Si is also very useful. A-Si simply means amorphous silicon. Unlike the CdTe with layers for trapping sunlight, a-Si works differently.

Instead of making these solar panels comprise of silicon wafers, engineers make use of non-crystalline silicon. Engineers also make use of glass, plastic, or metal to protect the panels.

Unfortunately, thin-film solar panels are more prone to degradation and tend to have a slightly shorter lifespan than mono and polycrystalline solar cells. However, thin-film panels still have an average lifespan of over 20 years.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What can a portable solar panel power?

Light bulbs togetherIt’s quite evident that portable solar panels cannot power up every kind of appliance. However, when buying a solar panel, the wattage (W) is a power indicator. This means that the more wattage a solar panel has, the more power it produces.

For instance, you may see solar panels rated from 100-200W. A 100W solar panel is one of the most common sizes of solar panels.

This size panel, when in good sunlight, provides enough power to run a large fan continuously. However, running any appliance or device directly from a solar panel is not recommended unless there is a charge controller or management system that will adjust the current to power your devices appropriately.

It is usually ideal to use solar panels to charge batteries. Then, since the battery stores the energy, it can then provide fluid, consistent power to electronics.

On the other hand, there are several portable solar panels that have USB attachments on the backs of the panels, allowing for easy device charging (as seen below).

Jackery SolarSaga USB ports
Jackery SolarSaga 100W Portable Solar Panel

Many portable solar panels are 100W or lower. The average portable solar panel is about 20-30W. These panels almost always come with a USB connection to charge small devices directly from the panel.

What are the best portable solar panels in the market today?

I created an article showing the top ten portable solar panels that you can find here

Here are an additional few familiar brands of portable solar panels to check out as well:

  1. RENOGY 100W Mono Solar Suitcase
  2. Goal Zero Nomad Series
  3. Goal Zero Boulder Series

Please note that most of these portable solar panels are monocrystalline. Some also have charge controllers to help facilitate efficient charging.

There are also solar-powered battery banks that have small solar panels attached to the battery. These are ideal in outdoor scenarios, as most of these power banks are rugged and durable.

Is it right to fold solar panels?

Portable solar panels are highly useful for people that go camping, hiking, fishing, and even hunting.

Folding your solar panels for these adventures is ideal for storage and most of the portable solar panels available are foldable.

Conclusion

Portable solar panels are beneficial for hiking, camping, and all other related activities. Moreover, most of these panels are versatile, water-resistant, and require a low cost of maintenance.

As for the downsides, portable solar panels are relatively expensive. Generally, the cost of production of solar panels is very high.

Although I gave a list of the top five solar panels for portable use, there are several others to choose from that can help you with your intended use.

Researching what is best for you is highly recommended. My suggestions are for the average user, therefore you may be needing a different style for you. Feel free to check out my other solar panel articles for more information.

Continue Reading:

What Can a Solar Generator Power? (Charging, Capacity, and More)

Your Next Solar Generator – The Complete Guide

Portable Solar Panel Sizes – Models and More (14W to 100W)

Max Peters

Hi! I'm Max and I am passionate about off-grid solar technology and adventure! I'm using my knowledge of solar generators, solar panels, and everything in between to provide you with the best tools to keep you powered while off the grid. Read more about me here: About Max Peters."

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