Want to learn how to get started with portable solar panels for RV, off grid, boondocking or even camping? We’ve been living off the grid full-time in an RV for over a year now, and we thought we’d share what we know to help you with YOUR solar power needs!
We’re actually working on building a full-blown home, but for now, we’re using a small portable solar panel setup to harvest free power from the sun (watch the video to see our current portable solar power setup!), and to our surprise, it was quite affordable AND we’re offsetting our generator fuel bill in the sunny months. Win!
On this page you’ll find our personal reviews of industry-leading portable solar power units, but also our personal story with solar power and the solutions we’ve found for our personal needs. Read some, read all, but either way, we built this page for YOU!
The Best Portable Solar Panels for RV, Boondocking and Off Grid Use
In our search for a setup that fit our needs, we considered a few different companies and products as there were many options available. The best portable solar panels for your needs might differ from ours so we’ve included a few different models and our thoughts on each.
|Go Power! 120W Portable Folding Solar Kit|
GoPower! 120-Watt Portable Solar Pannel Array
It’s hard to beat the balance of quality, output and price with the Go Power! lineup. A division of Carmanah Technologies, Go Power! knows their 12v systems and features power offerings up to 480 watts for RV’s.
In their portable systems they’ve simply shrunk down the panels, added a sturdy suitcase design and made their easy to operate systems available in smaller wattages.
Offering monocrystalline panels shows the focus on quality.
An 10 amp LCD display PWM (pulse width modification) charge controller with hinge for easy readability, sturdy folding legs round and proven Anderson style connectors make this panel a safe investment.
While priced higher than similar power output panels you’ll find the small things like wire size (10 awg), cord length (12’) and sturdy construction more than justify the added cost. We’ve been using our 120 watt panel for over a month as of this writing and we couldn’t be more pleased with the array.
So simple to operate, easy to setup/stow away and we get every bit of power promised and then some from the array! We average about 7.4 amps (12v) during full sun which is higher than the rated output. Can’t beat that!
The ballistics style carrying case is reassuring when stowing the array so as not to scratch or damage the glass which is exposed when the setup is folded for storage. A swing hinge on the charge controller is so helpful and makes reading the LCD display much easier without having to stoop and bend. The data output on the LCD is also helpful as you can roughly calculate the power you’ll capture that day and either ramp up power use during the day or conserve.
Overall we highly recommend this panel and feel for most people in the mid-range of power needs, budget and size this panel does it all.
|Go Power! 80W Portable Folding Solar Kit|
GoPower! 80-Watt Portable Solar Pannel Array
Ideal for limited storage space and conservative power needs the 80 watt panel from Go Power! is the little brother to the more popular 120 watt system.
With all the same high quality features like monocrystalline panels, LCD 10 amp PWM (pulse width modification) charge controller, 10 awg wire and Anderson connectors you can be confident this panel will perform and last for years.
We use the 120 watt system on our off grid homestead and regularly see 7.4+ amps on sunny days meaning the array is overproducing based on the rated power output. With this small 80 watt panel you’ll likely get a similar experience.
At 4.4 amps max current you’ll have to be conservative with power demands if using a single panel. If you have tight storage space, but need more power, consider two panels for twice the power.
LED lighting is a must with these panels to keep power draw down. You’ll be able to conservatively use 12v pumps, fans and heaters, but extended use will likely outrun the panels production. Can be a great way to maintain a battery during the day to offset generator use. For heavy power demands a small portable generator may be best.
Want more freedom to park in the shade? Look for the available 30’ extension cord available to give you that extra reach for full sun.
All Go Power! Panels include a ballistics style case which provides more than adequate protection during storage. Two connection options are included which are classic style clamps as well as lug style connectors to give you options for quick or semi-permanent setup. We prefer the lug style in tight spaces so you can simply connect the Anderson plug and you’re up and running. Needing to reach back into tight battery compartments, around propane tanks etc can result in accidental reverse polarity or a weak connection.
|ECO-WORTHY 120w Portable Solar Panel Kit|
ECO-WORTHY 120w Portable Solar Panel Kit
On the budget end of portable solar panel options the Eco-Worthy products feature a slightly less efficient panel technology that is polycrystalline.
While the power ratings are similar to monocrystalline panels you’ll see a slight drop in efficiency which can exceed 20% in some circumstances. Most noticeably during low light and partial shade conditions.
If you intend to use your panels infrequently or having max power isn’t critical for you the Eco-Worthy may well give you freedom from your generator while also putting some money back in your pocket.
At 120 watts the system can handle moderate power consumption such as moderate LED lighting use as well as moderate use of 12v pumps, fans and accessories like tvs and radios.
As the most budget friendly option for portable solar you can expect some sacrifices in other areas.
The wiring provided is quite a bit smaller than comparable models at 16 awg. The issue here is that under full power smaller wire tends to heat up and this results in even more inefficiency.
You’ll also be sacrificing wire length and connection options. The included cable is just 9’ which severely limits your freedom to park where you like and still access the sun. Think SHADE!
The only offered connection type is classic clamps. Adding to the sacrifices the clamps are nickel plates which is a slight difference, but results again in less efficiency over copper.
The included 15 amp NON-LCD PWM charge controller does not have a display to give you any information about the charging current, battery voltage or projected amps/hour as you’ll find on other models. This information may not be useful for some folks and so may not represent much of a loss in features.
No carrying or storage case is provided so you’ll need to take special care when storing the panels so as not to damage the exposed glass.
While the panel gives up many bells and whistles, it will surely help reduce or eliminate generator use for budget sensitive folks. The overall cost savings was hard to justify for our family since we heavily rely on our solar to give us max power all day long as well as many other features.
That’s why we opted for the Go Power! 120 watt array. So far we’re very happy with the power output and all other features offered.
|ECO-WORTHY 80w Portable Solar Panel Kit|
ECO-WORTHY 80w Portable Solar Panel Kit
Offering a budget friendly option to portable solar the Eco-Worth portable panels feature polycrystalline panels and feature overall features, but excel in value.
The 80 watt version will provide enough power to handle conservative use of LED lighting and most smaller 12v items such as pumps, fans, tvs and radios. At 4.4 amps you’ll see perhaps about 30 amps total power gain through a good sunny day.
While this panel won’t handle heavy demands on power, it can certainly maintain a battery through the day and help reduce overall generator use.
Be aware that the price point does mean you’ll be sacrificing features available on other models.
The 15 amp PWM charge controller does not have any readout so you’ll be unable to determine just how much current is coming in, the battery voltage or cumulative power gained. Wiring size is smaller than other panels at 16 awg which under full load can begin to warm up resulting in power loss.
Cable length is shorter as well at 9 feet which limits options for connecting to your RV or other use while still having freedom to access the sun. No extension cables are offered. A competent person could modify the cable if needed.
Nickel plated clamps are the only connection offered so you’ll need to have reasonable access to the battery you’ll be charging for setup and takedown. No carry case is provided so you’ll need to exercise care when stowing the panel to protect the exposed glass.
The included polycrystalline panels offer a budget alternative to monocrystalline panels but do suffer from lower efficiency in low light (dusk and dawn) as well as partial shade as in cloudy days.
Some users have complained about the sturdiness of the leg setup and have improvised to get the panels to be secure. Be advised during stiff wind more stabilization such as sand bags etc may be needed.
|Renogy 100w Portable Solar Panel Kit|
Renogy 100w Portable Solar Panel Kit
As a leading company in solar at all levels you can be confident when investing in a Renogy product. With the lowest cost per watt for a monocrystalline panel you’ll find the output of these panels to be on par with the more costly models.
At only 100 watts you’re on the edge of being able to power your RV or boondocking effort with ease and needing to be conservative.
Most panels in the category are 120 watts which give you a small amount of power in reserve in most cases. With the 100 watt array you’ll need to be more energy conscious with use of LED lighting pretty important and moderate use of 12v accessories like pumps, fans and tvs.
Through a day you can expect approximately 40-45 amps (12v) of power to be provided in good sun. Putting your panels out early in the morning will result in even more power as the monocrystalline arrays can begin collecting power in low light so keep them out overnight or get them out early for max power collection.
An easy to read LCD 10 amp PWM charge controller is standard which provides information like amps being generated and battery voltage.
SAE connects and classic clamps are included. Many RV’s are now coming factory with a plug for an SAE connector so you may be able to plug the array straight into your RV!
The included 15 feet of cable gives you much more freedom to park your RV and still be able to access the most sun. A sturdy carrying case is provided which helps protect the glass during storage.
Aluminum frame and legs means the array is light at 29.8 lbns enough for most all folks to manage and will stand up to winds without toppling. Fits well in tight storage areas as well measuring 30x27x3 inches when folded. Two of these arrays could be a wise investment for those needing more power. Offering 200 watts of total power at nearly half the price of the Zamp 200 watt system and without needing to pack around nearly 50 lb panel.
Customer reviews are good. Some do complain about the strength of the legs with some commenting they needed to add some support during high winds. Renogy has done some work to improve the leg design with users commenting that it’s working much better.
Overall value, features and user satisfaction the Renogy 100 watt panel is hard to beat.
However the size is the biggest limiting factor. 120 watts is what we consider a minimum for full time off grid or boondocking. Remember you’ll only be able to offset your generator use with even a 120 watt panel.
Moving down to 100 watts means you may be reaching for the generator more often lacking those additional 150-200 watts afforded by a slightly larger panel in a day.
|Renogy 60w Portable Solar Panel Kit|
Renogy 60w Portable Solar Panel Kit
The smallest portable solar panel available is the 60 watt Renogy setup. Really this panel is for those who have extremely low power needs or are very conservative.
This panel, or two of them, could be used to offset generator use during the day or to simply maintain a battery for any systems that might draw off the battery during the day. Expect to be very conservative with LED lighting, 12v pumps and fans.
Unlikely you’ll be able to run even tv’s or radios for long with the small panel without discharging the battery.
With the monocrystalline panel you’ll be able to collect power even in dusk/dawn low light conditions and in partial shade such as cloudy days so even though it’s smaller you may see a power gain over a slightly larger polycrystalline panel.
At 3.37 amps you can expect somewhere around 25-30 amps of power per day. Enough to roughly charge up a single deep cycle RV battery.
For extremely tight storage needs this panel offers a clean, quiet power to generator use! The lightest array available means no heavy lifting. Two of these panels could produce a 120 watt equivalent without needing to manage a larger, heavier array.
The included 10 amp PWM charge controller has an LCD for monitoring current and battery voltage. 10 feet of cable means keeping the array close by and will limit freedom to access sun while parking in the shade.
SAE and clamp connections are both included which may allow you to plug directly into new RVs which offer SAE ports for solar. A ballistics carrying case is also included for safe storage.
Some users have complained about a weak leg design. Renogy has responded by improving the leg structure, but in some conditions such as high wind some reinforcement like sandbags may be needed to prevent toppling the array.
|Zamp 200w Portable Solar Panel Kit|
Zamp 200w Portable Solar Panel Kit
This system is borderline for portability. We’d classify this as a semi-permanent portable kit due to the size and weight.
Fully erected it’s nearly 5 feet wide and 3.5 feet tall. Add in that you’ll be wrangling a nearly 50 lb. array it could be challenging for some to tackle.
In some cases it may be more wise to opt for a dual panel setup with a couple 120 watt arrays. There are some bonuses though!
Power output is substantial. At over 11 amps DC 12v it has the highest output of any portable solar panel we know of on the market. For someone with serious power needs who doesn’t plan on setting up daily this setup would be great!
Also a good choice for boondocking or off grid in the winter when solar potential is lower. Having an oversized array helps get every ounce of available power during the limited daylight hours.
A few Zamp exclusives that you could live without but really enhance the solar experience include a exterior plug system to simplify setup of your solar panel. Install the permanent exterior plug port once and you’ll not need to fiddle with attaching the panel to your battery.
A bonus if your battery local is difficult to access or cramped. You’ll also love the flip out leg design. No nuts or bolts to tighten or flimsy leg supports to blow over in a stiff wind.
Finally the LCD display 15 amp charge controller is easy to read, displays super helpful information such as current (amps), voltage and estimated amps/hour and is hinged for easy reading saving your back from stooping and bending. A traveling case is included with each Zamp portable solar kit.
|Zamp 160w Portable Solar Panel Kit|
Zamp 160w Portable Solar Panel Kit
If we had to choose a perfect array, this just might be it!
It’s on the large side for most boondocking or RV needs, but for winter it’s just enough. Summer time you should be able to handle moderate power usage.
Don’t get confused here. You’ll likely not want to run your blow dryer, vacuum or microwave here. However LED lights, 12v pump, small tv, and fans are no problem in good sun.
The array fully erect is manageable at about 3.5 feet square and it’s heavy enough that it won’t topple in a stiff wind. The 16’ cord allows parking in the shade but still getting good sun.
Want more freedom? Be sure to invest in the available extension cord for extra distance.
Bonus features on all Zamp portable systems include an exclusive power port so you can quickly setup your array without needing to access your battery compartment, hinged 15 amp LCD display charge controller for easy, won’t-break-your-back, viewing and a quick setup leg system.
A traveling case is included with each Zamp portable solar kit.
|Zamp 120w Portable Solar Panel Kit|
Zamp 120w Portable Solar Panel Kit
Ideal for the average boondocker, RV or budget minded off-grid starter this kit provides enough power to feed basic daily needs including most RV needs like LED lighting, which is pretty essential at this power level, 12v pumps and fans.
In strong summer sun you’ll also be able to power a small LCD or newer style TV, but that’ll be about the max for this array. Keep in mind most small TV’s at in the 2-3 amps range so if possible use them while the array is in full sun!
Zamp exclusives include a plug system that eliminates the need to access your battery each time you setup the array, hinged swinging 10 amp LCD display controller for easy viewing and sturdy bolt/nut free leg system that’s easy to setup/stow away.
A traveling case is included with each Zamp portable solar kit.
|Zamp 80w Portable Solar Panel Kit|
Zamp 80w Portable Solar Panel Kit
On the smaller end of the portable array spectrum, this array will offer noise-free charging for the most basic power needs.
LED lighting and conservative use of pumps and fans is essential to keep your battery charged with this array. Two of these arrays could be used to provide options without the bulk of a larger array.
Also as the lightest panel it’s easiest to transport and maneuver. If you expect to be in heavy wind environments you may need to sandbag or secure this array as it’s light enough that a stiff wind could be a problem.
Tight camping spaces and small stow compartments aren’t a problem as this array is 3.5 feet wide fully erect and less than 2 feet when folded. A great way to offset generator use and keep power systems running all day.
Zamp panels have a higher cost per watt than other panels in this category but justify that added cost with features you won’t find elsewhere including bolt/nut free leg system, hinged 10 amp LCD charge controller with data readout and a Zamp exclusive plug system eliminating the need to access your battery compartment to plug in your panel.
A traveling case is included with each Zamp portable solar kit.
Things to Consider When Choosing Portable Solar Arrays
There really is an array for just about every budget, but keep in mind budget-minded products will require some sacrifices.
As an example, a monocrystalline array (typically very black in color) of equal size can be as much as 18-20% more efficient than a polycrystalline array (typically have a blue color). So the ratings might be the same, but efficiency is considerably less.
Another consideration is connector quality, style and durability. We move our panels quite a bit so unlike a stationary solar setup, you’ll want to give consideration to the durability of construction, wiring and connectors.
Materials are equally important. While you won’t find any gold in these setups, copper is the next best thing.
Budget models often sacrifice copper for a nickel-plated alternative in the connectors. While nickel is conductive and gets the job done, there is more power loss than with copper. Again… small sacrifices.
3. Connection Options
Have a super tight battery compartment? Consider a unit that offers a permanent exterior plug as an alternative to the clamps.
You’ll only find this feature on the Zamp systems and it’s included with each kit.
This will make connecting your panels much less of a hassle and prevent accidental reverse polarity or even poor connections.
4. Read-Out Displays
While you won’t find highly-sophisticated reporting on the portable solar arrays, some models do offer an LCD display which can give you instant data like voltage, amps and even an estimated amps per hour on some models.
Why is this helpful? Solar really is about trying to moderate your energy consumption. Use what you produce or better yet, use a little less. Use too much power and you’ll deplete your batteries, leaving you without power or needing to run a generator.
These displays help you stay informed and are very empowering when you become energy conscious. Having a super solar day? Use up that power! Cloudy day? Better conserve.
Solar Power Recommended Reading
Tiny House Engineers Notebook: Volume 1, Off Grid Power[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”1530936039″ cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/512KorDTPQL._SL160_.jpg” tag=”purlivforlif-20″ width=”124”]This book is described as being not too simple but not too complex – the perfect place to get started for your off grid needs. The author is an engineer that is able to use laymen terms to deliver the best information. Complete with easy-to-understand information, this book also contains a series of charts to help you size YOUR solar power system. Great reviews overall… take a look for yourself.
Photovoltaic Design and Installation for DummiesLike most of the “for Dummies” books, this aims to give you not only an introduction to solar power, but is aimed at giving you the ability to design your own solar power system. If you really want to know more than just the basics, this book gives you the option to delve into the depths of solar. This may be a bit over the top if you just want a small system for you RV or for camping, but it should give you great insight to solar nonetheless.
Why We Waited So Long to Jump Into Solar Power
Going off grid and solar seem to be ubiquitous, but not for us. We sketched out many scenarios during the pre-work before arriving to our property last fall. Let’s be honest – we really wanted to get solar right away. Soalr is SO EXCITING!
However, reality had a different flavor. The conclusions for every solar scenario amounted to a few things.
1. We had no idea what kind of solar potential we’d actually have on our property.
We basically arrived on our property right before winter, so we had no real chance to experience summer sun.
Solar potential was a huge factor in choosing our property (and heaven almighty did it have a huge Southern ,non-obstructed view!).
That said, we still didn’t know the reality of how much sun we would get. Would it be a decent amount, or a MOTHER LOAD?
2. We had no idea what our power needs would be.
Coming from on-grid, we simply had no clue how to live with alternative energy.
While we had run endless solar and energy calculators and tried our best to understand what our laptops, cameras, cell phones, lights, fans, heater and power tools needed daily, we just couldn’t really get a solid baseline.
Even carefully reading our power bills for months prior left us unsure of what our actually energy needs would be living an off-the-grid lifestyle.
3. Solar panels, while somewhat affordable, are nothing more than collectors and are not a complete system without various additional components.
Without an equally suitable storage medium (batteries) and a properly suited extractor (inverter) the system isn’t worth much.
It’s hard to harness something as unpredictable as the sun. In fact, it’s quite sophisticated and thus, the technology that’s needed to properly and safely capture the sun and store it is sophisticated as well.
The batteries and inverter, along with the necessary heavy gauge cables, are the most expensive components to any solar power system easily running into the $5,000+ range.
4. It was expected that at least for a little while, we’d need a lot of on-demand power, regardless of weather or time of day.
Being handicapped in any way (having to time our energy usage for sun-heavy days) would seriously impede progress at crucial moments.
Solar and on-demand power are nearly antonyms.
That proved VERY true during Windstorm 2015 when upon arriving home late at night in a driving hard rain our home was mangled by a microburst wind.
5. Despite all the development in solar technology, the major components to this day are still not emphatically scalable which makes it hard to “tip toe” into solar.
Once you get married to a component, it’s very expensive to upgrade as it typically requires full replacement.
Since a system is no small investment, we just weren’t comfortable gambling that we’d miss the mark and pay dearly down the road in upgrades.
The Conundrum of Scalability of Solar Power
Winter ended early for us this year and we had full sunny days as early as March. Each day we were running our generator while the sun was shining and it just seems so absurd.
To top it off, fuel prices had increased 20% since January which motivated us to finding a better way. We were burning money left and right!
With a few months sans power bill under our belt, mostly winter months at that, we had a pretty good idea about how much power we needed each day. At this point, we realized that off-setting ALL of our power needs via solar still wasn’t going to be viable.
However, our day-to-day needs had turned out to be so minuscule that we thought if we could just REDUCE our generator usage, of which is mostly just charging our RV battery and a few electronics, we’d be miles ahead in fuel expenses and wear on our generator!
We decided to take another look at solar stuff and see if we maybe missed something or if there was some innovation that might fit our needs.
Basically, we found confirmation of what we already knew – we were stuck in that hard spot been the low-wattage portable camping setups and the relatively substantial RV setups which can easily run $5-10k with a properly sized battery bank.
A low-wattage camping setup wouldn’t work for us yet we weren’t ready to “go big” as our power needs are minimal on a day-to-day basis AND we still require frequent on-demand power which is met by our Honda generator, even though it burns more fuel than we need to meet our needs.
In our research we stumbled upon a company whom we’d looked at before and discovered they’d have a booth at an RV convention within a few hours’ drive. We’d always wanted to take a drive that direction as the views are spectacular (plus it was in wine country!) so we made last-minute arrangements to attend the RV convention.
Even if we didn’t come home with any epiphanies or grand new ideas, the drive to the RV convention would be worth it.
Our thinking was maybe if we asked someone who understood both our current RV boondocking lifestyle and our future full-home solar needs maybe they’d have an idea!?!
Being Introduced to Portable Solar Panels
After taking in some totally-amazing scenery and chasing our tail trying to locate the convention we finally made it.
Straight to the GoPower! booth we went. There we met Stefan, and by “met” we really mean pinned him in a doorway so that we could talk to him.
He was super nice and we had a great conversation about our current living situation, power needs and goals. Stefan quickly grasped our conundrum and could see how we were stuck between a rock and a hard spot.
The problem is that smaller solar setups often are designed to operate on 12 volts. 12 volts is perfect for our RV, but as soon as we attempt to move towards even a cabin-sized system we’ll run into inevitable upgrades.
There are simply limits to the amount of power you collect, store and extract in a 12v system.
Most larger solar power systems are designed for daily, long-term use are 24 volts minimum. This allows for more economical cables to be utilized and less voltage drop which means more efficient systems.
Sadly, one can’t upgrade easily from a 12 volt RV system to a 24 volt full-home system. As mentioned earlier, many of the critical components aren’t compatible with the two differing voltages such as charge controllers and inverters.
Some of the high-dollar stuff is, but that goes back to the cost vs. benefit.
Stefan asked us a question that seemed at the time almost overly simple which was “What are your daily solar needs today?”
After chatting about this and how we were using our generator to basically top of our RV battery which was powering our off grid internet, charge laptops, cameras, cell phones and running critical RV systems, Stefan suggested we give another look at the larger portable solar panel setups.
This was something we had overlooked because we figured they would be too small to meet our needs. We simply didn’t understand their potential.
Our Goals and Uses for Solar Power
1. Meeting Our Day-to-Day Power Needs
To keep the math and figures to a minimum, I’ll keep the numbers short.
Basically, we knew we were using approximately 1000 watts of power per day from our generator which is sad because our generator is capable of a 3000-watt output and we’re running it for 6 hours which means we had 18,000 watts available, but our battery just wouldn’t charge that fast.
This is why solar would be a great fit for us – it can charge all day long at a lower current (amps) and we get the same outcome which is a a charged battery!
With a 120-watt array we estimated on a good day we could collect about 1000-1200 watts easily as we get sun from about 5am until 7pm.
Now do you see why we just couldn’t accept that solar was out of the question?! SO. MUCH. SUN. Keep in mind that solar panels, controllers and wiring aren’t 100% efficient, especially when the outside temps increase, so you’ll never get all of the rated power.
Still, 1000-1200 watts/day is impressive for such a small system.
This approach to calculating our energy needs was far different from our previous method of attempting to calculate consumption per device multiplied by the number of hours of use etc.
It just got to be a rat’s nest of numbers. Knowing our generator usage was far easier.
2. Charging and Maintaining Our Battery Bank
A few months back we had an opportunity to pick up a few large L16 deep cycle batteries. The price was right for us and we knew that even if we could get a couple of years out of them it’d be a good value.
Remember… batteries are one of the most expensive parts of a solar setup.
Down the road we’ll very likely buy a new bank, but for now this one was a good find. We really don’t want to run the generator to top of the bank and keep it charged so that we can reduce sulfation and other issues from a persistent low state of charge.
Keeping our battery bank maintained is perfect for the small 120 watt GoPower! portable array.
When not in use for our day-to-day needs, or if we get a particularly intense solar day, we can move the array over and add some juice to the battery bank while still having enough to meet our daily power needs.
3. Meeting Power Needs of Odd Jobs Here and There
Recently, we completed a DIY wood fired cedar hot tub project and one of the struggles we knew we’d face was keeping the tub cleaned. Most hot tubs have power circulating pumps which require substantial power… something we clearly lack!
We invested in a large pool filter which has been doing a fantastic job of removing debris, but it requires either a high volume pump or extensive slower pumping to move the water.
Not just the location of the tub, but the length of time the pump needs to run, make this a great job for solar instead of our generator. We’ve found a really sturdy 12 volt bilge pump that’ll take whatever power we give it and can filter all day long if the sun will shine. Keeping our hot tub clean is the perfect job for solar power… what a win!
Unexpected Perks to Starting Solar With a Portable System
Once Stefan introduced us to the idea of getting started with a portable solar panel setup, we quickly realized that there were other benefits to starting this way which we will outline below.
The portability of a solar system is very beneficial to us.
Like so many RVers and boondockers, we lack any substantial secure storage on our property. For all intents and purposes, we’re perma-boondocking at the moment. As such, security is something we have to give added attention.
Leaving valuables lying around is a surefire-way to never see them again! Stowing the panels when we’re away is convenient.
This lends to peace of mind. If you’re considering solar power for boondocking, this too should be a benefit as the solar panels fold up into a suitcase which easily stows in your RV or tow vehicle.
2. Stupid-Easy Setup
While to some it might seem lazy or apathetic, we’re not electrical tinkerers nor to we like the idea of being a back yard electrician. With solar, getting things like wiring, connectors, array size and charge controller sized properly is extremely important.
Are we capable of figuring all this out? Of course. However, it was a relief to find that these small portable systems have all of this sorted out perfectly. No guesswork needed. Literally, all you need to do is set the portable panels up and plug them. Done.
What a relief it is to know that we can just collect sunlight and charge our battery without all the fuss.
3. Long-Term Asset
Finally, we can see how this small system is actually a good investment.
Even after we move on and make upgrades toward our cabin, and eventually whole-home solar system, we’ll surely have a use for this little array, even if it’s just odd jobs around the property or even a little camping adventure. Because it’s an all-in-one system, it has so many uses so we doubt it’ll ever become a dust collector.
Live Updates! How Are Our Portable Solar Panels Working Out?
If you’ve been following our journey, you know that many things we do are very calculated.
We’re bootstrapping this project and every penny and ounce of energy has to be accounted for in some way. To this end, we publish our homesteading expenses monthly for all to see.
Hopefully it inspires others to establish and stick to a budget. Solar will be no different.
Our goal is to offset the cost of our solar array within 4-5 months.
Our fuel consumption has averaged 1 gallon per day for over 10 months. Currently fuel is $3.69/gal for premium, non-ethanol fuel. We’re pretty confident we can do this and want to keep track so you can see how we’re doing. We’ll post updates below.
Update #1: One Month In
We’re nearly a month into using our portable solar panel system and so far it’s been exactly what we had hoped. We’ve been mainly focusing on off-setting and understanding our daily energy needs and it seems that everything is working great.
It’s been a bit of an adjustment to use as much power during daylight hours while the solar is strong instead of charging things up at night, which drains the battery, for example. It’s a small adjustment, but seems to be doing the trick. We’ve run the generator twice so far in the past 3 weeks. That’s right, twice! But for what?
As mentioned before, there are some on-demand uses that we simply can’t meet with solar power yet. Even if we had a system 10x bigger, we’d still struggle.
Those come down to our power tool needs like saws, the air compressor, shop vac, cat food meat grinder (we feed these lil stinkers a raw diet) and finally the transfer pump we use to get the water from our IBC tank to the hilltop cistern we installed back in May.
In all, however, it seems our generator use is negligible in comparison. We were burning about 7 gallons of fuel per week on average. Three weeks ago, we had 3 gallons on hand and just yesterday Alyssa purchased fuel.
So our usage has dropped by 22.5 gallons in that time. Since January, fuel prices have increased over 20%. Cash savings to date is $83/month at present prices – quite a substantial reduction!
Additionally, we find that a bit of convenience has been added to our day. We often run our internet into the evening hours and would have to run our generator first thing in the morning to bring the battery back up. Since the sun is up by 5am, our battery is nearly topped up by the time we wake. This makes our morning routine a little more enjoyable to say the least! We get to enjoy our coffee without the hum of the generator in the background.
Update #2: Four Months In
We published this video update after having our portable solar panels for about four months or so.
In a nutshell, they worked great, keeping up with and even exceeding demand! However, in this video you’ll see that we have the opportunity to test our a larger system and that’s meeting our needs even better. More in the video!
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