Small solar panels may not power an off-grid home, but there is a lot they can do.
If you need to power up your iPod or cell phone while camping, a smaller solar panel is perfect for the job.
If you’re looking to trickle charge the battery of a vehicle, boat or RV it will also do the trick.
A portable solar panel can also give extended life to a laptop, iPad, or battery pack (although you probably wouldn’t want to count on it to supply all of your laptop power).
There are two main varieties of small solar panels:
- Crystalline Silicon
A lot of time and money went into developing thin-film solar panels when silicon was very expensive. The reason for this is that these panels use only a fraction of the silicon that goes into a crystalline solar panel.
Examples of thin-film technology are:
- Amorphous silicon (a-Si, silicon in a different form)
- Copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS)
- Cadmium telluride (CdTe)
When you hear someone talking about crystalline solar panels, they are referring to the traditional solar panels that are made from multi-crystalline or mono-crystalline solar cells. These panels usually have a frame and a glass top.
Thin-film have the advantage of being lighter while a traditional crystalline panel is more efficient so it can produce more power in a given area. With the increasing efficiency of thin-film solar panels, however, these panels are quickly becoming an excellent option for portable power solutions.
A cool example of a thin-film portable solar panel is the GoBe Solar Briefcase which uses amorphous silicon. This 10.5 Watt panel weighs less than 13 pounds and it folds into a slim briefcase so you can take it anywhere.
You can add a GoBe Power Hub so that you can store your power for nighttime use. The Power Hub features a modified sine wave inverter so you can use it to power regular AC household gadgets.
The DURAlite line is a good example of a portable solar panel that uses regular polycrystalline solar cells. DURAlite panels come in 5, 10, or 20 Watt varieties and they have a 10′ cable with a 12-volt car-style socket plug.
These panels range in size from 12″ by 11″ to 22″ by 19″ and the manufacturer claims they can provide “almost double the power of conventional thin-film solar panels”. Also, since DURAlite panels are made from fiberglass and sunlight-resistant polyester film, you won’t be weighed down by the glass that covers most crystalline panels.
You can also use solar panels to keep your car battery topped up. Check out our page on solar car battery chargers for more information on this. It’s a great way to harness the power of the sun and ensure you never get stranded in a parking lot with a dead battery.
These are just a few of the ways that smaller, lighter solar panels are making it easier to take advantage of the sun’s rays. For more portable solar panel options check out our pages on flexible solar panels and folding solar panels.