Portable Solar Panels: The Definitive Guide Before You Buy

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Considering picking up some portable solar panels? In this post, we’ll tell you pretty much everything you need to know before you buy. Each section will have a link to give you deeper reading on a topic that interests you. Take a scroll and read on to learn more.

What Is a Portable Solar Panel?

Portable solar panels are – as they sound – solar panels designed to be taken anywhere. They’re typically smaller, foldable solar panels often used for camping, home backup, RV trips, and outings. Portable solar panels come in a variety of types, with the two most popular being monocrystalline and polycrystalline.

How Do Portable Solar Panels Work?

Portable solar panels are often used with a portable power station to store energy for later use. They work just as standard solar panels do, converting sunlight into electricity.

portable solar panels and portable power station

Portable solar panels are made up of lots of photovoltaic cells – otherwise known as PV cells – that contain semiconductor materials, which as of 2022, are predominantly silicon-based. When sunlight strikes the cell, it creates an electric field across the layers of the semiconductor. This generates a current that can be harnessed and stored in a battery, such as an EcoFlow portable power station. That’s how solar panels work. When solar panels and batteries are paired, they’re often called “Solar Generators,” as they fulfill the same needs as traditional gas generators — without fossil fuels, fumes, and noise.

READ MORE ON SOLAR GENERATORS

Types of Portable Solar Panels

When looking at the differences between portable solar panels, you’ll want to consider whether you need monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels. They have distinct differences that’ll influence your purchase decision.

Mono vs polycrytalline panels

Monocrystalline Portable Solar Panels

Monocrystalline panels are characterized by their sleek black appearance. Due to a more advanced manufacturing process, they’re more efficient than their polycrystalline cousins. That makes them a superior pick for portability with a slightly higher price tag to match. 

Monocrystalline panels could be monofacial (meaning one panel on one face) or bifacial solar panels with panels on both sides to benefit from ambient light.

Polycrystalline Portable Solar Panels

Typically rigid, with a blue marbled appearance, polycrystalline solar panels have lower efficiency and are often used for rooftop panels due to their cheaper price tag. They can still be used as portable solar panels, but they have some trade-offs as they’re usually cumbersome compared to monocrystalline.

READ MORE ON MONOCRYSTALLINE VS. POLYCRYSTALLINE SOLAR PANELS

Rigid Solar Panels vs. Foldable Solar Panels

Another sub-category of portable solar panels is rigid and foldable solar panels. Rigid panels are — as you might suppose – unbendable. They’re stiff boards typically mounted on a rooftop, RV/motorhome, or van. They are sometimes used for camping too. Foldable solar panels, in contrast, can be quite compact due to their design. EcoFlow’s Solar Panels are foldable, allowing you to carry them with ease in a carry case.

Who Are Portable Solar Panels / Solar Generators For?

EcoFlow solar generators are used for anything a traditional fossil fuel generator can be used for as they have high outputs. The key advantages are that they don’t create fumes or noise, and you can charge with the sun using a portable solar panel. This makes them ideal for indoor environments — such as home power backup or RVs — and camping, where sound and fumes could disturb your trip.

Portable Solar Panels for Camping

If you take a solar generator camping, you can keep all your home comforts running. With more people taking electronics camping than ever before, portable solar panels are a natural fit. Use the sun to charge your battery, then power appliances such as laptops, speakers, mini-fridges, projectors, and more. Camping just got so much comfier.

READ SOLAR PANELS FOR CAMPING: WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU BUY

Solar Panels for Home Backup

Benefits of Solar Panels

When a blackout hits, it can put your whole life on hold. With blackouts on the rise across the US, portable solar panels and a portable power station can be a lifesaver. If you have them prepped, you can keep your essentials running for hours on end until the grid comes back online. 

Portable solar panels for home backup are an easy, affordable option to have power at hand when you need it. That being said, if you’ve got a Smart Home Panel, you can use your rooftop panels too.

READ MORE ON SOLAR GENERATORS FOR HOME BACKUP

Portable Solar Panels for RVs

portable solar panels for RVs and vans

Portable solar panels are a great addition to any RV, van, campervan, or trailer. They provide a clean energy source and can power your entire setup when electricity is stored in a large enough battery. 

Since you’ll typically be on the go, it can reduce your reliance on shore power, meaning more time traveling and less time charging up.

READ SOLAR PANELS FOR RVs / VANS

Things To Look Out for When Shopping for Solar Panels

Efficiency

Even if a solar panel is labeled as 400W – for example – it doesn’t mean you’ll be consistently generating 400W of energy. The 400W tag assumes optimal conditions, which you will not always be able to achieve. That’s why having a high-efficiency solar panel is so important. 

EcoFlow’s solar panels hit 22-23% efficiency, among the highest available for any portable solar panel. The higher the efficiency, the more energy you’ll generate in sub-optimal conditions.

How To Get More Efficiency Out of Your Panels

Assuming you’ve picked a high-efficiency solar panel, you can get the most out of them by ensuring they’re clean. Cleanliness is a common issue when panels are outdoors in dusty environments. Secondly, you can ensure your panels are getting maximum sun coverage. That means as little shade as possible and angled perpendicular to the sun.

Compatibility

If you’re looking for a solar panel you can use with your battery, you need to make sure it’s compatible. Most solar panels use solar panel connectors and XT60 plugs. Ensure your chosen panel has these if you aim to use them with a portable power station. All EcoFlow panels support this industry standard.

Secondly, you’ll want to check the solar input of your battery/portable power station. Cheaper models tend to have low solar inputs, meaning you can only use small panels that will charge your battery very slowly. EcoFlow’s portable solar panels are widely compatible with portable solar panels and can even be easily chained together for more input.

Durability

Since they’re outdoors and facing the elements, solar panels need to be able to take a beating. Before buying, make sure you’re picking up a model that lasts. A good thing to look out for is IP rating, the qualifier in waterproofing/dustproofing electronics. 

EcoFlow’s solar panels are waterproof, hitting an IP68 rating. To take that to its extreme, you can dunk them under water for 30 minutes straight, and they’ll still work. Not that you’d ever do that.

waterproof portable solar panelsWaterproof portable solar panels

A secondary benefit to having portable solar panels with a slight flex is that they’re a tad more pliable. This helps when you’re keeping them in the trunk of your car or packing them away with a bunch of your other gear.

How To Keep Your Portable Solar Panels Safe

When transporting your panels, you’ll want to make sure you can keep them safe and secure. If you’re moving often, perhaps camping or in a van, your panels could get scuffed or even bent with rough and tumble use. 

To keep them safe, it’s a good idea to store them in a case. EcoFlow panels all come with a carry case that doubles as a kickstand. Ideal for keeping your panels safe and secure, while simultaneously allowing you to prop them up perpendicular to the sun for optimal energy generation.

solar panel carry bag

READ 5 THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU BUY PORTABLE SOLAR PANELS

What Size Portable Solar Panel Do You Need?

When purchasing a panel, you’ll first want to consider your storage capability and input limitations. If you’re only using a small battery, such as a RIVER Pro, then you’ll need smaller panels. You might want to consider larger panels if you use a bigger battery with a high input capability. 

Here’s a table that should help illustrate that the larger panel you have, the fewer panels you’ll need — depending on battery size and input.

(P.S This is just a rough recommendation assuming you want to max out your solar input).

EcoFlow 60W Solar PanelEcoFlow 110W Solar PanelEcoFlow 160W Solar PanelEcoFlow 220W Bifacial Solar PanelEcoFlow 400W Solar Panel
EcoFlow DELTA mini (Solar input 300w)5 panels3 panels2 panels
1 panel
EcoFlow DELTA (Solar input 400W)4 panels3 panels
2 panels

1 panel
EcoFlow DELTA Max (Solar input 800W)5 panels2 panels2 panels
EcoFlow RIVER pro (Solar input 200W)3 panels2 panels
1 panel

1 panel

How Much Energy Will You Be Using?

Another factor to consider when considering the size of your panel is how much energy you consume. If you estimate — let’s say in your RV — that you consume about 10kWh a day. Then you’ll want a few panels larger panels so that you can charge up quickly while on the road — all while accounting for unpredictable weather conditions. If, however, you only consume small amounts while in a van, you could get away with a smaller panel just to top up as and when you need it.

Is Portability More Important? Or Having Enough/Excess Energy?

Finally, you might want to weigh up portability vs. excess energy. For some, it’s good to have the peace of mind that you’ll have a larger panel than you actually require at a minimum. This allows you to get a ton of solar input even in sub-optimal conditions. 

For others, you’ll favor portability and staying lean for storage space and moving around.

How To Maintain Your Solar Panels

Maintaining EcoFlow portable solar panels is easy. All you need to do is give them a wipe-down from time to time to clean dust and particles off the surface of your panel. Keeping them clean ensures you’ll get maximum solar generation without obstructing the PV cells. 

We wrote a deep dive on this exact topic covering other kinds of solar panels. Just click below to read more.

READ SHOULD YOU CLEAN YOUR SOLAR PANELS?

How To Set Up Portable Solar Panels (Series vs. Parallel)

There are two main ways to set up your portable solar panels: series and parallel. 

Series panels are connected in a line, with the positive of one panel connected to the negative of the next. This creates a circuit, allowing electricity to flow through the panels. 

Parallel panels are connected side-by-side, with all the positives connected together and all the negatives connected together. Parallel setups take a little more time and effort, and often require accessories.

Both types of setups have advantages and disadvantages. Typically a setup in series is best for EcoFlow panels. It’s easier, and the portable power stations’ built-in MPPT solar controllers allow for optimal solar generation.

Which Are the Best Portable Solar Panels?

The quick answer is — it depends. 

Portable solar panels come in different sizes for different requirements. Your solar needs depend on what you value most in a panel: portability, efficiency, durability, and compatibility. 

That being said, EcoFlow makes portable solar panels of all sizes, ranging from a super portable 60W model — all the way up to a 400W model. 

Take a look at EcoFlow’s range below to dive deeper into each option. 

(P.S. You can get free shipping too!)

Most Portable

EcoFlow 60W Solar Panel

60W

Foldable
Waterproof
8.8 lbs*
60W Input
Incl. Carry Case

Mid-Range

110W

Foldable
Waterproof
13.2 lb*
110W Input
Incl. Carry Case

Mid-Range

EcoFlow 160W Solar Panel

160W

Foldable
Waterproof
15.4 lb*
160W Input
Incl. Carry Case

Highest Input

EcoFlow 400W Solar Panel

400W

Foldable
Waterproof
35.3 lb*
400W Input
Incl. Carry Case
Kris Haagensen
Born and raised in the UK, Kris is a 4.0 International Business grad from Sheffield Business School. After working in the tech industry for half a decade in Shenzhen, China, he's now Lead Copywriter at EcoFlow. Kris is a renewable power enthusiast & uses solar generators to run his DJ gear in exotic locations.

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