How To Choose Between Folding, Fixed And Blanket Solar Panels

Solar vs Solar vs Solar. How do you choose?

Over the last decade there has been a large increase in the solar options available on the Australian market for those of us who choose to get out and enjoy this beautiful country. Whether it’s off to your favorite local camp ground that has the perfect quiet spot by the river, you enjoy travelling the Old Tele and tackling Palm Creek or seeing if you can make it over Big Red in the Simpson. Commonly, to all of these amazing spots it is getting away from the world we are all used to and not always having easy access to a reliable source of electricity.

An easy way to solve this is an auxiliary battery or two and having a way to recharge them when you are sitting back and enjoying this beautiful country.

What is the best way to recharge your batteries? The quiet, simple, cheap and reliable answer to this is solar. However, how do you pick from the hundreds of options on the market? We run you through the three options on the market and provide hints and tips to make your decision easier.

 

Comparing All Three Solar Panel Types:

To compare the solar panel options, the common factors people will compare include cost, size (physically speaking as opposed wattage), weight, setup time, daily power output and securability (how easy is it to steal).

Highest price per watt are solar blankets; as the newest and technically hardest to manufacture there is a price premium that relates to this product. As we are seeing in increase in popularity for these, we are already starting to see lower cost versions come to market.

The cheapest option per Watt is a fixed panel, though with the competitive nature of solar power in Australia, folding kits are not far behind per Watt. Keep in mind with a fixed solar panel, you are normally buying just the solar panel, you need to supply cables, connectors, solar regulators etc.

So finally, folding solar panel kits are normally the middle ground, with a lot of possible movement in their pricing due to the different cost of extra components that can be bundled with the kit. Though if you are looking for good value and an option that is ready for use straight away, this is the way to go.

So purely on a pricing basis you have multiple options from basic entry level kits to more complete options all the way up to the ultimate option in performance, space and weight saving.

 

Which Solar Panel is Right For You?:

Like most things, it depends on your specific requirements, needs, space and budget. For most people a large set of 200 or 300 Watt solar blankets made from monocrystalline panels would meet your power needs and space requirements but then the budget needs to stretch to $1,000 - $2,000 depending on brand. Whereas a fixed panel of 100 Watts might be a bit low on overall power output and take up more weight but then might only be a tenth the cost.

Chasing the highest performing solar setup that suits most people, a 140 – 200 Watt folding solar panel kit is a good overall compromise, an average buy price with average space and weight while outputting enough for shorter trips or setups using less than 50 -70 Amps per Day.

Once you are looking to get away for longer periods and if you have higher power usage requirements per day (100+ Amps per Day), then you are probably heading into the realm of requiring fixed panels, with a total system of 300+ Watts.

You always have the choice of using a combination of products in your solar setup in order to get the best from each solar option.

It is becoming more common to see combined solar setups which may include a fixed roof panel that is big enough in most situations, and a smaller portable solar blanket, or panel, that can be easily setup just in case a bit more power is required.

 

Solar Panels Compared:

 

Folding Solar Panel vs Fixed Solar Panel vs Solar Blanket:

 

Pros

Cons

Folding Panels

  • Fairly affordable
  • Portable, can be moved to chase the sun
  • Fairly easy to setup
  • Plug & play
  • Heavy
  • Bulky
  • Must be stationary to use
  • Some setup is required

 

Solar Blankets

 

  • Lightweight
  • Compact
  • Durable
  • Plug & play
  • Convenient
  • Easy to setup
  • Portable, can be moved to chase the sun

 

  • Can be expensive
  • Must be stationary to use

 

Fixed Panels

 

  • Value for money
  • Simple to use
  • Once installed, no setup is required
  • Can be used while on the move
  • Multiple panels can be installed on the roof of your vehicle

 

  • Vehicle must be parked in full sunlight for the best results
  • Takes up roof space that may be used for surfboards
  • Need to run cabling

 

Camping Solar Panels

 

Cell Types Compared:

Now this has been a discussion on different options on the Australian market for solar panels but these have all been for monocrystalline panels. Polycrystalline panels used to be a cheaper option, though they have fallen out of favour a number of years ago as the pricing became very similar and generally monocrystalline panels are the better option as far as output goes.

The other option is amorphous panels, though not discussed above they have begun regaining some of their previous popularity, though they are still a more expensive option, and still typically only used for the folding solar panel options, again adding to their cost. Their main performance advantage comes down to use in partial shade environments, so if you just keep your panels in sunlight, you will find monocrystalline panels the best option.

Caravan RV Camping offer a variety of monocrystalline solar panels, available as fixed, folding or blankets. Brands of solar panels available include Enerdrive, VictronBaintechDometic, and Evakool

 

Solar Panel Usage Tips:

 

Portable:

  • Identify if you require a solar regulator or not. Most portable folding solar panels will come with a solar regulator, but you may already have one as part of your install. For example:
     - Portable solar panel with regulator: Evakool 240 Watt Solar Panel
     - Portable solar panel without regulator: Enerdrive 240W Portable Folding Solar Panel Kit 
     - Portable solar panel that can use or bypass supplied regulator (best of both worlds!): Baintech 300W Monocrystalline Solar Blanket

     
  • Adjust panel position throughout the day to capture the most sun.
  • Choose a portable solar panel with Anderson plugs. These are the most secure DC electrical connectors.
  • A handy accessory to portable solar setups is a 5m Anderson to Anderson extension cable like this one: Baintech 5m Anderson Style Cable.
  • Use a MPPT solar regulator.

 

Fixed:

  • Maintain your panels by keeping them clean.
  • Given the low cost per watt, buy as many panels as you can fit on your roof.
  • Purchase panels with MC4 connectors on the back, for example the Enerdrive180W Fixed Solar Panel. This makes for easy parallel or series connection.
  • Use an MPPT solar regulator.
  • Position the solar regulator as close to the battery as possible to minimise voltage drop.

 

Our Recommendations:

As always, everyone's requirements are different. We recommend a combination of a fixed panel on the roof of your vehicle, and a folding panel that can be deployed easily. This provides the best opportunity to capture the most solar available. You can park your vehicle in the shade and still have your portable panel with an extension cable out in the sun. For those wanting to travel light, solar blankets are a great option and have come down in price over the past few years.

 

Should you need any assistance in deciding on the type or size solar panel for your battery setup, give Caravan RV Camping a call on 1800 787 278.