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Subject Topic: Solar - fixed or portable? Post Reply Post New Topic
Message posted by james-owen09/2/2022 at 12:01pm
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Hello!

I am wanting a portable solar solution that I can temporarily fit to a caravan, remove and take with me on a hiking and camping trip. Is such a solution possible?

The idea is to take a trip this summer into the Highlands in the caravan. Use the caravan as a base but then hike and wild camp whilst up there.

I have been wanting to upgrade my caravan to solar anyway and thought a solar system of some kind would be good to take on the hike with me too, so my question is - is it possible to have a solution that can do both?

If so, how would I go about it?

I have been looking into lightweight semi flexible panels. These things are pretty thin and like a 50W panel would be easy to carry, which is all well and good, but what I'm not sure about is the rest of the system...

How would I make that portable? I cant imagine carrying around a 50kg battery on a hike.

I know you can find portable solar panels that can roll up etc but what I am looking for is something that can service both applications at once in the simplest way possible.

Can anyone help point me in the right direction?

Message posted by Monty1509/2/2022 at 3:04pm
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Taking account of your diverse needs, simple answer is it's not feasible to be 'universal'.

The large 50W flexible panels are intended for a fixed installation and supplying a fairly high capacity leisure battery. They are relatively light for their size/capacity, but not really robust enough for regular 'backpacking' without some additional rigid protection, and personally as an experienced hill walker I wouldn't want to be carrying anything near that fragile/unwieldy into the wilds! Highly unlikely you would need 50W output when hiking unless you had some high capacity battery packs to charge, and you really wouldn't want to be carrying even the much lighter weight Lithium packs very far!

Tent camping and caravaning can share equipment to a degree IF you are car based, and your limitation is largely what you can cram in the car, but backpack camping brings a whole different set of rules into play, it's all about minimalism and lightness, otherwise your burden will stop you walking very far (unless you're super fit ex military/SAS type!).

The roll up type panels are fine for minimalist power demands, charging phone, sat nav devices and maybe a rechargeable torch/lantern, but you'd likely not want to burden yourself with any more gadgets on both bulk and weight point of view if you are hiking any distance and on difficult terrain. Also bear in mind if not leaving a 'base camp' set up with panel set up and equipment charging, you will want to use the panel when actually hiking to take advantage of the sun, absolutely no good breaking it out at the end of the day when setting up new camp, or returning to established camp effectively when the sun is setting! Don't forget, you will want to have, phone and sat nav device with you when hiking, and it will take many hours for a solar panel to charge a device, possible all day if cloudy!

A roll up type solar panel can obviously be used in a caravan for charging phones etc., but in the grander scheme of things looks a little pointless when you have large leisure batteries and car batteries at your disposal.

For caravan use if going off grid (no EHU) then a 50W panel is really far too small, you need at the very least 100w, but ideally more like 200W. You've got to take into account that panels only output about half their rated power, only work for a few hours a day in the highest sun, and tend not to work very well at all in heavy cloud and duller 'winter' months of the year where sun is very limited and very low in the sky.

Think you really need to do some research on solar panels, far beyond the glossy sales pitches, but more about their technology and use. And I may be miss-reading you, but I'm guessing you are not a terribly experienced hiker/backpack camper either, not wishing to be the slightest bit rude/insulting, but a bit more research into that may not go amiss, hill walking is one of my passions for many years, but I have encountered far too many ill-equipped/ill-prepared people out in the wilds, and not to put too fine a point on it, they are in trouble and need assistance, probably not too far off a call to mountain rescue!

Message posted by tdrees09/2/2022 at 3:12pm
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I agree with monty15 that the types of panel you need are different. Backpacking panels are designed to be ultralight weight and tend to be max output of 10W or 20W, and will output at 5v with USB to charge a LiPO battery bank for charging a phone.

For a caravan - I think you can live with 60W (though that is dependent on what you use if for - we use a radio, but don't bother with TV). But it will need to have an output suitable to charge a 12v battery. Our 60w folding panel weighs 10kg - totally unusable for backpacking.

Message posted by james-owen09/2/2022 at 4:25pm
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Thanks so much to you both.

So basically, a 50w panel would be too fragile and bulky to carry?

The one I was looking at was by Sun Power - https://envirobuy.com/50w-solar-panel-sunpower-semi-flexible-curved-surface/

I presume I am being too generous on my expectations of the 'flexible' label then?

Taking what both of you have said about power demands, it seems this panel would be too much for the hiking application but not quite enough for the caravan. Ok!

Feels silly to be paying for the semi-flexible functionality without needing it so a rigid one would probably be best for the caravan - https://www.alpha-batteries.co.uk/12v-200w-xplorer-german-cell-monocrystalline-sol........

Not sure if this is overkill but if I'm going to do it, I might as well do it properly?

All very very good advice from both of you. Thank you.

I will be hiking with my uncle who is a very experienced hiker. In fact, I'm actually going to be accompanying him with my caravan on his trip rather than the other way round. I just wanted to surprise him with the solar upgrade, so apologies if I came across as very uneducated on the matter! It's probably because I am! More research is certainly needed.

If I can't roll both solutions into one, I suppose 2 separate approaches would be the plan then... I'm definitely NOT an SAS type!

Solar backpacks are a bit more expensive than I expected but there looks like there are a lot of options out there. Do you guys have any other advice on things I should look out for when buying a solar backpack?

Message posted by Monty1509/2/2022 at 5:07pm
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Quote: Originally posted by james-owen on 09/2/2022
.....
I presume I am being too generous on my expectations of the 'flexible' label then?

.....




In that application, 'flexible' generally refers to a 2mm or so thick aluminium panel with 'flexible plastic' covered solar elements stuck to it in a very thin construction of maybe 4mm or so overall thickness, giving a SLIGHT bend-ability intended to follow something like the gentle curvature of a caravan roof, and permanently affixed with large area application adhesive.
There are some smaller panels that are all plastic construction, they are 'rollable' into a tube, but I've only seen low wattage ones.
'Normal' solar panels are a sandwich construction with plate glass on both back and front faces and a robust aluminium frame probably around 30mm or more thick, and not the slightest hint of flexibility, usually affixed by stand-off cradle/brackets on corners/ends that allow the curvature of caravan roof to clear the underside of the panel!

The flexible panels are not as long lived, despite their often premium price, as the plastic coating degrades and allows water ingress after time. For a permanent fixing, the rigid panels are the best option all round, with one exception, they are relatively heavy so that has to be taken into account when considering acceptable loads on a caravan roof.

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Message posted by tdrees09/2/2022 at 5:26pm
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I have one of these
https://www.sunstore.co.uk/product/12v-solar-battery-charger-60w-briefcase/
Was fine to support 2 adults and 4 kids and a bunch of devices in a caravan in summer, off grid in wales - but its not a hiking tool ;-)

For hiking you want something more like this
https://www.ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk/equipment-c3/power-c93/nomad-5-solar-panel-p13661

Message posted by james-owen10/2/2022 at 8:26am
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Ahhh! These look like they would solve my problem!!

All for under 250 together as well.

Big thanks to you both, I have learned a lot already.


Message posted by SGThomas10/2/2022 at 8:47am
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If the problem is to be keeping gadgets charged, have you considered

power packs

-------------
Stuart


April-Jul 2020 Awandering we will go ( Oh if only!)

Message posted by tdrees10/2/2022 at 4:06pm
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Stuart - absolutely this.

I use one of these for a 2 day / 1 night hike.


I would also look at this

You would need something like this to go with a portable solar panel too to catch the power you are generating. But if you are off grid for less than 2 nights - just a decent power bank would likely be enough.


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