Although solar panels have been popular with campers and travelers for a while now, solar blankets are quickly catching up as an alternative portable and natural energy solution. But are solar blankets as good as solar panels?
Solar blankets can be as good as solar panels (fixed and foldable) in terms of efficiency. However, solar blankets do come with their unique challenges — such as the difficulty of setting them up and their relatively higher price.
In this article, I’ll take a closer look at how solar blankets work to see if they meet your energy needs. In addition, I’ll examine the pros and cons of solar blankets. So let’s get things rolling!
What Is a Solar Blanket?
When you’re taking electrical appliances with you during your camping trips, it’s important to have a way to charge them no matter where you are. Solar panels are one such way, though traveling with and setting them up can take a lot of effort and planning. Solar blankets offer a more practical solution.
Solar blankets are large, durable blankets made of heavy-duty fabrics and contain several solar panels arranged in rows facing out on one side to absorb sunlight.
You can fold or roll them up, and while they can feel somewhat heavy, they’re still light enough that you can move them around easily. A cord at one end also connects to and charges your appliances.
If you’re buying solar blankets for the first time, you should be aware that there are two other products also commonly referred to as “solar blankets” that don’t serve the same function — namely, heated blankets and pool covers. Make sure you read the description of their features carefully before you hit “Buy.”
For the purposes of this article, I will focus on the solar blankets that have:
- visible solar panels on the surface; and
- list a voltage in their description
Advantages of Solar Blankets
Portability and flexibility are certainly the most attractive features of solar blankets, but the benefits don’t stop there. Here are a few more advantages solar blankets have over fixed solar panels.
Compatible With Uneven Surfaces
Fixed portable solar panels aren’t flexible. The panels are in an array attached to legs that need to be on even ground. If placed on an uneven surface, they become unbalanced and tip over, causing them to absorb less sunlight if the ground forces the setup into a strange angle.
Meanwhile, solar blankets aren’t as rigid. Their flexible material allows them to bend and fit over uneven surfaces, which is ideal for camping. The spaces surrounding each panel allow the blanket to bend around hilly terrains and the like.
By design, solar panels need to meet certain durability requirements to function as expected. For example, they need weather resistance to work outside. Panels must also be scratch resistant. Even so, they can still suffer from the effects of inclement weather to a degree.
On the other hand, the flexibility of solar blankets gives them added durability as well. Since they aren’t fixed in place, they are better able to absorb pressure. That means blankets are more likely to resist damage from sudden impact.
Whether you go camping twice a month or only a few times a year, you face the same issue: Where do you keep your camping solar panels when they’re not in use? Unless you choose to install panels on an RV, you’ll need a safe, easily accessible place to keep them when you aren’t in the great outdoors.
Solar blankets are easily folded or rolled up, so you can store them in practically every way possible. Some models even come with a small bag the blanket can slide into. Whether in use or storage, a solar blanket will take up little space.
Disadvantages of Solar Blankets
While there’s certainly a lot to love about solar blankets, that doesn’t mean they aren’t without their challenges. Some of the factors that make them unique, especially compared to fixed solar panels, can create problems as well. Here are some drawbacks to keep in mind when using solar blankets.
The Need for Angling
Although solar panels will generate energy as long as there’s daylight, they’re most efficient when they’re in direct sunlight. As DualSun points out, solar panels are tilted at angles to get direct sunlight during specific hours. Most portable arrays allow you to adjust their angles as needed.
But it won’t be as easy if you want to catch direct sunlight with a solar blanket. Manufacturers design them to rest flat against a surface, which means you’ll need an angled surface if you’re aiming for peak efficiency. Some users try to achieve this by spreading a solar blanket across their car’s windshield, while some models come with legs that can prop it up somewhat.
Ultimately, this is only an issue if you expect to reach maximum output. If you don’t mind waiting longer to charge devices, getting direct sunlight isn’t necessary. Just understand that the advertised wattage is only achievable under the circumstances I outlined above.
Solar blankets are among the most expensive portable solar energy solutions available. That’s because the solar panels themselves are costly to manufacture. Additionally, manufacturers spend more money to make them more durable overall.
But you’re not likely to recover the cost of a solar blanket just by charging devices outdoors. If you want to save money, the best way is to research different models to find one within your budget that meets your needs. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the wattage, the higher the price.
Solar blankets work just as well as other portable solar solutions and come with the added advantage of easy portability and storage. In addition, since they don’t require additional physical installation, you don’t have to worry about damaging the environment or any of your camping equipment.
However, angling a solar blanket for direct sunlight can be frustrating. More importantly, they often cost more than other portable solar alternatives. That being said, if you approach solar blankets with reasonable expectations, you’ll get many years of use from them.
- DualSun: How Solar Panels Work?
- Outbax AU: Camping Solar Panels vs. Solar Blankets: Which One Gives You More Bang for Your Buck?
- Club4x4 AU: Solar Blankets vs. Solar Panels
- Caravan RV Camping AU: How To Choose Between Folding, Fixed, and Blanket Solar Panels
- Alternative Energy Options: Everything You Need to Know About Solar Blankets
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