Portable solar panels allow you to generate electricity on the go. Paired with a solar battery, portable panels can be an excellent source of off-grid power at your campsite. It helps to know how to connect solar panels to a battery correctly.
Portable solar panels can connect directly to a battery to power your appliances, but it would be better to place a charge controller between the panels and the battery. The charge controller regulates the power entering the battery from the panels, protecting it from overcharging.
A portable solar power unit may be all you need for outdoor electricity requirements. Although you may want to assemble a light portable solar system, I’ll explain why you shouldn’t leave the solar charge controller behind.
What Happens if You Connect a Portable Solar Panel Directly to a Battery?
The solar panel does the heavy lifting of capturing sunlight and turning it into electricity. As a result, you can generate power anywhere there’s sunlight to charge your phone and run other appliances.
The problem is that your panel doesn’t usually know how much power your battery can store. Solar batteries have capacity ratings, which tell you the amount of energy you can pack into them safely.
If you connect solar panels directly to a battery, the panels can feed the battery beyond its capacity. Pumping excess power into a solar battery can damage its internal structure and shorten its lifespan.
You can protect the battery from overcharging and damage by running the power from the panels through a charge controller first.
What Does a Solar Charge Controller Do? (PAA)
A solar charge controller regulates the power that enters the battery from the solar panels. It stops sending more power to the battery once it is fully charged. As a result, the controller protects the battery from overcharging damage.
Additionally, a controller such as the WERCHTAY 30A Solar Charge Controller on Amazon prevents the backflow of charge from the battery to the solar panels. Without it, the battery would send its power back to the panels when sunlight is low. Since the backflow discharge can damage the battery, the charge controller blocks it.
Which Is the Best Charge Controller for a Portable Solar System?
Solar charge controllers are available in two main types: Pulse-width modulation (PWM) and maximum power point tracking (MPPT).
While the MPPT controller variety is more efficient, the PWM controller type is more affordable. If your budget allows, the MPPT controller would be the best option for your portable solar unit.
How To Safely Connect Solar Panels Directly to a Battery Without a Charge Controller
You may connect solar panels directly to a battery in a small system. Panels with up to 5 watts output rating have internal charge control mechanisms. As a result, such tiny panels can safely connect to a battery directly.
Moreover, you can make a safe, direct connection if the panel output is less than 1% of the battery capacity. Alternatively, you may use a solar generator with inbuilt charge control.
What Is Needed for a Portable Solar Power System? (PAA)
You need a solar panel, charge controller, battery, and inverter to assemble a properly functioning portable solar power system. The capacity of these components depends on the amount of electricity you want to generate.
Here’s a look at the roles of the four major components of the solar power system:
- Solar panel: This is the central component of a solar power system. It absorbs sunlight and converts it into electric power. The sunlight intensity impacts how much electricity the panels can produce.
- Charge controller: This device sits between the solar panel and the battery. It regulates the battery’s charging process, ensuring it isn’t overcharged. It also prevents the backflow of energy from the battery to the panels.
- Battery: The energy generated by the panels is stored in the battery. With the battery, you can continue to have the power to run your appliances even after the panels stop producing power.
- Inverter: The inverter sits between the battery and the appliances drawing power from the solar system.
Why Do You Need an Inverter for a Portable Solar Panel?
Your portable solar power station will need an inverter in most cases. Inverters transform the direct current (DC) that the solar panels produce into alternating current (AC) that most electronics use.
If you only want to power devices that can run on DC energy, you won’t need an inverter for your mobile solar power kit.
Where Does the Inverter Go Into the System?
The inverter goes between the battery and the appliances you want to power. The solar panels push the power they generate to the battery through the charge regulator. The power enters the battery bank in the DC form.
The inverter takes power from the battery and converts it into AC to run your laptop and a variety of other devices. Inverters are available in pure sine wave inverter and modified sine wave inverter options.
The modified sine wave inverter type may be ideal if you’re on a budget because of its lower upfront price. It can be used on a handful of devices, such as phone chargers. However, it produces a humming noise that some people may not like. Moreover, it isn’t suitable for powering sensitive devices.
On the other hand, a pure sine wave inverter like the Renogy 1000W Pure Sine Wave Inverter on Amazon delivers smooth electricity and can power almost all appliances. However, this inverter type has a higher price.
What Solar Inverter Size Do You Need?
The inverter capacity is rated in watts. There’s an inverter size for nearly any application. The inverter size selection depends on your system’s power capacity.
You need an inverter that can handle the power your solar panels produce. Moreover, the inverter should deliver enough power to meet the energy demand of your appliances.
For a starting point, aim for an inverter that at least matches your panel’s wattage rating.
Inverter efficiency is important to consider if you generate power from portable panels. Since you’re relying on small panels, you’d want to conserve the power you generate.
As a result, go for a portable solar inverter with the highest efficiency to minimize power loss through this component. The inverter consumes power to run. Energy may also be lost through heat across the component’s body.
Do You Need Fuses for Portable Solar?
If you have the charge regulator, fuses aren’t necessary for a portable solar power station to operate properly. However, adding fuses for an additional safety check won’t harm if you have a large system.
If you decide to fuse your system, here’s how to place them:
- Between the battery’s positive terminal and the charger.
- Between the solar panel’s positive wire and the charge controller.
- Between the battery and the inverter
Fusing will reduce the risk of the connecting wires becoming too hot, potentially causing fire or damaging the system and your electronics. Fusing is ideal when multiple panels are connected in a parallel arrangement.
A fuse is destroyed every time it’s called into action to prevent a possible problem. Therefore, you should prepare replacement fuses for your portable energy system.
Here’s how to determine the size of the fuse to use:
Check Charge Controller’s Amperage
The fuse size between the battery and the charge regulator should match the regulator’s amperage rating. As a result, you’ll need a 20-amp fuse for a 20-amp controller.
Panel size and arrangement guide the fuse size selection.
The size of the fuse you need between the charge controller and the solar panels depends on the number of panels. Another factor is whether the panels are connected in series, parallel, or a series/parallel hybrid format.
A parallel panel arrangement would require a large fuse size. It would be best to consult a professional to help you determine the right fuse size between the panels and the controller.
Look at the Inverter Manual for the Right Fuse Size
Check the inverter manual to determine the right fuse between the inverter and the battery. While you may want to fuse the connection between the inverter and the battery, note that most inverters already have an internal fuse.
What Portable Solar Power System Size Do You Need for Camping?
Your energy needs and expected sunlight hours will determine your required portable solar power system size. Calculate the watts your electronics will consume daily to determine your energy demand.
Calculate your daily energy demand:
- Check the electronics you want to run for their power consumption rating. You can find this information on the devices or in the user manual.
- In many cases, the power rating is given in watts. If you can’t see the watts, multiply the device’s voltage (volt) and amperes (amps) to determine the wattage.
- Alternatively, use a watt meter, such as the P3 P4400 Kill A Watt on Amazon, to measure your devices’ wattage.
- A device rated 30 watts will consume that much electricity over an hour. Running it for 5 hours will require 150 watt-hours (Wh) of electricity daily.
- For each device, multiply its wattage rating by the hours you want to run it to get the watt-hours. Do this for all the devices and get the total daily watt-hours.
Let’s assume the total energy demand for the devices comes to 1,500 watt-hours (1.5 kWh) daily.
Calculate the solar panel size you need:
- Multiply your daily energy demand by the peak sunlight hours expected to determine the panel capacity required. Let’s say you expect 5 peak sunlight hours.
- Divide the daily energy demand (1,500 watt-hours or 1.5 kWh) by expected sunlight hours (5 hours) to determine the required solar panel capacity. It works out to 300 watts in this case.
- It means you require at least a 300-wattage solar power system to meet your daily energy demand. However, the battery choice determines the solar capacity you should actually install.
It’s better to be conservative with peak sunlight hours estimates. You’d be safer with an excess solar capacity than less if you’re assembling a portable power kit for boondocking.
Clouds and shadows impact the quality of sunlight that hits your panels. The panels will deliver less power than their rating in low-light conditions. Therefore, a conservative sunlight hour estimate lets you account for low production situations.
Calculate the battery storage capacity you need:
- Let’s say you have a 12.8 V 50 Ah battery. That battery can hold 0.64 kWh (12.8 volts x 50 amp) of electricity.
- For your 1.5 kWh daily energy consumption, you’ll need three batteries to hold that much of electricity. (1.5 kWh ÷ 0.64 kWh = 2.34 – round up to 3).
- Your solar panels need to generate 1.92 kWh of electricity a day to fully charge the three batteries.
- If you install 300-watt solar panels, you’ll need seven panels to generate enough power to charge your batteries.
If you use a charge regulator and inverter in this system, these components have efficiency and energy loss issues.
As a result, you should account for these components when determining how many solar panels you actually require. A solar professional can help you out with this task.
What Is the Best Portable Solar Panel Type?
Solar panels are available in polycrystalline and monocrystalline varieties. The monocrystalline is compact. Moreover, it’s more efficient than the polycrystalline type in converting sunlight into electricity. However, the polycrystalline option has a lower upfront price.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Portable Solar Power
Your portable solar power unit will serve you well if you treat it well. Here’re a few common mistakes to avoid:
Don’t Leave the Charge Controller Behind
You may connect the solar panels directly to the battery to power your appliances, but that could damage the battery. Consider including a charge controller in your portable solar power system package.
Don’t Overload the System
Overloading the system would reduce the period it can serve you. Moreover, overworking the system may shorten the lifespan of the components. As a result, ensure you assemble the correct system size for your load.
Don’t Let Dirt Collect on the Panels
Portable panels can easily become dirty as you touch and move them around. Dirty panels can be inefficient in generating power. Clean the panels regularly to remove dust that may accumulate on their surface.
Don’t Mount the Panel Where Sun Won’t Hit Its Surface Directly
Portable panels typically come with a kickstand for mounting. Mount the panels so that the sun hits directly at the surface. You may also need to relocate the panels to avoid shadows.
Don’t Put Heavy Weight on the Panels
Although portable panels are typically sturdy, they still require gentle handling. A crack on the panel’s surface can diminish its efficiency or allow moisture to settle and damage it. Therefore, avoid dropping your heavy backpack on the panels.
Summary – Can Portable Solar Panels Connect Directly to a Battery?
Portable solar panels can connect directly to a battery as long as the panel output doesn’t exceed 5 watts. You need a charge controller between the panel and the battery for larger panels. The controller protects the battery from overcharging and prevents the backflow of charge to the panels.
- Battery Stuff: Solar Info: The Down Low on Everything Up High
- Quora: Can I Connect a Solar Panel Directly To a Battery?
- Renogy: How to Fuse Your Solar System
- Amazon: Renogy 1000W Pure Sine Wave Inverter
- Amazon: P3 P4400 Kill A Watt
- Renogy: How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?
- LDSreliance: Top 7 Mistakes Newbies Make Going Solar
- Northern Arizona Wind & Sun: Solar Charge Controller Basics
- Bluetti Power: Bad Habits That Damage Portable Solar Panels
- Amazon: WERCHTAY 30A Solar Charge Controller
- Morning Star: What are the Different Types of Solar Charge Controllers?
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