Portable solar panels are substantially lighter and have smaller variants of fixed or mounted setups. You’ll probably consider portable solar panels as a convenient and reasonably reliable off-grid power source. However, can you use portable solar panels for your house?
You can use portable solar panels for your house to recharge a backup power battery or run a few small electrical appliances and electronic devices. However, portable solar panels are unlikely to produce or supply adequate power for your house or most of your needs.
Portable solar panels are a valuable power source outdoors, especially if you are off the grid. Unlike a house with many large appliances, an off-grid adventure doesn’t demand a lot of electricity. Read on to know why you can’t use portable solar panels for your house and see the few instances when you can.
How Powerful Are Portable Solar Panels?
Portable solar panels are not as powerful as those with a fixed installation or those mounted on roofs of residential properties. Besides, the rated power of portable solar panels offers a somewhat limited capability when considering such a setup for your house.
Many consequential variables determine the feasibility of using portable solar panels for any type of house, including the following:
- The solar panel’s actual wattage
- Nominal voltage
- Power produced
- Power supplied, accounting for transmission loss
- Solar cell efficiency
- Your requirements
Putting these variables aside, let’s discuss why portable solar panels aren’t powerful enough to be feasible for your house.
Apartments in the Northeast may consume as little as 8,000 kWh of electricity in a year. But the average electricity consumption for houses is approximately 11,000 kWh per year.
Suppose you want to use portable solar panels for your house to meet such electricity demands. A standard portable solar panel is rated for 100 watts (0.13 hp). The actual wattage delivered will be slightly less because the conditions are rarely ideal.
Also, no solar panel is 100% efficient, whether fixed, mounted, or portable.
If your annual electricity consumption is 10,000 kWh to 11,000 kWh, your daily consumption is around 30 kWh. So, a solar panel system should generate 30 kWh or 1,250 W of power daily to meet your house’s electricity requirements.
A 100W portable solar panel operating at 80% efficiency can generate 80 Wh in 1 hour. If there are around 8 hours of sunlight daily, the daily power generated by such a portable solar panel will be 640 Wh or 0.64 kWh. So, you will need 48 such portable solar panels for your house.
If you consider 200W (0.27 hp) portable solar panels, your setup should have 24 to meet around 30 kWh of electricity requirements in your house. Of course, you may not want to replace the grid power supply entirely with portable solar panels, but even a partial replacement isn’t straightforward.
Here are a few common issues you might encounter while using portable solar panels for your house:
- The actual wattage of portable solar panels may vary from 50% to 80% throughout the day.
- The available power is typically less than the daily production due to transmission loss.
- The portable solar panels may not be set up at a site for optimum efficiency or reliability.
- Voltage discrepancies and necessary conversions will reduce the available solar power.
- You’ll need an enormous solar generator, inverter, or power station for your house.
When Can You Use Portable Solar Panels for Your House?
You can use portable solar panels for your house if the appliances or devices you’ll run with solar require little power.
Also, portable solar panels are most efficient at powering electronics that run on DC power. Large electrical appliances running on AC power are much heavier and difficult to power with portable solar panels.
Here are a few instances when you can use portable solar panels for your house:
- When powering small electronic devices. You can conveniently charge electronic devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets and recharge batteries and power banks with one or more portable solar panels.
- When you have a large solar generator, inverter, or power station at home to store and supply sufficient energy. Many household appliances need more than 1,000 watts (1.34 hp). You need a 3 kWh setup or a larger system to run multiple appliances simultaneously.
- When your use of portable solar panels for your house is only limited to backup power or supplementing the grid. There’s no reason why you can’t use portable solar panels for your house as long as you can store and supply the energy whenever you need it.
Regardless of the power of a single portable solar panel or the combined wattage, not every scenario is straightforward. The eventual availability or output of power depends on the variables mentioned above, which I elaborate on later in this article.
How Should You Use Portable Solar Panels for Your House?
You can use portable solar panels for your house to power or run DC devices like the following:
- 12 VDC / 24 VDC batteries
- Mobile chargers (5 VDC)
- Fast chargers (9, 12, 20 VDC)
- Laptops (19 VDC to 23 VDC)
You can’t use portable solar panels for your house to run appliances requiring AC power without a solar generator or inverter. A power station can serve as an all-inclusive intermediary unit for a setup of portable solar panels, acting as the following:
- Charge controller
- Integrated battery
- Inverter (DC/AC)
Such power stations typically have both AC and DC outlets. Plus, some solar power generators or stations have an AC inlet, so you can use a standard wall receptacle or outlet to recharge its battery. You can use these power stations with and without portable solar panels.
However, solar generators or power stations are still portable batteries and inverters. You can’t use one to feed power into the entire electrical circuit of your house without connecting it to the load center or service panel. How you connect such inverters depends on a few factors, such as:
- Do you want portable solar panels with an inverter and battery as a backup?
- Do you want to offset some grid power with a setup of portable solar panels?
- Do you want to use solar energy as the primary power source for your house?
A backup power system for only a part of your house or some electrical fixtures will likely require separate panels to segregate the loads. Offsetting the grid or using solar energy as your primary power source requires different approaches, as does feeding electricity into the grid.
You should consult an electrician, preferably a solar installer, to safely install portable panels for your house.
Why You Can’t Use Portable Solar Panels for Your House
The feasibility of using portable solar panels for your house is not solely about the rated wattage or power. A few significant technicalities distinguish portable solar panels from fixed or mounted setups, such as the following:
- ADT Solar
- Semper Solaris
Here are the key differences that make portable solar panels less feasible or not viable for your house compared to fixed or roof-mounted setups:
Fixed or Roof-Mounted Solar Panels Are Rated for 400 Watts or Higher
Consider the example of Tesla solar panels for existing roofs. These 400W (0.54 hp) solar panels are a lot more powerful than the likes of SolarSaga 100. Even the 200W (0.27 hp) portable solar panels of Renogy can’t deliver nearly half of the power or as much efficiency as Tesla’s roof-mounted panels.
The more recent models of Tesla solar panels have the following wattages:
- T420S: 420 watts (0.56 hp)
- T425S: 425 watts (0.57 hp)
- T430S: 430 watts (0.58 hp)
Forget about the higher efficiency of fixed or roof-mounted solar panels for the moment. If you opt for Tesla, you’ll need 75% fewer panels than Jackery SolarSaga 100 and half as many Renogy’s 200W foldable suitcases.
The other major advantage is the space requirement. Tesla’s 400W (0.54 hp) solar panels are 74.4 inches x 41.2 inches x 1.57 inches (189 cm x 104.6 cm x 4 cm). The T420S solar panels and other versions are 82.4 inches x 40.9 inches x 1.57 inches (209.4 cm x 103.8 mm x 4 cm).
An unfolded SolarSaga 100 is 48 inches x 21 inches x 0.2 inches (122 cm x 535 cm x 0.5 cm). Since the SolarSaga 100 is rated at 100W and the Tesla at 400W, one might expect the portable panel to be four times as small as the Tesla panel. However, the SolarSaga 100 is more than half the size of a Tesla.
So, you get 4 times the power of portable solar panels with Tesla, if not more, while using much less space.
Portable Solar Panels Are Mostly Compatible With 12V or 24V Batteries
Both SolarSaga 100 and Renogy 200W (0.27 hp) portable solar panels work with 12V circuits. A charge controller for such setups is usually compatible with 12V and 24V batteries and toggles the input voltage accordingly. However, portable solar panels don’t work with higher DC voltages.
These low DC voltages are perfect for electronics, but they won’t work for your household appliances. You need a 110/120V or 220/240V AC supply. The lower voltage you start with, the more energy you’ll lose in the conversion and transmission process.
Similarly, you’ll need an inverter to convert the current to AC and a transformer to bump up its voltage for your house’s wall outlets or receptacles. Every extra component in a setup increases the loss of energy in transmission.
Even if your portable solar panels have a Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) charge controller that can readily convert low DC voltages to higher nominal figures, the gains aren’t significant as you still have to mitigate the energy loss. The input and output voltage ratio must be as low as possible to maximize efficiency.
Fixed or Roof-Mounted Solar Panel Systems Are Much More Efficient
Fixed or roof-mounted solar panels are much more efficient than portable setups. Tesla solar inverters are 97.5% efficient. So, a T420S should supply at least 400 watts (0.54 hp) of power during peak solar hours. In contrast, portable solar panels rarely provide over 75% of the rated wattage.
Additionally, Tesla and other roof-mounted solar panels don’t lose as much electricity during conversion or transmission. The open circuit voltage for Tesla’s solar panels is 48 VDC. Tesla isn’t unique in this context because many other brands work at the same nominal voltage.
Also, many battery and power systems use 48 VDC, such as the following:
A DC-to-DC converter or an MPPT charge controller bumping up a 12V input voltage to a 48V outlet will lose much more energy than a system working with 48 VDC inputs and outputs. Also, solar inverters have an open circuit voltage range.
The Tesla Solar Inverter has an input voltage range of 60 VDC to 550 VDC. The MPPT voltage range for the Tesla Solar Inverter is 60 VDC to 480 VDC. Thus, the Tesla solar panels for roofs lose little to no electricity in transmission, whether in parallel or series configuration.
Any other loss likely due to batteries and inverters is prevented or reduced by the highly efficient Tesla solar inverters, which doesn’t happen with most portable solar panels.
Fixed or Roof-Mounted Solar Panels Are Significantly More Reliable
Fixed or roof-mounted solar panels are installed after extensive consultation, onsite inspection, and virtual assessments. Every aspect is taken into account, especially the following:
- Location of your house
- Roof orientation and slope
- Peak sun or solar hours
- Solar incidence angle
- Surrounding factors
On the other hand, portable solar panels are generally set up based on subjective assessments, which is mostly a guesstimate in a given scenario. This approach makes incompatible and weaker portable solar panels more unviable for your house.
Furthermore, you are unlikely to mount portable solar panels on the roof of your house. A panel on the ground will be vulnerable to shade due to the immediate surroundings, whether houses or trees, among other structures, blocking sunlight completely or partially.
You can use portable solar panels for your house to charge batteries and run devices that need DC power. They can also contribute to a backup power system.
Otherwise, consider roof-mounted solar panels that deliver more power with greater efficiency and reliability.
- U.S. Energy Information Administration: Electricity Use in Homes
- U.S. Energy Information Administration: How Much Electricity Does an American Home Use?
- RapidTables: kWh to Watts Calculator
- Renogy: What Can I Power With a 100 Watt Solar Panel?
- Tesla: Solar Panels
- Renogy: 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase
- Tesla: Photovoltaic Module – T420S, T425S, and T430S
- Jackery: SolarSaga 100W Solar Panel
- Phocos: PV Module Configuration and MPPT Charge Controller Performance
- Tesla: Solar Inverter
- Tesla: Solar Inverter and Solar Shutdown Device Datasheet
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