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Portable Solar Panels and Solar Regulators

 
portable solar panel
 

Once the caravan, 5th wheeler or trailer is set up on site for a few days camping it is in a fixed position which may not be the optimum area for fixed solar panels to capture the most light, particularly early morning and late afternoon as the panels are not perpendicular to the sun, or some shading may occur from roof top air conditioners or trees so some add extra panels to compensate for this tolerance.

 

portable solar panelPortable solar power systems, including flexible solar panels, are now lightweight and convenient for camping or camper trailer use for charging the battery back-up power for portable refrigeration and lighting.  You can have it set up so the hinged fold-up portable solar panel plugs into your existing solar power system of your RV or the solar panel may come with a cable with battery alligator clips to attach to a battery for say a camper trailer/tent trailer or vehicle dual battery system.

 

Flexible & Semi-Flexible Solar Panels/Solar Blankets

Redarc 12V Solar produce a Flexible Amorphous Blanket with amorphous solar panels laminated onto a durable canvas backing. The solar panels (27W & 36W amorphous blankets) are glass free, flexible and about a third of the weight of comparable size fold-up solar panel kits. Redarc state the solar panels produce energy even in low light or partial shade and folds up like a blanket for storage.

Redarc also produce 90W & 120W fold-up monocrystalline solar panel kits on a sturdy aluminium frame, fold out legs and stand-alone regulator to keep it away from the heat thereby making it more efficient.

Uni-Solar was a manufacturer of roll-up flexible amorphous silicon photovoltaic solar panels still available in Australia. The solar panels are made from special UV stabilised polymers making them durable. They are glass-free, flexible and lightweight.  The panels came rolled up, complete with adhesive to stick them onto any flat, clean surface.  Uni-Solar laminates are stated to be shadow and high heat tolerant. One buyer reported the panel is of a plastic composition and attracts dust and the panel surface is soft and prone to scratching. As Uni-Solar no longer manufacture these panels anymore, make enquiries to satisfy yourself they will meet your needs.

 

Collyn Rivers - Solar That Really Works

A useful book to read for a better understanding of solar power for motorhomes, fifth-wheelers, caravans and campervans is ‘Solar That Really Works’ by Collyn Rivers.  He is also the author of ‘The Camper Trailer Book’ which has information on batteries, battery charging and supplementing with solar.

A few brand names/suppliers for solar panels are BP Solar Panel, Kyocera Solar Panel, The 12V Shop, Solar Online Australia, Springers Low Voltage Specialists, Solar Xpress and Rainbow Power Company Ltd.  Some brand names/suppliers of solar regulators are Plasmatronics, Redarc, Bainbridge Technology Solutions, Outback Power Solutions and Blue Sky Energy.

 

Solar Regulators

Solar charge regulators or solar charge controllers regulate or control the solar output from the solar panels into the batteries without overcharging or damaging the batteries. As the batteries are being charged the battery terminal voltage increases and nearly all regulators use the terminal voltage to determine how fully charged a battery is.

So, the solar panels or solar modules produce the energy which is then stored in the deep-cycle batteries for use.  For example, your RV is not connected to mains power and the solar panels are providing power to charge the batteries and a compressor refrigerator is drawing on the 12V power stored in the deep-cycle battery bank.  If there is more power going in to the batteries than that being drawn by the compressor fridge (or any other appliance running) then the batteries will be slowly being charged.  If there is nothing to control the charging then the batteries can be overcharged which may result in boiling batteries and corrosion of its plates.  So, a charge regulator is used to control the charging current from the source thereby preventing overcharging or damaging the battery or batteries.

The best regulator is a multi-voltage regulator or one designed for use with solar panel set-ups and these solar charge regulators are a three stage unit incorporating boost, equalise and float mode.  Another type of solar regulator can also feature a low voltage disconnect (LVD) which will disconnect any load to the battery where it identifies that any continuous draw will can cause permanent battery damage. 

Motorhomes may have a 24 Volt or 12 Volt battery system and you need to know what system you have before you buy a solar controller/regulator as the solar controller/regular converts the voltage into 24V or 12V. 

Plasmatronic Solar Regulator There is a product called a ‘smart regulator’ which can display information such as how much charge is going in, how much charge is currently being consumed and other information.  For example, Plasmatronics Pty Limited have a product Intelligent Regulators PL Series which have a comprehensive LCD display that shows battery voltage (or state of charge - SOC), Amp hours in and out, charge current, load current, battery temperature, performance data for the last 30 days as well as high and low battery alarm feature.

For those of you who have a PL series solar charge controller Plasmatronics have a PLS2 shunt adaptor that allows the controller to measure charge or load currents that do not go through the controller.  This allows generator or inverter currents to be included in the controller’s display.  Plasmatronics state the Amp hour reading and SOC (state of charge) will not be meaningful unless all the currents in the system are measured.  The PLS2 shunt adaptor measures the current in a current shunt and then converts that measurement into a digital form and this data is then sent to the PL controller.

It is a good idea to have the solar regulator or solar charge controller located where it is vented and where you can easily view the LCD display.  A remote LCD display (PL Series Remote Monitor) inside your RV is a good idea so you do not have to go outside at night or in bad weather to read the LCD display located say in the boot of a caravan.  For added protection to reduce the risk of fire a properly rated fuse should be placed between the solar panels and the regulator.

Plasmatronics now have a 'Dingo' series of solar regulators and controllers. The Dingo Series controllers were designed for use in Caravan, camping and marine applications but its main application is for vehicle systems, such as campervans, motorhomes, caravan, cars, trucks and boats as it is easier for people used to working on vehicle systems to understand, due to the Negative grounding.

To maximize solar efficiency, solar installations are best installed by solar experts.

 

 

 
 

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