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Having enough juice while on outdoor adventures can significantly enhance your experience to another level - capturing energy from the sun, storing it, and enabling you to run different devices and appliances, such as charging cameras, laptops, drones, heaters, TVs, mini-fridges, and more.
In this article, we'll introduce you to 2 kinds of solar systems designed for Overlanding enthusiasts. We'll look deep into the 2 different types and their practical applications, and we'll offer some tips for setting up your solar system.
2 Types of Overlanding Solar Systems
When thinking of solar setups for Overlanding and Off-Roading, you’ll have 2 options: built-in systems and solar generator kits.
1. Solar Generator Kits - Portable Solar System
Solar generator kits are compact devices that integrate essential components such as the battery, charge controller, and inverter, making them easy to carry around and very convenient. All you need to do is select a compatible solar panel, and you're ready to go.
In general, solar generator kits have two main components:
Portable Power Stations
Think of portable power stations as having built-in lithium-ion batteries that store energy collected from solar panels. You can recharge these stations before your trip using wall outlets, while driving with a car charger, or harness the sun's rays with a portable solar panel.
Manufacturers typically specify charging times for these power stations, which can vary depending on whether you're using a wall outlet, your car's electrical system, or a solar panel. Generally, larger batteries take longer to charge than smaller ones.
In addition to the battery, two other critical components come into play:
The controller: It prevents the battery from overcharging by managing voltage and current.
The inverter: It converts direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC) to power your devices and appliances.
It is important to understand two units of portable power station, which are watt(W) and watt-hour(Wh):
Watt: A watt is a measure of how quickly something uses or makes energy. Imagine it like a speedometer for energy. If a device uses 100 watts, it's using 100 units of energy every second.
Watt-hour: This is like measuring how much energy a device uses or stores over time. Think of it as a container that holds energy. If a device uses 100 watts for 1 hour, it's using 100 watts of energy.
For a reliable overland solar solution, consider the versatile and high-quality option offered by POWEREPUBLIC. This setup allows you to charge it in your vehicle and/or via solar panels, making it capable of powering a small overlanding fridge during extended trips.
Portable/Foldable Solar Panels
They harness the sunlight and store the energy for later use. Most of them on the market today are lightweight, efficient, and easy to transport. Some newer models even feature USB and various power outlets, allowing you to charge your devices directly.
Under ideal conditions with sufficient sun exposure, it will maximize the solar panel’s ability to harness the sun energy(DC). Popular sizes for portable solar panels used for outdoor enthusiasts include PV100 (100W portable solar panel) and PV200 (200W portable solar panel).
2. Overlanding Solar Set Ups
Built-in solar setups tend to be more substantial compared to the portable options we discussed earlier. These systems come in different levels of complexity.
Built-in solar systems typically include several essential components:
(Portable)Solar Panels: They are very easy to fold up and fit inside your vehicle, or panels with sturdy frames suitable for mounting on top of your Overlanding vehicles.
Battery: There are several types of batteries on the market. One of the most applied batteries is the LFP batteries.
Controller: These useful devices prevent solar panels from overcharging your batteries and ensure your batteries don't lose energy back when there’s not enough sunlight.
Inverter: It converts direct current(DC) to alternative current(AC) so that you can power the gadgets you need, like portable fridges, radios, and personal devices such as phones, laptops, tablets, cameras, and so forth.
Wiring & Fuses: To create a functioning system, you have to use them to connect all the components.
Switches: Add control switches or dials for added convenience. This allows you to neatly stow the battery while still maintaining access and control through these handy switches and dials.
Choosing The Right Solar Systems For You
It is quite simple!
You will need to ask yourself 2 questions. First, what kind of devices and appliances do you want to power on the road? Second, for how long do you want to power them? Knowing the answer to these 2 questions will help you decide which solar system is right for you.
What Kind Of Devices You Want To Power On The Road?
First, it is very important to know what kind of devices and appliances you want to power.
Then, to calculate the running time of the devices and appliances, such as a portable fridge, you can use the following formula to estimate:
Running Time=Battery Capacity Of The Portable Power Station(Wh) * 0.85(conversion rate)/ Total power of your devices(W)
For example, a mini fridge requires 95 watts to operate. Using the formula, a POWEREPUBLIC T1200 (1200W/1110Wh) can power it for approximately 8 to 9 hours without charging other devices at the same time.
What’s The Amount Of The Time You Need To Use The System?
For short trips, such as weekend getaways, a system with lower capacity may suffice compared to overland journeys that last for months, as you will only have to charge your essentials like phones, GPS, laptops, cameras, drones, and so forth.
In general, solar generator kits will be enough for camping and weekend trips. For more power usage, longer journeys, or limited recharging chances, a built-in solar system or a solar generator kit with a larger capacity would be better for you.
Also, consider the recharging options. Frequent, long-distance drives can recharge your batteries from your vehicle and solar panels. However, in cloudy, rainy, or snowy conditions, or extremely low temperatures, solar panel recharging might be limited. For those with higher energy needs and longer trips, the system offers faster solar energy capture, more storage, broader device compatibility, and less frequent recharging. Keep in mind that larger systems come with higher costs, and added weight, and need more knowledge to set it up before roaming.
Comparing The Two: Which One Is Better?
Comparing solar generator kits to built-in solar systems boils down to a trade-off between battery capacity and cost. Also, the level of expertise and knowledge required for installing the system should be considered as well.
In plain terms, built-in solar systems generally offer more power storage and generation capacity at a lower overall cost compared to solar generator kits. However, they do demand a more intricate setup process that takes more time.
Here are some key points to help you decide:
Limited Time and Know-How: If you're short on time or lack technical know-how and prefer not to hire assistance, solar generator kits might be your top choice.
Short Off-Grid Trips: For brief off-grid adventures where you only need to power a few essential gadgets, solar generator kits could be the most practical option.
Flexibility: If you value the flexibility of taking your system wherever you go, solar generator kits are a better fit.
Extended Off-Grid Travel: For longer off-grid journeys or powering larger devices, a built-in solar setup could offer better cost-effectiveness.
These guidelines provide a simplified framework for your solar system decision-making. Keep in mind that individual needs can vary, but these points give you a solid starting point to get a general sense of what suits you best.
Other Alternatives Power Systems
Besides solar generator kits and built-in solar systems, over the years, there have been a few other alternatives, and these options might still be suitable for specific situations.
In campgrounds that permit RVs without electrical hookups, you'll frequently encounter individuals using gas-powered generators. Typically, these generators serve the purpose of recharging the RV's battery system, ensuring it can provide electricity to your devices.
Gas generators have a notable advantage: they can produce electricity even when there isn't sufficient sunlight, like during cloudy/snowy weather. However, they do come with several drawbacks. You have to transport fuel to keep them running, and they are heavy and noisy, making them less convenient for portability. Additionally, their environmental impact is more significant when compared to solar generator kits and built-in solar systems.
By utilizing their vehicle's engine to produce and save electricity, dual-battery systems are chosen by many Overlanders. Here's how it worked: an extra car battery was installed to charge on the go. This secondary battery could then power your electronics without depleting the original one.
Dual-battery setups are relatively compact, typically requiring just an extra battery. However, they have their downsides. Charging is possible only when the vehicle is in motion, and setting them up involves intricate wiring, which can be somewhat challenging. Furthermore, dual battery systems are not easily detachable and are not very convenient to move around, which reduces their flexibility and adaptability.
Final Wrap Up
In summary, portable solar systems are essential for outdoor enthusiasts, providing reliable energy for various devices during adventures like overlanding, camping, and extended journeys. These systems come in two types: portable and built-in. Portable solar generator kits are user-friendly and include integrated components like solar panels, batteries, charge controllers, and inverters.
When choosing a system, consider your power requirements, device compatibility, usage duration, and recharging options. Smaller systems are suitable for short trips with frequent recharges, while larger ones offer more capacity for extended journeys.
While built-in systems are cost-effective for storage and generation, they require technical expertise. In contrast, portable systems provide quick and versatile solutions. Alternatives like gas generators and dual-battery setups also exist, each with its advantages and disadvantages.
With this knowledge, you can confidently select and install the right portable solar system for your outdoor adventures, enjoying the freedom and self-sufficiency that solar power offers.
Explore POWEREPUBLIC Solar Generator Kit.