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Portable Solar Power

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

Battery charging is part of the regular routine for motorhome owners, especially those who frequent areas without hookups. While running a generator will certainly get the job done, and more efficiently with a multistage charger onboard, many owners prefer a more green – and quiet – approach to charging batteries. That’s why solar panels have become so popular.

Solarland Solar Powered Products offers a unique way to capture the sun’s rays with its folding portable solar battery charger. Two 40-watt solar panels are configured in a folding frame that measures 26 by 42 by 2 inches when open, and with adjustable legs can be positioned for spot-on exposure to the sun.

The whole setup is packaged in a polyester carrying bag that’s padded adequately to protect the panels. All the cables are included, allowing connection to the battery via clamps or an accessory receptacle/plug. For motorhome purposes, the battery clamps are used, and there’s more than 16 feet of cable so there’s good versatility in positioning the panels.

To set it up, the panels are unfolded and two legs are extended. You simply connect the battery clamps to the long cable and attach the clamps to the terminals on the battery you want to charge. There are three pretty stout hinges that connect the panels, and holes are provided in the bottom of the frame for pinning to the ground for additional stability. The panels weigh 33 pounds without the case, which increases the total weight to just shy of 40 pounds. Its portability makes it easy to position the panels to take advantage of direct sun – and reposition as the sun moves in the sky.

An automatic solar controller is attached to the rear of one panel and connected to both using junction boxes. The controller has a rated current of 7 amps and will automatically cut out when the batteries are fully charged and when reverse polarity is detected. A switch accommodates lead-acid or gel batteries. When the batteries are charging, a yellow LED is illuminated constantly; yellow and green LEDs will illuminate when the batteries are fully charged.

To test the effectiveness of the panels, we positioned them toward the sun during the most opportune time of the day and hooked them up to the motorhome’s batteries. Using a sophisticated meter, we recorded up to 5.5 amps.

Granted, using just one panel is not a practical way to keep up with seriously depleted house batteries during a trip, but it will keep you going minimally if you use 12-volt DC power judiciously and have strong sun exposure for most of the day. It’s also possible to connect up to four panel sets, which changes the dynamics completely. If you struggle with a depleted starting battery while in storage, this panel will serve you well.

The 80-watt system retails for $595; a 120-watt version is $795. The panels may be purchased through: CEA Solar, 602-339-1549, www.rvsolarnow.com.

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