Harnessing the power of the sun is nothing new; in fact we’ve been using solar technology as far back as 7 B.C.
Were you ever one of those kids that would hold a magnifying glass over ants and watch their inevitable demise? Ok maybe not, but in ancient times they would use the same technology to concentrate the sun’s ray and make fire.
Since then we have come a long way from south-facing homes that capture the suns warmth, solar ovens right through to the very first solar cell invented in 1954.
But, we’re not here to give you a history lesson, you probably want to know what things you need to consider when shopping for solar for your recreational vehicle.
Here are 6 things you didn’t know about solar:
Different cell technology
There are three types of cells you can get in solar panels; poly-crystalline, monocrystalline, and amorphous cells. Typically you will find poly-crystalline and monocrystalline cells in your ridged panel, but you can find monocrystalline cells in blankets as well.
All crystalline panels lose a small percentage of output as temperature rises above 25°C. Monocrystalline cells do this to a lesser degree than your polycrystalline cells.
Now the cool kid on the block is Amorphous cell technology. Amorphous cells are made from a fine layer of silicon which means they can be really flexible, and are typically in a blanket form. They can also withstand higher temperatures compared to crystalline cells, meaning they do not suffer from performance loss until really really high temperatures. And you’d probably be hightailing to the nearest shady spot at that point anyway!
Check out some more cool facts on the differences between different cell types.
This is a Monocrystalline cell, they are pretty cool
Different quality Monocrystalline cells
So by now we have established a hierarchy from less efficient to most efficient, all things being equal:
Poly-crystalline > monocrystalline > Amorphous
But you probably didn’t know that you can then also then get different quality Monocrystalline cells. Think of it when you shop for a diamond and considering the 4C’s. The higher quality jeweller, the better quality diamonds, which also generally means you pay for a higher premium.
In the world of portable solar that’s SunPower cells. SunPower cells are the latest monocrystalline technology.
Compared to standard mono-crystalline cells SunPower cells are designed to reduce cell failure from corrosion and breakage. They feature no gridlines, a solid copper backing and thick connectors for high efficiency.
SunPower cells won’t be affected by partial shading. For example, if debris (like a leaf) happens to fall on the cells, they will still continue to perform. Compare this to conventional monocrystalline panels and you will find that they will lose performance or in some cases they will stop working all together.
All this results in higher efficiency, which can deliver more power in a smaller and lighter package.
Get more power wherever you travel with REDARC's solar blankets (it even comes in a pretty red colour)
You really do get what you pay for
Ok, so following the diamond analogy from above, Amorphous cells are a bit like the Tiffany & Co of the portable solar world.
Although Amorphous blankets require more cells for the same output as a monocrystalline cells, they are able to compensate this for a variety of factors.
They are more light weight and more flexible – you can throw it on top of your car, lay it on the floor or hang it up and it will still perform well. Its flexible design reduces risk of cell breakage.
On top of that it performs better in low light conditions as they are designed to capture the full spectrum of light compared to conventional mono and poly cells. Think of it as the Cut in diamonds. The more intricate facets a diamond has the better it can interact with light which what gives you that brilliance and sparkle factor.
Amorphous blankets are able to do this because it incorporates a Uni-Solar triple junction cell which features three separate red, blue and green concentrated cell layers that absorb a wider band of the visible light spectrum.
Portable solar is a dime a dozen with the cheap imports you get from China. But is cheap always the best? When you see a panel with numerous “pieces” of cell all connected together you can tell that impure or poor quality cells have been used, the worst bits of the original cell have been cut away leaving the somewhat useable remains to be strung together. The cheapest usually means the cells are of low quality subject to breakage, efficiency loss and early failure.
Bottom line is you get what you pay for, and it's best to make a good investment when it comes to charging your batteries when travelling.
You’re going to need a regulator
A solar regulator and solar panel is a bit like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – it doesn’t make sense to have one without the other, plus a regulator is kind of important. Solar Panels typically supply between 16V-18V of power and if that much goes into your battery what’s going to happen? A fried battery.
A solar regulator ensures that the correct charge is supplied and protects batteries from over charging and appliances against getting too much voltage.
So having a high quality regulator is a must.
Not all panels (and blankets) are made equal
When it comes to solar, output loss is to be expected but better quality solar panels will be much more efficient at mitigating against this loss of energy.
So knowing how your panels are rated is a must.
When you have calculated how much you think you need to power all your batteries, go the next level up. You are better off overcompensating than underestimating the wattage size of your solar panel.
And if crunching numbers isn’t your thing, our Solar Panel Calculator provides an indicative measure on how much power will be needed per day depending on the size of the auxiliary battery bank and appliances used whilst touring.
Check it out, the SunPower Monocrystalline blanket packs a punch - enjoy a hot cuppa whilst you soak up those rays
Affected by the weather
A significant drawback when using solar is that efficiency of your panels is reliant on weather. Your panels are not going to give you a lot of output on a cloudy day. So you will probably need a backup – like a generator for those days when the sun don’t shine.
However, in Australia where there is plenty of sun all year round, you’d be crazy not to harness its full potential. Other countries aren’t so lucky (looking at you England).
Useable sun hours can vary in Australia from 11 hours in Karratha to just 5 hours in Hobart.
Now for the shameless plug.
REDARC’s new range of solar blankets are perfect for the times you want to get away from traditional campsites and extend your stay by an extra few days.
REDARC monocrystalline SunPower blankets are a third of the weight and half the size of an equivalent glass solar kits – making these really easy to store especially for longer trips where space is an issue.
And then the REDARC Amorphous blanket is ideal for travelling when maximum sunlight hours vary around the country as it performs better in lower light conditions. In addition, it is less affected by minor partial shading than monocrystalline panels.
Whatever you choose, whether it’s the Monocrystalline or the Amorphous solar blankets, REDARC can power you through.
To watch the full episode, go here.
For the full range click here.
Why not try our new solar calculator? Test how much power you need to deliver to your appliances every day to keep them charged using the REDARC Solar Calculator.