I began looking into solar panels after our trip to New Zealand. We rented a campervan equipped with a 12-volt refrigerator to explore the South Island. While the van was setup with a dual battery system, it failed on the second day of our trip so we were left running the refrigerator off of the primary battery. I began to think that, if sized appropriately, a solar panel could eliminate the need for a second battery or the need to use the engine to charge the battery during the middle of the day when refrigerator loads are highest.
We needed a panel design conducive to international travel and since we wanted to be able to fly with it in our checked luggage, it would need to be light weight and have a compact design. After meeting with manufacturers, I decided to go with a PowerFilm foldable panel. These foldable panels are designed for use by military units deployed around the world. They are semi-flexible and constructed with a heavy canvas back which allows them to be draped over a roof rack full of gear, over a vehicle’s windshield, or staked to the ground.
I contacted AJIK Overland Exchange, www.AJIKOverlandExchange.com, and explained my power needs to Josh. We needed a solar panel capable of generating enough electricity to power our 63qt ARB refrigerator, help charge my laptop, and charge any miscellaneous devices we be running during our travels. I knew my largest continuous load would be our fridge, with a maximum draw of 2.3 amps at 12 volts. We ran some numbers and determined a 60 watt panel ($875) would be large enough to handle our electrical loads.
The 60 watt solar panel kit included the PowerFilm 60W foldable panel and a 12 volt cigarette adapter. We also ordered a solar controller, battery cables with alligator clips, and four tent stakes to enable us to connect the panel to our 4Runner’s battery and ensure it does not blow away in our Wyoming wind. The entire setup weighs less than four pounds and folds down to 13.25”x7”x2”. Installation is easy, with water-tight electrical connectors used to connect the panel to the solar controller and the solar controller to the battery cables. While the wiring kit could be modified to permanently mount the power regulator to the vehicle, we chose to run the wiring as supplied. This allows us the option of easily bringing the system on our international adventures where rental vehicles are used.
We are incredibly pleased with the PowerFilm’s performance and durability. The entire kit can be stored in two MOLLE pouches in the truck and can be easily deployed whenever we stop for camp. I still believe we made the right decision for our electrical power needs. Although the setup is slightly more money than the price of a dual battery system and a second Sears DieHard battery, I feel it is more versatile and serves our needs better. I would recommend the PowerFilm line of foldable solar panels to anyone looking for a compact, durable, and powerful solution to their in the field electrical needs.
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