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SolarTown Learning

Portable Solar Modules: What You Need to Know

04-16-2010
Category: Solar Electronics

Commercial photovoltaic technology has advanced considerably since its inception in the 1970s. Not only can consumers purchase large home solar panels for their roofs, but now a number of companies manufacture portable solar modules that can be carried on a picnic, hike, or skiing trip. SolarTown carries over 15 different varieties of portable photovoltaic modules, each with inherent advantages and disadvantages. If you're thinking of purchasing a solar battery charger, there are some important considerations to make before deciding which style to choose.

Thin film or crystalline?

Portable solar modules come in two popular forms: thin film and crystalline. Crystalline solar panels (single crystal or polycrystalline structures) use the oldest form of photovoltaic technology on the market. They are about the thickness of a human finger nail and many are cut from a single sheet of silicon and glass. Solar cells made from these silicon crystals are highly durable, last over twenty years, and have a rich blue coloration. They are among the most efficient and least expensive solar panels available.

Thin film panels on the other hand can be made with a plastic glazing instead of glass or metal. This means that engineers can design them to be lightweight and flexible. Thin film panels are ideal for hiking or camping expeditions where portability and weight are import factors. Some thin film cells perform slightly better than crystalline modules under low light conditions, and they are less susceptible to power loss from partial shading.

Overall however, thin film panels have lower efficiencies and are more expensive than crystalline models. They are larger than comparable crystalline cells and they degrade over time. Deciding between thin film panels and crystalline panels depends on how you intend to use your solar battery charger.

How much power do I need?

There is nothing more frustrating than buying a portable solar module only to find that it doesn't provide enough juice to power your favorite electronics. Before you make any purchasing decisions, you should ask yourself, do you intend to use the panel to power large electronics, like a laptop computer or a portable DVD player, or will the module be used to charge smaller devices? Portable solar modules come with a range of different capabilities regarding power output. Some of the smallest solar panels generate as little as 5 watts of power, enough to charge the battery of a cell phone, portable gaming console, PDA, or digital camera. Charging laptop computers or portable DVD players, however, may require a larger portable solar module that can generate 30 watts of power. 

Will I need to purchase additional accessories?

Many portable solar modules require cords or power regulators that may not be included in the price of the module. For example, if you're looking to purchase a Sunlinq Thin Film Panel to charge your iPod, you may be surprised to find out that the cable linking the panel to an iPod is sold separately. Other portable solar modules, like the Solio Solar Charger, come with a cable specifically intended for linking an iPod. It's therefore important to check the product specifications and ensure that you get all of the accessories that you may need.

Purchasing a solar portable charger may be an exciting experience for a first time buyer. With it, you may never again have to worry about being stranded in the middle of the woods with a dead battery in your GPS or cell phone. However, a basic understanding the features and capabilities of each portable solar module will help you make your selection.


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