We all know about solar panels, but do you actually need one? How well do compact solar panels work? I review the ECEEN 10W Folding Solar Panel. The strengths: You can use the solar to charge phones, iPads, and battery power banks, and you it could help save you if stranded or in a disaster. It’s weaknesses: Well, you need sun so it naturally does not work at night, you need charging time to accomplish much, and you need to have a panel capacity to suit your needs. Verdict: I love it and below is why!
What are solar panels?
Solar panels convert the sun ray energy into electricity. We could get all techy but in short, you collect the sun’s energy using the panel and out the other end comes electricity. The more sun energy and larger capacity the panel, the more charging you can get.
What Size of Solar Panel do I Need?
There is every size of solar panel. What matters is that you have the panel to suit your power generation needs. You could power everything from a watch, a mobile phone, up to a camper, a vehicle, a house, or a city? I think we humans have barely scratched the surface of our potential to generate power from the sun. A friend’s house in a major city even runs off-grid purely on solar. Some day I’d like to have that set-up.
For now, the intent for my ECEEN 10W Solar Panel is to have emergency power if I get lost or stranded in more remote areas when mountain biking, hiking or trail running; when I’m camping and want to top up our phones or power banks; and in case of emergency in the event of a natural disaster or power grid failure. Given the remote corners of the globe I travel to, this solar panel will come with me. It’s like a device charging insurance policy.
Are Solar Panels Worth it?
I think so. The price depends on the size and complexity of the set-up, but a compact folding solar panel like the ECEEN may only cost about US$35. It all depends on your charging needs. With my 10Watt panel, I could keep charging my phone everyday for free and that might be critical for calling for help or using the LED light on my phone. There is a solar panel set-up for every need. Once you establish your solar power generation needs, you can price out the corresponding solar power system to match.
We are talking about:
- An amazing ability to recharge battery packs or devices using the sun’s energy.
- It might be the key link to your rescue or just continued use of your electronics.
- Strap the solar panel to your pack or tent, or the roof of your stationary vehicle.
- Some have an integrated battery and extra features such as a flashlight. I’ve used those integrated battery units before and found that I prefer the flexibility of having the battery separate. I think the solar panel will have a long life and batteries tend to fail in due course. So, I just use stand-alone power banks for my solar panel. Depending on the power banks you use, you can plug your phone into the power bank and then plug the power bank into the solar panel. This allows you to charge both.
- I will put some links in the description below for this ECEEN 10W unit and others.
What Situations Would Require a Compact Solar Panel?
I can list numerous examples of benefitting from having a compact solar panel set-up:
- Day trips in the outdoors and when any moderate distance from help. I can think of the moderate back-country trails barely outside the city limits such as of Vancouver or Cape Town, that are frequently tackled by hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, birders, and so on. If you get injured, lost or stranded for some reason, that solar panel may be what keeps you able to recharge your phone during daylight hours.
- At home or in your vehicle as part of your emergency supplies.
- When travelling and you have limited access to reliable electricity.
Why do you Need a Solar Panel When You Can Use a Power Bank?
I encourage you to read and watch the Better Preparedness material on having a robust power approach and the strengths of each source of power: wall plugs, car plugs, battery banks, and solar panels. Those first two are only in the context of being indoors or in a vehicle with power. Battery banks have a finite amount of power after which it is just dead weight.
A solar panel provides you a fourth environment in which to collect electricity. I say collect electricity because those daytime sun rays are there, and you can use a solar panel to charge up your battery banks, phone or other devices.
Can I Strap the Solar Panel to my Backpack?
Absolutely. The ECEEN 10W panel even comes with four light carabiners clips, so you can clip it onto a backpack. Just be mindful that if you strap it on the back of the pack and the panel is facing away from the sun for most of the charging time available, you may not get optimal charging. If you have a USB Power Meter, test having the solar panel clipped onto your front. You may look pretty dorky but maybe you’ll get 10-30% better charging, who knows.
Does a Solar Panel Work in Winter?
If it’s day time, yes, but not as well as in summer. Summer usually means the sun is more straight up in the sky and in the midday it’s directly above, and that means more concentrated sun energy and for longer daylight hours. If you take a Canadian or northern Europe winter context, the sun will only stay lower in the sky and for fewer hours, so that means less solar energy and for a shorter charging time. If your intended use is for winter and other lower-light contexts, you might be best getting a higher capacity solar panel.
The key things to keep in mind:
- Remember, it’s not a rapid charge. But it is a charge! I decided on a 10W as it’s enough for my phone, tablet (iPad), and power banks. I won’t however be able to charge my Canon SL2/200D DSLR camera. Some day I may buy a panel capable of charging my DSLR but I’ll probably just stock up on extra Canon batteries.
- You need direct sun and longer time than grid power so start early in the day.
- Speaking of the grid, if or when you have access to the grid, always recharge your devices and battery packs using grid power since the charging is faster and it will save your battery packs for when needed.
- Don’t wait until you are low. Start charging in advance since the day could cloud over and reduce your charging, or maybe you will be in the woods and shade.
- Be pro-active and always be charging battery packs so they can do the charging of devices when it’s cloudy or at night time.
- Remember that the rate of charging is fairly slow and you need to be wise in your use of power or power-hungry devices.
- Protect it when not in use. I like the ECEEN’s rugged construction and it claims to be water resistant (to a degree).
- Make sure you have the correct cables for your respective devices.
- If you are truly off-grid and needing a lot of power, you may need multiple panels; a larger and more powerful solar panel; or another solution.
What solar panel extras do I highly recommend you purchase?
I recommend you keep a few items with your panel at all times, so you can use the panel for your intended purpose, to charge your things.
- A USB Power Meter is pretty cheap (about $10-$20) and it may help you determine the optimal charging set up in terms of the orientation to the sun, understand if you are getting much of a charge on a cloudy day, know which cables deliver the best charging rate, and how much charge you are getting over your time spent charging. If you just plug in your phone, sure, the phone might indicate you are getting some form of charge but what’s the quality of the charge?
I bought a TackLife MUT01 USB Digital Power Tester and I really like the product but it’s no longer on Amazon. Huh? Not sure why. Instead, this PowerJive USB Voltage Meter is identical, gets good reviews, and it even costs a bit less than my TackLife. If you were lost in the wilderness, the power meter is not a must but it’s still handy, compact and light. I just keep my USB power meter in the pouch of my ECEEN 10W Solar Panel.
- A USB-extension cable allows you to be in the shade and have the panel in the sun, or to run the cable into your tent or backpack. There are many lengths such as 6ft (about 180cm) or almost 10ft (about 3m). There are three reasons for having a USB-extension cable. Firstly, it will take time to charge anything and you’ll get scorched by the sun if you are just standing there holding the gear. Secondly, the phone or power banks you are charging can overheat and having the extension cable allows you to have the panel in the sun and the phone in the shade. Thirdly, while we are camping and not using out vehicle for a few days, I have put my solar panel on the roof of our vehicle or tent, and then ran the extension cable through a gap in the car window so that my phone or power bank is more safely inside the vehicle and out of sight.
- The USB cables you require for your devices. This goes without saying. You need the cables to suit devices you will charge. You can have individual cables or a versatile multi-cable cable like this awesome Chafon (it has a USB and then a variety of USB ends such as micro-USB, USB-C, and others). Just make sure you have the cable ends for your needs.
CHECKOUT THE BETTER PREPAREDNESS: Easy Smartphone Battery Charging on the Go!
Do you need one?
Given the low price of portable solar panels, I think they are a handy addition to your charging solutions and a great addition to your emergency preparedness. Check out the Better Preparedness article and YouTube episode for your complete charging solution.
I can’t really see anyone not needing one, at least in terms of extended power failures, being stranded roadside, or enjoying the outdoors and reducing battery anxiety.
It’s a great addition to any emergency kit, to bring with you on an outing, and great back-up power albeit with the above points in mind.
In the comments below, let me know your experiences using these types of solar panels.