Compact portable solar charging: Anas seeks your advice!

Many thanks to Anas Patel who writes:

Hello Thomas,

Your post a few days a go regarding quality LiFePO4 batteries in the UK got me thinking about solar charging my batteries during the summer.

I hope your readers in the UK can give me some pointers I’m looking to assemble a very small portable solar set-up something I can easily move between multiple locations that isn’t too heavy to travel with.

I’ve had a look around on a few forums, eBay and Amazon but haven’t got a clue what I need. Fast charge speed isn’t a critical factor for me as long as I can get some charge into my batteries on a sunny day.

I know I need a foldable panel, solar controller and maybe cables to hook up to the battery but with a million options out there I don’t know where to start but I think panels between 60/120W output would give me enough power.

I would be most grateful if your readers particularly in the UK could give me some pointers.

My 12V 12Ah battery uses F2 spade terminals and the 30Ah uses M5 ring terminals but I have no issues using crocodile clips to make the connection.

Thank you.

Anas Patel

Thank you for your question, Anas.

While I know what is needed in theory (a PV panel, a good charge controller, cables, and a battery), I don’t know the charge controller market that well. As with batteries, I assume product availability may vary greatly by region.

I typically pair my IC-705 with a 3 to 6 aH Bioenno LiFEPo battery pack.

I do know this: it’s important that your charge controller is rated for the battery chemistry you have/adopt. In other words, if you’re using LiFePo4 batteries, make sure the charge controller is rated for LiFePo4.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many solar panels are terminated with industry-specific connectors like the MC4. Sometimes you can integrate those connectors into your system, other times you may prefer terminating them with other connectors.

My hope is that readers might chime in with the components they successfully use in their portable charing systems. Please comment!

This is timely because I’m actually plotting a portable PV system for my field kit and will be taking notes. I can’t decide if I should simply piece together a system around existing components I have (I would need to connect a couple small folding panels in parallel a get a LiFePo4 controller) or if I should simply go for an all-in-one system like the PowerFilm Solar Lightsaver Max.

14 thoughts on “Compact portable solar charging: Anas seeks your advice!”

  1. I’ve messed about with a Bioenno 40W foldable panel with a very inexpensive Renogy Wanderer PWM charge controller just as a proof of concept. It works. Is it the most efficient? Probably not. RF quiet? Probably not. It will produce power and it will charge the LiFePO4 batteries though. MPPT controllers are known to be more efficient and everything I have ever heard or read point at Genasun for being some of the best and most RF quiet. Same with PowerFilm solar. If it’s good enough for OH8STN it’s more than good enough for me (His blog and videos are well worth checking out in this regard.) I can’t speak for UK availability on any of this unfortunately.

    1. The LightSaver Max is available from inporters in UK. I got one that way. I don’t remember which one at this late date, but it was an “import to order” job.

      And I agree about OH8STN. I got the LightSaver on his recommendation.

      G.

  2. I’m a big fan of the LightSaver Max Portable Solar Charger. I also have two PowerFilm foldable solar panels (F16-1200 and F16-1800). An extra panel speeds the charging of the LightSaver Max. I also use the panels to charge a USB-C battery pack (using a cigarette lighter adapter), which I use to charge my laptop and other USB devices (including lights) when staying in off-the-grid cabins.

    Take a look at OH8STN’s reviews, etc.

    I’ve received good service from Select Solar (https://www.selectsolar.co.uk/cat/182/powerfilm-solar); they sell PowerFilm gear to the military here in the UK.

  3. Anas
    Take a look at my website: g4abx.co.uk
    You will find the 10Ah LifePo4 portable Solar setup I built and have been using for a couple of years.
    I use it to run all my rigs — the most powerful of which is a G90 at 20 watts O/P
    Other rigs include my KX3, KX1, IC-705 and a host of others.
    If you need any help, feel free to email me from the site (email address at the bottom of every page)
    73
    Bruce G4ABX
    @G4ABX
    g4abx.co.uk

  4. Hi Thomas,
    I can’t comment about the UK because I’m currently on the other side of the world. (sorry Anas). However, for you, Thomas, there should be no hesitation about purchasing a LightSaver Max. At the moment, the LSM cannot be shipped outside of the continental US: a loss for all outside the US who need one, but a boon for you and those who dwell in the lower 48. Look at the videos (on the well-known YT internet channel) of OH8STN, who must surely be the leader in this field.
    73, Garu

  5. I use the Powerfilm LightSaver Max and it’s a good choice if you want a fully integrated, portable battery pack/solar controller/solar panel. You can power your radio from it with the 12V output plus it has a USB output for keeping your other electronics charged. It also has a LED light that can be used when it gets too dark. It’s a nice, small, portable package.

    If you already have solar panels or batteries or just want a modular system, then a good choice for a controller is the Buddipole Power Mini (Mini 2) which is a solar controller/battery charger/battery monitor all-in-one and it supports two load outputs. All interconnects on the unit are Anderson power pole connectors which makes for easy interconnect for those who have converted their equipment to power poles – very nice integrated unit.

  6. Lots of good options and ways to tackle this.

    I have had excellent results with a Powerfilm 30W foldable panel combined with a Buddipole PowerMini 2 for charge control. They make 60 and 90W versions, but that is getting fairly large. I have had and used some less expensive import panels, but Powerfilm has really outshined them in terms of performance.

    With even a small 3Ah Lifepo battery acting as a buffer, I can keep ahead of the demands from my KX3/KX2 for as long as I have good light. This is a light and packable setup (my priority).

    https://www.powerfilmsolar.com/products/foldable-solar-panels/30-watt-foldable-solar-panel

    https://www.buddipole.com/powermini.html

    Douglas
    K1GC

  7. My only experience with solar panel to charge a battery was not so good. Mainly because a small panel.

    I used a 10W panel to charge a 12V 6AHr battery and took good 2 days in good Florida Sun. I had to continuously move the panel to face into the Sun, if off by a few degrees the output of the panel would drastically drop. So will need at least 30-40W panel.

    Most controllers have 3 sets of terminals; 1. solar panel input (usually gives around 18V), 2. battery input for charging battery and when solar not working then battery supplies the power) and 3. the output to the load. And best to use a switching controller for most efficient.

    But dont expect with small panels to charge your battery in a few hours. So recommend have 2 batteries, one for using to power your rig and a second for being charged. Then alternate between the batteries.

    I doubt a solar panel will be of much use for short 3-5 hours of a park event. Would be good for like when spending a few days in the wild.

    solar might be good in good times, but for EmComm when a long time storm hits there will be little Sun, lots of rain and clouds. But from our EOC experience a good 100W panel can be useful after the storm passes.

    73, ron, n9ee/r

  8. Thanks to all of you for commenting I’ve got a lot to look into. I’ve switched all of my gear over to standard Powerpoles so the Buddipole Power Mini 2 looks like a perfect controller as the last thing I probably want to do is to mess about with croc clips outdoors where it would be so easy to hook things up incorrectly. I’ve been following OH8STN’s channel for a while now so the Powerfilm panels look ideal for easy transportation and deployment. I’m not going to rush into anything just yet but I’m looking to have a basic set-up for around April-May time.

  9. IMHO Genasun charge controllers are about the best you’ll find on the market for our application if you have the right style solar panel. I’ve also found them to be the most RF quiet charge controllers I’ve used. Good luck.

  10. Thank y’all, great discussion and recommendations. My next project will be solar while out and about. I am saving for a KX2 package, then will work on solar.
    73
    Wb8yxf

  11. Hello all once again thank you all for your help I’ve finally got my solar set-up complete. After a lot of browsing I decided to order the Solar Power Supply 100W 12V foldable panel which folds up into a very compact footprint and is easily transportable and can be deployed in a couple of minutes. The panel has a solid kickstand and comes with 1M of high quality DC cable terminated in standard MC4 plugs. In turms of a controller I ordered the Powerwerx MPPT 150W LFP controller through Ebay UK using Valley Enterprises in the US. Delivery took 13 days via the GSP which is very impressive considering the current Covid situation worldwide and the panel took 7 days to arive from Holand using DPD. I hooked the controller up this morning to my Eco-Worthy 30Ah battery and put the panel in the garden in very dull cloudy conditions and even then I was getting between 10-15W of charge going into the battery before the rain arived so I am extremely happy so in the summer I should have no issues keeping my battery niceley topped up. I know I could have gone for cheaper options but for my needs this set-up is totally foolproof and ideal to take on holiday hopefully when we can all travel again.

    Please see the links below for the panel andd controller.

    Solar Power Supply 100W Foldable Solar Panel

    Powerwerx MPPT-300-14.6, DC-to-DC Solar Charger Controller for Bioenno LiFePO4 | eBay

    Once again thank you to all and please stay safe and of course best 73.

    1. Thank you for letting us know your new setup. I’m starting to look for a solar setup, so more now to ponder.

      73
      Wb8yxf

  12. Hello Richard, solar is a true minefield hear in the UK there are so many cheap and off brand panels flooding the market if you are a newbe like me when it comes to solar its truely overwhelming and you just don’t know what to go for. Most of the cheap controllers here use clips or nonstandard wired PP plugs to hook up to batteries which doesn’t help so I didn’t want to risk an off brand item with questionable quality so things worked out more expensive then I would have liked but in the long-term it should pay for itself in no time. My main issue was finding a simple controller as I didn’t fancy messing about with screens of settings after moving locations a few times per day in the summer and risk damaging my batteries so the Powerwerx was the best option for me plus its so tiny so I leave it perminently hooked up and pack it away in the pocket at the back of the panel now I just need a bit of winter UK sun for testing but we’ve got more rain forcast over the next few days but with the Powerwerx meter in line I was getting 14.7V open circuit which is spot on then it dropped to around 13.4 with the battery hooked up pulling between 10-15W constantly with fast moving large clouds overhead. With my panel it has no USB and DC ports so only MC4 so nothing extra to drain valuable power. If I need DC or USB I can easily use my 4 port PP splitter to hook up car chargers etc or charge small items direct from the battery.

    Best 73s and I hope you manage to build something that works for you but it is a true jungle out there in the solar world.

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