When we came across a solar solution that’s easy to use, compact and lightweight, yet portable and efficient, we had to have one for ourselves
WORDS grant Hanan and Linda Bloffwitch images & VIDEO My Aussie Travel Guide
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While the RV lifestyle has many fantastic products, there is nothing that floats my boat more than solar. Call me strange, but I simply love it! It’s perfect for our type of travel when we are regularly away from 240V power access, and it allows us to do what we really love. Let me explain.
These days we’re pretty-much on the road travelling more than we are at home, so we sometimes like to travel with a few home creature comforts like a freezer, 12V air-conditioner, electric blankets, and a bread machine or coffee machine. But we also have several power-hungry photography devices and 18V tools that need recharging – which means we can consume a considerable amount of power. So this is where having a good solar solution kicks in,
to help meet our power requirements.
TYPES OF SOLAR
When we bought our first solar panel, it was around 10 years ago. Back then it was a set of rigid folding panels with built-in regulators. It was expensive, but it was good at the time. Today, the world of solar has changed. While you still can get these types of panels, along with the fixed solar panels which we currently use on our caravan and camper there is a new kid on the block. We were keen to try out the solar blanket to complement our ‘on the go’ travelling style.
CHOOSING A BLANKET
We were quite specific with what we were looking for in a solar blanket, so it had to tick all our boxes. Firstly, it was important that it worked across the range of battery types we have in our set-ups – lithium, AGM and flooded wet cell cranking batteries.
We also wanted something that would allow our systems to plug straight in to a DC-DC charger, but was lightweight and could easily be packed away. As we like to travel during warmer times, we were looking for a blanket that could be located out in sunlight and angled accordingly while we could park our van or camper away in the shade. We found that the Redarc 150W solar blanket ticked everything off the list of what we were looking for.
The Redarc black Sunpower Monocrystalline blankets we chose use Sunpower cell technology. It’s said this technology captures more sunlight than standard crystalline cells due to its unique design – as it omits gridlines on the front of each cell.
PLUG AND PLAY
Out of the box, the rigid Sunpower cells are attached to a backing plate. It is a simple plug and play set-up using Anderson-type plug connectors. The anti-reflective and scratch-resistant blanket also has no rigid frames, so it packs down neatly to the size of a laptop computer bag – which makes it ideal for storage. Once opened out, the 150W blanket measures 1405mm x 930mm, and can only be folded up one way (which can take a little practice, just like origami). The eyelets provided on the outer edge of the blanket also allow it to either be pegged down in windy weather or attached to a vertical object. Other than the blanket itself, there is a cloth drawstring bag supplied for storing the blanket. The unit tested weighed in at only 6kg, and came with a two-year warranty.
A COUPLE OF TIPS
When conditions are perfect, the panels can produce 18V – so you’ll need a quality regulator to control the voltage to prevent overcooking the batteries. Another tip is to always aim to use quality thick cables over a short length where possible; but more importantly, have your regulator as close to the battery as possible to reduce voltage drop.
WHAT WE LIKE
We like the fact that the blanket is half the weight and size when compared to our equivalent glass folding panel, and we also found the solar blanket highly efficient. Having the flexibility to use the blanket across our windscreen is also a bonus, as it doubles as a sunshade. The blanket’s eyelets mean we can easily hang it off the side of roof racks or the side walls of our RV to maximise our ability to catch the sun.
On top of this, we like being able to use the blanket across our set-ups. For our lithium set-up, we simply plug it into the DC-DC charger; whereas we plug it into an Anderson plug connection for our caravan’s AGM batteries. And by using a portable regulator, we can quickly recharge our wet cell cranking starting batteries. For our purposes, it’s great all round.
Three sizes of the blanket are available – 115W, 150W and 190W. Prices: RRP from $1199.