Technology is always getting smaller, cheaper, faster, better, and that’s a good thing. Solar panels are no exception, those of us who live in one spot prefer having full size panels, but if you are mobile, then having something with a smaller footprint, having the individual components combined, that is a good thing for you. I read this article by Bob Wells, he is very knowledgeable about mobile living, he is a very experienced vandweller, here is what he has to say about the portable suitcase solar panels.
In a recent post I told you about how my friend Dandelion mounted her 200 watt Renology Solar Power Kit on her conversion van and instead of mounting them on the roof left her panels down on the ground. It’s working really well for her but it’s a little bit of a pain to have to take them in and out whenever she wants to take a trip in the van. If you’re going to leave the panels on the ground instead of mounting them on the roof, Renogy offers another solution you might want to consider: their Portable Folding Suitcase System. Because the panels fold in half and the controller is mounted to the back of the panel, it’s a much smaller system and is much easier to install and set-up. It’s so easy that from picking up the system inside the van to charging your battery should only take 5 to 10 minutes, the same with putting it away.
However, that convenience comes with a price and it costs more per watt than the non-folding normal kit.
- The Portable Folding 100 watt kit costs $242 (as of this writing, all the prices I list here will change over time). Check the current price here here: Renogy Foldable Solar Suitcase 100W
- If you buy their non-folding 100 watt kit it costs $180. Starter Kit 100W panel, Charge Controller, Cable, Mounting Feet
So they charge an extra $60 for the convenience of the folding kit and if you need 200 watts then you double the extra cost to an extra $120 for two suitcase kits. You get a lot more convenience but at a high price. Only you can decide if it’s worth it to you.
Let’s look at what you get for your extra money:
- Because it folds, it’s smaller and much easier to handle. That mean that packing and unpacking it will be be faster and a much more pleasant experience. It also means it will be much easier to store away inside the van when you’re traveling. That’s very important if for some reason you can’t set the panel out and you have to live around it for an extended period time.
- It uses a better quality quick connects than most suitcase panels so they should last much longer. It also means that connecting it to the battery is super fast and easy.
- It has a built in stand so having it tilted correctly is very simple. Tilting it to the sun will give you a lot more power into the battery.
- The system (especially the controller) appears to be high quality and has a very good display of information. The people I know with them speak very highly of it and it has nothing but great reviews on Amazon.
- With the alligator clips that connect to the battery, you can easily move it back and forth to different batteries or even to different vehicles. For example, if your starting battery is getting low from sitting too long, you can just clip this onto it and charge it right up.
I haven’t owned one of these personally so I can’t give you my direct experience, but I do know several people who own them and they are all very happy with them. It also has exceptional reviews on Amazon so those two factors together, combined with what I see as very good quality and craftsmanship in the product itself, allows me to highly recommend it. If I couldn’t mount my panels on the roof, this is probably what I’d buy, the convenience would be worth the few extra dollars to me.
One great reason to buy a suitcase system is it allows you to park the van in the shade and place the panel far away in the sun. That way the van stays cool in the shade but you still charge your batteries. Something that will help you with that is a good extension cord so soon I’ll do a post about how to modify a standard 110 volt outdoor extension cord and use it for your solar panel.
I like everything about this system! It has quality components at a very good price that offers you a lot of convenience. Highly recommended!
Who it’s for: It’s for you if … 1) You can’t afford to pay to get it installed and can’t do it yourself 2) You’re a boondocker who spends a lot of time on Public Land 3) You want to be able to park in the shade and still have the panel in the sun 4) You want to get the maximum power out of the panel by turning it to follow the sun and set it at the perfect angle.
Who it’s NOT for: If you live in the city then these really won’t work for you. If you set them out they are very likely to be stolen! If you don’t want to be be bothered with them they may also be a bad idea for you.
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