Camping the green way – LaVieSolar 60 Watt Solar Folding Panel with 12V Charge controller review

I love to go camping (but I don’t have enough time to do it as often as I would like – what else is new?) and I can’t wait for the hot days to return to start going again. Many campgrounds don’t have electricity though and if you have kids, you might need to entertain them when the beauty of the nature doesn’t help. With this article I’ll start a mini-series that will describe some of a more hi-tech camping equipment that I use in the hope it might prove useful to others as well.

As I said, many campgrounds don’t have electricity, and the batteries are expensive and don’t last forever. I needed something renewable to supply power to my portable DVD player or to my Tablet PC while camping. I looked around and it seemed the best way to do it and also feel good about yourself is by using solar energy. Clean and free (except of course, the initial investment). I love shopping on eBay and it was the first place I started looking. After several days of searching and reading the reviews, I found an interesting solar panel folding design, sold byLaVieSolar, that is very easy to carry. The 60W advertised power seemed adequate, so I decided to bite the bullet and buy it (helped in part by the 8% Bing cash back currently offered).

About a week later, I received a large flat box in the mail. Inside, of course was the expected solar panel, enclosed inside a black carrying bag. I unpacked it immediately and I went  in the backyard to test it. It was a little bit late in the day (around 3:00PM), so the measurements listed here will certainly improve during the peak of solar activity, especially in the summer. I feel however, that, the numbers provided here will give you a better example of real world usage.

Specifications:

Model Number: SAF-60

Max power: 60W

Max power voltage: 18V

Max Power Current: 3.33A

Short Circuit Current: 3.60A

Net Weight: 16lb

Dimensions: 20.9″x16.5″x2.7″

Charged controller: included with LED indicators

Construction:

The panel feels very sturdy with a solid aluminum frame. When the panel is folded closed, the wiring remains inside and the solar cells will remain on the exterior. I am a little bit concerned about the solar cells being on the outside, so I’ll have to be careful when I am carrying them. However, the included carrying bag should help protect them. The included electrical cable is 35″ long, type PV-RG(4mm²) terminated by a pair of pretty good quality clamps.

Tests:

As I mentioned, the tests were not performed at the peak of solar activity, so the numbers can be higher.

Short circuit current: 3.487A.

Open circuit voltage: 10.3V – 11V

The solar panel was able to easily drive two of my notebooks (the Acer 1420P and and the HP TM2 convertible) while simultaneously charging their batteries. My son’s portable DVD player was also powered without any problems.

Conclusion:

While the numbers listed by the manufacturer should be taken with a grain of salt, requiring optimal conditions that you are likely never to meet, the panel does a good job powering low to medium power notebooks or DVD players. I would estimate around 40-45W output power in real world conditions, which is more than enough for most gadgets you might want to carry with you when going camping. Paired with a Duracell DPP-600HD Powerpackthat I also bought (review to follow) it will give you enough power to last through the day and ensure a peaceful evening next to the fire while your kids will watch their evening movie.

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