Temperatures nudging close to 40°C, the radio blasting out an evergreen hit first released in 1983 by Katrina and The Waves … the fridge is filled with cold drinks; phones, cameras and computers are all fully charged thanks to portable solar power. Not so long ago I shared my opinion of the Efoy GO! portable power pack as a result of having lived and worked with one on the road for two years. So, this post is a natural sequel and a response to a request regarding solar panels for a very similar, but probably less demanding, setup to my own.
I visited SunWare GmbH in Duisburg, Germany, in July to meet the staff and discover the secret behind their success. In a nutshell, SunWare is a genuine manufacturer of solar panels. When I say genuine, I mean they have actually been making solar panels in-house since 1987 as opposed to buying and confectioning goods from the Far East.
Originally specialising in marine and camping solutions, SunWare has become the market leader for high-end specialist solar equipment by designing, developing, and testing equipment for use under the most extreme and adverse conditions. They have an admirable list of achievements to witness their expertise.
So, what do I look for when considering solar panels for my vehicle? The first criteria that spring to mind are longevity and durability. Overlanding to remote places means your life can depend upon your gear, so why not turn to an experienced partner who has been supplying solar equipment designed for environments where dependability is at the top of the list.
In this particular case, I’ve been using the SunWare RX-21052 50 Wp folding panel. First of all, the cells are mounted on a 3 mm aluminium sandwich panel for stability and each unit is cased in a protective shield made of virtually indestructible Nowolon. The 5 m connecting cable is highly flexible, temperature resistent, and fitted with a waterproof SureSeal connector that fits into the supplied cigarette lighter plug which comes complete with a charge regulator. The surrounding fabric frame has 9 mm eyelets making it simple to mount the panels on a roof rack or hang it from an awning. The cable output on the panel is sealed, absolutely waterproof, and screwed to the sandwich panel (as opposed to being glued).
Useful: the two panels are wired in such a way as to work independently of one another; so, if you want to prop one up behind the windscreen it doesn’t matter if the rear facing panel is left in the shade … you still have a fully functional 25 Wp panel at your disposal. The performance of panels from many other brands can be seriously impaired if one of several is partially or completely shaded.
You probably already know this, but I’ll say it anyway: if you want to charge the starter battery in your car, you won’t need any other connection into the onboard electrics other than a cigarette lighter socket for the plug supplied by SunWare. The socket doesn’t just provide a current to charge your phone, it can also accept a charge from a solar panel. The only thing you need to check is if the socket remains live when the ignition is turned off and the key removed.
I am often asked why I prefer a portable solar panel as opposed to a mounted panel on the roof. Well, in the case of the Efoy GO!, I like to be able to maintain the charge if I’m using it outside of the car (e.g., in a tent or next to a lake). But far more importantly, cars are not well insulated and can heat up quite alarmingly if they stand unprotected under a blazing sun all day. That also means the fridge has to work even harder to keep everything chilled which in turn results in a heavier drain on the battery.
I choose to park the car in the shade of some trees with the solar panel set up a few metres away pointing directly at the sun. The car remains bearable, the battery charge lasts longer, and the panels can work efficiently.
The charge regulator is equipped with an LED which indicates the charge status. If it’s green and blinking, the panel is ideally positioned and the charge rate is at its maximum. A simple but effective method to ensure you are reaping the full benefit. This indicator also confirms that even if the sun is fighting against clouds, a charge is still flowing – albeit at a lower rate.
So, what’s the verdict so far? The SunWare RX-21052 50 Wp is well-made, performed exactly as the manufacturer describes and is what you can expect from a product developed and made in Germany. Parting with €645 buys you a product representing great value for money and one that is designed to partner you on your most challenging adventures for many years to come. Three years warranty.
On hindsight, after a two week tour along tracks and trails through the Slovenian mountains and taking into account we travelled with three computers, just as many cameras, iPads, phones, and the fridge, a 100 Wp set would likely have provided even more flexibility, but we still managed with 50 Wp – partially due to not letting the car heat up unnecessarily.
The full data sheet can be downloaded here.