Solar power system upgrade

Like with alot of my technical gear, it was time to look into upgrading my solar charging equipment fro the upcoming coastal paddle.

Powerfilm R14

For my 2014 coastal paddle I had concocted a frankenstein monster of a solar charger. A Rollable Powerfilm R14,  14 W panel joined with a US-military ammobox which held all of the electric chargers, batteries, cables etc.  The system worked well during the trip, plenty of juice. However towards the end of the 7 week paddle I did notice some loss in efficiency in charging despite the fact the days were sunnier than in the begining of the trip! On the panel, there was a patch in one corner that showed signs of possible delamination, which may have had something to do with the power loss?  The biggest draw back in the system was the bulkyness of the set up. The panel was long, and even if it was waterproof and could be strapped to the back deck of the near 6 meter kayak, it did add more surface area for the wind to grab, not to mention the added weight AND bulk of the ammobox itself ! Another minor problem was that despite what the manufacturer claimed, the “inbuilt diode” DID not prevent reverse charging, ie draining the batteries during lowlight conditions!

This system was nice because it could be used while on the water and it was pretty robust (apart from the rollable panel),  but due to the bulk AND reverse charging  a definite NO-NO for future kayaking trips!

R14 Specs
– Operating Voltage 15.4Volts
– Wattage: 14 Watts
– Current: 0.9Amps
– Width (mm): 368.3
– Length (mm): 1066.8 unrolled
– Weight: 0.445 kg

Powerfilm F15-300N
2 foldable Powerfilm panels, with cigarrete lighter adapter USB charger

The next system I used was solely “use on dry land”. This basicly consisted of two 5 W , foldable Powerfilm F15-300N 5W panels, daisychained and charging whatever devices thru the cigarette lighter adapter plug.  Using the panel was limited to daylight hours and on land only, so available charging hours were more limited. The same problem of reverse charging was also present in this set up. After use during two paddling seasons the loss of efficiency has also been noticed with these panels!

For whatever reasons, the powerfilm solarpanels do not seem to be long lasting, least in my use…

F15-300N Specs
– Operating Voltage: 15.4V
– Power: 5W
– Current: 0.3A
– Size unfolded: 620mm  x 267mm
– Weight: 0.20 kg

Exibel 10W
The Exible 10W charger opened up in its nifty folder

Marko had acquired a 10W Exibel foldable solarpanel “folder” from Clas Ohlsson, a local “sell it all” store. Not normally known for particularly high end products, I thought “Sure , whatever!”  But after comparing my 2 x 5W powerfilm panels side by side with Markos single 10W exibel panel I had to admit that the Exibel panel worked more efficiently and in lower light conditions than the pair of Powerfilms ! In the field the Exibel continued to charge via USB cable smart devices long after the Powerfilm had stopped charging and begun draining the batteries/device.

The Exibel and 2 x Powerfilms side by side..

On paper the Exibel boasts upto 1.5 A charging in optimal conditions while the Powerfilms  single 5W panel  tells a max output of 0.3 A!  Sizewise the Exibel is (unfolded)60 cm x 27,5 cm whereas the the single Powerfilm panel , unfolded is 62 cm x 26,2cm. So not only is the Exibel more efficient, its also half the size of the 2 Powerfilm panels! The specs for the Exibel do not determine voltage at which the charger works, but since it has a dedicated USB charging port I would make an educated guess that the panel is a 5 V system..?

Then there is the price.. I’d paid 198 Euros back in the day for the set of two Powerfilm panels, and they have been on that same discounted price for more than a year now.. Meanwhile the price for the Exibel panel now on discount is 49.95€ !!!

Exibel charger folded. Mobile phone for size reference
Reasonably slim folder

I will try the Exibel panel. I will buy an extra A-3 sized waterproof mapcase where the charger will fit, and have the whole set up on the kayak backdeck during the day. Will get atleast some recharging done… hopefully?

The Exibel fits easily into an A3 sized Ortlieb and NRS Hydrolock mapcase

For now the initial impression for this is very favourable. How long lasting will this be? Dunno, time will tell.  This price range products generally have quality issues. One model may be top notch quality and work for a loongwhile, while the next one on the shelf may not be as efficient or then it may work only for 3 weeks! This panel will need to work for the one paddling season and it will have beat the Powerfilm counterparts in the “bang for buck” – department. Ofcourse it would be nice if it were to work longer than that. 😀