With travel restrictions easing up, people will be flocking to the great outdoors in droves, be it on campsites or mountain trails. Snapping picturesque views, having adequate light in the middle of the night—everything that requires power needs a portable source. In these situations, a portable solar powered generator comes in handy.
This device is more or less the same as any portable power generator, except that it comes with a set of solar panels. These panels perform the conversion from solar energy to usable power, with the generator storing and distributing it to plugged devices. While solar powered generator units can be heavy, they’re just wide enough to be carried on a vehicle.
Most of the components in a solar powered generator are maintenance-free, meaning they can function for years without needing major repairs. Nevertheless, the unit still requires some degree of care to perform in top condition for longer. As the following tips will explain, caring for one doesn’t have to be a chore.
1. Keep Panels Clean
Given that they work under constant exposure to the sun, solar panels are built to last. Available units are designed to work for up to 30 years, with technological advances gradually increasing their lifespan. However, with sunlight exposure also comes exposure to other elements, namely dust or other particulates.
Soiling, as the industry calls it, is a common issue among solar panels. According to one study, solar panel efficiency can drop by an estimated 6.5% in normal dusty conditions and even 40% in the dustiest places like deserts. Campers and trekkers will need all the power they can get from their portable power generator; it’s their only means of keeping food fresh and their lamps lit.
Researchers are currently finding ways to minimize soiling, but the same study said the best way to avoid it is with water and a brush. You can use a soft-bristled brush to remove dust and dirt stuck on the surface, later rinsing with water. Avoid applying too much force to prevent damage to the panels.
2. Cover Panels When Not In Use
On a related note to soiling, consider covering the panels when in storage or not in use to keep them clear of dirt and dust. Wrap them in plastic for all-around protection; as the panels are just as portable as the generator itself, finding a plastic bag or cover should help. Keeping the storage area clear of dust and dirt also helps.
You might ask if you can keep a clear plastic cover on when using the panels. While they can keep working, experts say the extra layer will change the reflectivity of the incoming sunlight and perhaps produce air pockets. These factors can affect the panels’ overall efficiency.
3. Maintain Half Charge
It may be tempting to keep your solar powered generator fully charged for it to be ready when you need it. However, battery chemistry doesn’t work that way. Whether lead-acid or lithium-ion, a generator’s batteries will leak power when not consumed for a prolonged period.
The constant charging cycle to keep power reserves at full can gradually degrade the batteries. Lead-acid batteries are considered dead if they can only provide 20% of their initial capacity. Meanwhile, lithium-ion batteries start losing efficiency when it’s down to 60%. Other factors such as heat can hasten the degradation process.
Conversely, a fully-drained generator can be just as detrimental since it disrupts the equilibrium between the active layers inside. If you don’t plan to use the generator for a while, the least you can do is keep it between 30% and 50% charged. Also, maintain this level every three to six months that the generator goes unused.
4. Avoid Extreme Heat
Temperature plays a critical role in any solar panel system’s conversion efficiency rates. Most panels have a temperature coefficient of 0.5% per degree Celsius at temperatures exceeding 25o C (77o F). It means that for every degree Celsius (33o F) increase beyond 25o C, the panels’ output drops by as much as 0.5%.
But there’s another reason to protect your generator from extreme heat. Like any machine, the generator produces heat when storing or distributing power; making it work under intense temperatures runs the risk of melting the circuitry. It’s for this reason that most portable generators are designed to never run 24/7, even in conducive weather.
As such, store the generator in a place with proper ventilation. Also, if you have to use it under blistering weather, do so for a brief time and give it ample time to rest and cool down.
As explained above, caring for a portable solar powered generator involves a bit of caution and initiative. Keep these savvy tips in mind to have a power source on your next outdoor excursion.