A Portable Solar Panel You Can Use Both With 12 Volt Batteries And Your Power Station
If you’re a traveler living fulltime in your RV or go camping in the summer with your family in your fifth wheel or travel trailer, you might’ve ended up somewhere without hookups. Dry camping, also known as boondocking, is a popular way to camp nowadays, and I know exactly why since I travel fulltime and boondock 95% of the time.
One problem that you have to solve in today’s modern world if you’re going to be dry camping is how are you going to power your electronics, like your phone, tablet, laptop, TV, CPAP, or even just lights? Not only that, but your RV camper has 12V batteries that will power your water pump, lights, fans, and propane gas detector.
Related Post: Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Vs Yeti 1400
How did I solve it? With solar panels, of course! The sun is free, and if you’re in the right place (and as a traveler you can choose to be) where the sun shines a lot, you can use all your electronics and still have a fully charged battery every day. But solar panels can’t power your 120V electronics, which is why power stations/solar generators are getting more and more common. Sure, you could use a gas generator, but that noise isn’t worth it when there are better alternatives.
The solar generator I use is the Goal Zero Yeti 1000. It can run everything in my travel trailer except for the air conditioner, I even use it with my microwave and fridge sometimes. I also plug this into my RV sometimes with a Camco 15A to 30A dogbone adapter. Since the Yeti 1000 can output up to 1500W, it can run my camper without issues.
If you have a smaller solar generator, like the popular Jackery Explorer 500, you would still need a way to charge your 12V house batteries in your camper. What if you had a solar panel that could charge both?
Meet The Acopower Portable Solar Panel Kit 100W
This is the Acopower 100W solar panel kit that is compatible and ready to charge both 12V deep cycle batteries and power stations.
There is also a 60W model available (click to view on Amazon). Acopower also makes foldable options that have a built-in bypass so you can charge both a 12V battery and a solar generator, but not at the same time. Those are available in 50W, 70W, and 120W configurations.
The reason most solar panels can’t be used with both a power station and 12V trailer batteries at the same time is the solar charge controller. A solar charge controller is wired in between the solar panel and the battery to protect the battery from overcharging.
In a power station, the solar charge controller is built-in, so when you choose a panel to recharge it, it should be a panel without a charge controller.
However, when choosing a solar panel to recharge your 12V RV batteries with, it should have a solar charge controller, so your batteries won’t overcharge and be damaged permanently.
What Acopower has done here, is that they have made a solar panel that has a solar charge controller built-in (there is also one without a charge controller, which you would use to upgrade your system) but they have also spliced into the connection between the solar panel and the charge controller, so you can bypass it if you would like.
The bypassed MC4 connectors are used to charge a power station and the wires coming out of the solar charge controller behind the panel connect to and charges 12V deep cycle batteries. If your RV, fifth wheel, or travel trailer is prewired for solar panels, you would also go through the solar charge controller, since the prewiring is usually a direct connection to your batteries, without a charge controller in-between.
For prewired trailers, you might need an additional adapter, and I’ll talk more about this in one of the headings down below.
What you get in the kit is a 13 ft cable with Anderson plug connectors, and alligator clips with a built-in fuse. The alligator clips will clip onto your battery, or you can buy additional adapters for prewired trailers.
The alligator clips are easy to set up, you connect the positive (red) clip to the positive terminal on one of your batteries, then the negative (black) to the negative on the second battery (or same battery if you only have one).
Acopower makes a 20ft extension cable (click to view on Amazon) that might come in handy in case you’re parked in the shade and need to place the solar panel further from your battery.
How To Upgrade Acopower Solar Kit To 200W
Another neat thing with a set up like this is that it’s easy to upgrade it. A 100W solar panel will be more than enough for most campers, but some use more electricity than others, and that’s when another 100W panel can be very useful.
Acopower sells a 100W Expansion solar panel that comes with MC4 connectors. It doesn’t have a solar charge controller, so the expansion panel could also be used directly with a solar generator if you have the MC4 adapter needed for your solar generator. If you’re not sure what adapter you need, please leave a comment and let me know what solar generator you have and I will help you.
The expansion panel is connected to the MC4 connectors on the panel with the solar charge controller before it reaches the charge controller.
To do this, you’ll have to disconnect the MC4 Y Branch and turn it around, which removes the charge controller bypass, but lets you connect two panels to the charge controller.
What If My Trailer Is Prewired For Solar Panels?
A lot of newer RVs, travel trailers and fifth wheels are prewired for solar panels. What this means is that there is an outlet where you can plug in a solar panel.
This is basically a quick-connection to the batteries. It’s not connected to a solar charge controller, so you should never connect a solar panel to this port without a charge controller in-between that will protect the battery from overcharging.
Next to the solar input port is usually a sticker that tells you what company the outlet is compatible with and the max amperage. If the max amperage is 10A, you shouldn’t use more than one 100W panel.
With the Acopower panel, there is an Anderson outlet that you can use to connect adapters with.
If you have a trailer prewired for Zamp solar panels, you’ll need the Acopower SAE adapter. This is directly compatible with “Zamp ports” that have reverse polarity.
If you have a trailer prewired for Furrion solar panels, the adapter you need is the Acopower 2 Pin Furrion Connector.
Can I Use The Solar Panel When It’s Raining/Snowing?
The Acopower 100W With 20A LCD Charge controller is IP65 rated, which means that it can handle rain but shouldn’t be soaked.
If you’re going to be around a lot of wet nature, like in snow or in the pacific northwest, I recommend the model without an LCD charge controller which is IP67 rated, and safe to be used even in the worst rainstorms.
You should still be careful since we’re dealing with wires with live current.
Best Solar Generators/Power Stations To Pair With Acopower 100W
There are tons of solar generators out there, but here are a couple of good options.
The Jackery Explorer 500 – This power station has 518 watt-hours battery capacity (lithium), one AC outlet, three USB ports, one 12V cigarette port (regulated), two DC outputs, a screen that tells you input/output watts and state of charge, and an 8mm solar input. It supports up to 100W of solar and can be used with the Acopower 100W or 60W, but you’ll need a SolarEnz MC4 to 8mm adapter. There is a smaller version as well, called Explorer 240 with 42W max input.
The Rockpals 250W – A great portable power station with 240Wh of battery capacity, 250W inverter, two AC outlets, two USB ports. Can be used with the Acopower panel with the help of an Aimtom MC4 to DC 5.5mm x 2.1mm adapter.
The Prymax 300W – 298Wh battery capacity, 300W inverter, two AC outlets, two USB ports, one USB C, 12V cigarette port. Can be used with the Acopower panel but requires the Aimtom MC4 to DC 5.5mm x 2.1mm adapter.
What you need to be careful with when choosing a solar generator to pair with the Acopower solar panel is to make sure the built-in charge controller in the power station can handle at least 22.3V input.
All three products above can handle the Acopower panel, but there are a lot of smaller power stations, like the Suaoki 150Wh that has a 22V limit. The Goal Zero Yeti lithium batteries have a 22V limit as well, and if a 22.3V panel ends up destroying the charge controller, these companies will most likely not honor the warranty.
How Do I Connect The Acopower 100W To My Power Station/Solar Generator?
Since the Acopower solar panel has MC4 connectors, you’re going to need an adapter that turns the MC4 into whatever DC input port your power station has.
A very common DC input port is the 8mm, then you’ll use a, SolarEnz MC4 to 8mm.
Another common one is the DC 5.5 x 2.1mm, then you’ll need a Aimtom MC4 to DC 5.5mm x 2.1mm adapter.
If it has an APP (Anderson Power Pole) input, you’ll need a INSTABOOST 10AWG MC4 to APP Adapter.
A 5.5 x 2.5mm input would require an iGreely MC4 to 8mm.
If you’re looking at a similar adapter, you need to make sure that the positive (red) is a female connector, and the negative (black) is a male connector. If it’s the other way around, it’ll have the wrong polarity for the Acopower panel.
Is The Acopower 100W Portable Solar Kit Compatible With My Power Station?
Whether it’s compatible with your power station or not depends on the input voltage limit of the charge controller. This is something that’s usually advertised, but you might have to contact the company and ask because some companies only list the minimum voltage required to charge the batteries, but not the maximum.
For example, on Goal Zero Yeti power stations there is a sticker that says “Never Exceed 22V”, so the Acopower is a little bit too powerful for the Yeti.
Can I Use The Acopower 100W Portable Kit With Goal Zero Lithium Power Stations?
Goal Zero recommends using solar panels rated up to 22V VOC, the Acopower solar kit is 22.3V VOC. Therefore, I would not recommend using the Acopower solar panel with a Goal Zero Yeti, since it would void the warranty and can damage the built-in charge controller.
Note that this is the specifications for the Yeti 400 lithium, 1000 lithium, 1400 lithium, and 3000 lithium. Newer models might have a higher voltage limit.
How Can I Improve The Charging Efficiency With A Portable Solar Panel Like This?
The main thing you should do is to angle the solar panel towards the sun. To generate the most electricity, this means that you would have to adjust the panel throughout the day. You’ll see a big difference if you do this, especially in the morning and evening.
Another thing is to make sure the panel isn’t shaded, even a little bit. A little bit of shade can decrease the power output significantly.
Please leave a comment down below if you have any questions.