Some of you might remember that I did a short review on the Brunton SolaRoll14 a year or two ago. I bought that solar panel as a portable means of charging batteries in my BOB, something it did very well. Unfortunately, while it is nearly indestructible, the SolaRoll has to be stored in a 3" tube (basically intended for retail display) that doesn't pack well, and isn't crush resistant. This meant I would need to come up with an externally mounted pounch/bag for it, and still have the risk of damaging the panel (you can hurt them by creasing them, but bending is no problem) should I fall over wearing the pack, or hurt it by having my BOB roll over in my van.
A few months ago a poster here bought a Solaris26 from ASC Scientific at a price that was the same as my SolaRoll14... Hmmm.... Normally you buy solar power by the watt, and with the Solaris rated (more on that in a bit...) at 26 watts, it's just about double the power of the SolaRoll14, but more packable as it folds flat to the size of a sheet of paper. I mentioned this to a SF buddy of mine who has wanted a SolaRoll since I got mine (something to do with me powering a HAM radio directly off the sun, I think) and we struck a deal that would allow me to get the Solaris26 and he would get my SolaRoll.
So, I ordered from ASC and the panel got here in 5 days, along with a charge controller that automatically charges 12v batteries with no fussing on your part, just connect the solar panel to the controller, the controller to the car battery/gel cell, and whammo: Free Power On Demand, just wait and let the sun do the work.
Overall construction and presentation of the panel are very good. This is a high quality panel, and is obviously built to be used in the field and stuffed in a backpack. Though rugged, the cells are a different type than those on the SolaRoll. They are flexible, but not as flexible before failure as the SolaRoll. Fortunately, if you did abuse the panel and damaged one of the segments, the panel would still work at a 4 or 5 watt loss. Like the SolaRoll, this panel has each segment wired in a series-parallel arrangement that allows you to unroll or unfold as much current as you need. Pretty nifty because both panels will destroy a set of batteries in an hour if left unwatched at full power...
The field testing was a bit of a dissapointment.. Long story short-I got 13-14 watts out of it testing the panel several different ways. I also found out a few things about my testing methods that I used on the SolaRoll, which also underperformed but I didn't notice it because I thought my equipment was eating some of the power while testing. With the smaller SolaRoll, I was getting 7-9 watts out of the panel and dismissed the missing 5 watts as being a month off peak solar season, and the meter I used. The Solaris on the other hand should have had plenty of ass to get over 20 assuming the same test losses that I experienced with the SolaRoll. No Dice. I even connected my meter in between the panel and a variable current peak detecting charger-same deal. 13 watts. What I did get was double the power of the SolaRoll, but not 26 watts. Period.
So, I called Brunton after verifying that all of the segments worked properly and they want me to send it back with an eye on replacing it. I don't think I have a lemon at this point, just feel like I am the victim of an overzealous marketing department-the panel works fine, I just didn't get the 26 watts I paid for-which is how solar is sold. Sure, they give you the whole "certain factors will affect panel performance" bullshit on the box, but unless they tested this thing in a Himalayan mountain top until peak sun, at high noon while rubbing their heads and patting their tummies, 26 watts ain't gonna happen.
There are really only two panels on the market that fit my need. One is now in the hands of a buddy, and the other is the one in this review. While I am bummed about the output, I did get to double my charging capability over the SolaRoll14 and trim the package down to something that will easily slip unnoticed into a 3 day bag. The best charge current I saw in testing was 1.3 to 1.5 amps into 4,7, and 8 cell battery packs, which is very respectable. The initial day of testing involved partly sunny skies with fast moving clouds and storm front, so I got to see how it performed under cloudy conditions as well. This panel will still belt out 2 watts with no direct sun on it-this is the same as some of the Brunton pocket chargers do in FULL SUN! .....Not bad... It would take all day to charge a set of four 2600mah AA NiMH's at that rate, but it would get it done. Normal conditions would be about an hour from fully dead-Basically, this panel will charge both your GPS and flashlight batteries, together, in the time it takes to make lunch if you have full sun available. Helluva capability.
It's also worth noting that this panel, unlike the SolaRoll, came with a set of jumper cables for a car battery. It might take all day, but a 1.5 amp charge will start a car after a day's worth of charging.... That might be worth the cost of the panel to you someday.
Here are some of the pics I took:
Out of the box-not shown is the nylon carry bag:
Closeup of the panel:
This is the weakest cloudy measurement I took:
13 watts, Gittin' Er Dun:
99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer... take one down, pass it around:
Overall this panel is worth having if you assume that is is nominally a 15 watt panel. I would still recommend it to people if they ask (pending durability tests, the first of which will be at my BOL this weekend). You just can't get portable solar like this anywhere else..
Nice review. A buddy of mine has the 26 and likes it. I have the 12 and the 6 and they're pretty good.
If you don't mind sharing(my mom always told me it was rude to ask but ...) how much were both of the units including the new one and the one you sold to your friend?
I have been looking for something like this also but it is still down a few spots on my purchasing list. Thanks.
I'll have to look it up, but I believe it is 1 and 2 lbs respectively for the panels, but no cables.
Whoops, thought you asked the weight-a good price for both seems to be in the $3-320 range.
Thanks for the review. I have had my eye on this company lately. It seems like they have some pretty cool stuff coming out to the market.
I like that battery charger....