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5 simple tips for getting the most out of your power station solar panels

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A EcoFlow River 2 Max powering my search for UFOs (well, the sun!)

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Power stations — think power banks, only much bigger — are all the rage, and I’ve tested several over the past few months. But while most power stations come with the option of charging using solar panels, since I’m in the U.K., I don’t get to see that glowing orb in the sky all that often.

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Over the past few days I’ve been down in a place called Rendlesham Forest, and if that name is familiar to you, that’s because it’s biggest claim to fame is that back in December 1980 it was the location of Britain’s own Roswell UFO incident.  

Where better to go to see glowing orbs in the sky and test solar panels!

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On my travels I’ve noticed more and more people use power stations with solar panels attached to power their off-grid adventures, but I often see the solar panels set up incorrectly, significantly diminishing the amount of power they can capture from the sun, and dramatically increasing the time it takes to charge up their power station.

Here are my top tips for maximizing the power you capture from your solar panels. Here I’m using the EcoFlow River 2 Max and a 160W solar panel

The EcoFlow River 2 Max along with a 160W solar panel

The EcoFlow River 2 Max along with a 160W solar panel

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

1. Unfurl the panel completely

Yes, I get it that folding solar panels are big and unwieldy, need a big space to set up in, and catch the wind, but always open out your panel completely when in use. 

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You want the spot where you’ll set up your solar panels to be as flat as possible and have as clear and as unobstructed view of the south sky as possible (if you’re in the northern hemisphere, otherwise it’s the northern sky you need). 

2. Prop the panels up

Most panels come with a stand, and it makes sense to use them as this gives the best possible angle to the sun.

Prop up your solar panels, either using the supplied stand, or against a wall, tree, or vehicle

Prop up your solar panels, either using the supplied stand, or against a wall, tree, or vehicle

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

You can lie the panels flat on the ground or a roof if it’s windy, but the efficiency drops dramatically.

Laying the panels down flat really hits their efficiency, but can be the only way to use them in high winds

Laying the panels down flat really hits their efficiency, but can be the only way to use them in high winds

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

3. Keep them out of shadows!

You want to keep shadows off your solar panel as much as possible, as even a small one can really hit efficiency.

This shadow knocks a good 30 percent off the efficiency of the panel

This shadow knocks a good 30 percent off the efficiency of the panel

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Oh, and remember, as the sun moves east to west (in the northern hemisphere), the shadows will move west to east as the day progresses.

4. Keep the power station out of the sun

Keep the power station out of the sun to maximize charging speeds. The hotter the power station is, the slower it will charge. If possible, I tuck it behind the solar panels.

A hot power station will charge at a slower rate than a cool one, which is why I like to keep them tucked behind the solar panel

A hot power station will charge at a slower rate than a cool one, which is why I like to keep them tucked behind the solar panel

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

5. Point the panel in the right direction!

The sun moves during the day, but if you don’t want to be chasing it all day, point the panels towards the south (in the northern hemisphere) to capture the strongest noon sun.

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Not sure which way is south? 

Put a stick in the ground and look at the shadow. The closer it is to noon, the closer the shadow will be to pointing north (again, in the northern hemisphere, reverse if you’re in the southern hemisphere). If you want to capture the most sunlight, use the stick in the ground stick and have the shadow pointing directly to the middle of the panel (remove the stick when you’re done orienting the panel to maximize the sunlight you’re capturing!).

Shadows point directly north at noon in the northern hemisphere

Shadows point directly north at noon in the northern hemisphere 

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET



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