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1. What are the minimum hardware requirements for backcountry or for survival solar applications?

The minimum equipment will include at least one 10.4  watt solar panel, a charge controller and a sealed deep cycle battery. The charge controller will keep the battery topped off without overcharging. 

Weight is always an issue in backpacking and our 10.4W panel weighs exactly 2 pounds.  Many small consumer devices will run directly from the panel. These usually include rechargeable GPS units, radios, PDAs, iPODs and many cell phones.  In some applications certain devices are more particular about their input voltage (solar panels in open circuit conditions produce between 20 and 22 volts DC. Some lithium or nickel metal hydride batteries fail to charge or run directly from a solar panel (their charging circuits reject the higher initial voltage). A solution to this is to use a DC-DC converter or battery center. The DC-DC converter produces a lower (more acceptable) 13.8 volt output from the solar panel voltage. This is done by in effect converting the voltage to current with around 85% efficiency. 

We sell both an 8A and 3A DC-DC converter. The 8AH or 2AH power centers also will work well (weight for 8A DC-DC converter is around half a pound and the 8A power center weighs around 4 pounds). A DC Power center has an additional advantage in that when the sun may be obscured momentarily or for a more prolonged timeframe, the power center supplements the solar panel's output.

2.How long can I run my equipment using a backcountry/survival solar system?

This all depends upon what size load you desire.  Using an 8 amp-hour battery means you will be able to draw 8 amps for one hour or 1 amp for 8 hours or 0.5A for 16 hours (hence the "e;amp-hour"e; unit of battery capacity).  Most handheld transceivers (for example) draw around 0.25A and you can run one for  32 hours with 8AH battery capacity. If you intend to run any device, find it's baseline current consumption and you can then determine the number of hours the battery will be able to provide power.   Generally in full sun you will be able to run any device that draws less than the panel output indefinitely (i.e. with a 10.4W folding panel you will have 0.75A or less as long as the sun shines). Using the handheld GPS or transceiver as an example, you could run them indefinitely.

3. What will a backcountry/survival solar system weigh?

The total weight is on the order of 6 pounds for the 10.4W solar panel and an 8AH power center.

4. Are there solar panels designed to be mounted on a backpack or pack animal so I can charge batteries on the trail?

Yes, the ConnecticutSolar backpacking folding solar panel solutions are manufactured exactly for this application. These panels are available in 10.4, 15.6 and 20.8W models. The 10.4W panel weighs only 2 pounds. All of our backpack models feature sturdy aluminum grommets in each corner and on sides to allow you to attach the panels to packs using parachute or bungee cord.  You can charge while in motion. These panels can also be attached to vehicles or just about anything that will be in motion. Link to our backpack panels:Backpack Solar Power Solutions.

5. Are there any other issues to consider?

Yes, we recommend using Anderson Powerpole connectors.  The Anderson connector is color coded (red positive and black negative) and they are very sturdy.  Reversal of lead connection is impossible to prevent reverse polarity damage.

6. What are Uni-Solar products?

Uni-Solar makes some of the best folding and flexible solar modules in the industry.  The flexible modules are affordable and work very well. The UNI-PAC folding modules are somewhat more expensive and are for the very serious expeditioneer.

7. What options are available to the really serious expedition?

Our customized Solar Power Centers are built with your needs in mind. We assess you load needs and design the system needed. We have outfitted expeditions to every corner of the globe.  We have power units in the most arid parts of the world, in the Arctic and in the jungle.  If you are not weight limited (i.e. deployed by aircraft, all terrain vehicle or pack animal) then we generally configure a 16 or 20AH power unit with attached 13A charge controller. 64W of folding panels plus this configuration powers our sine wave inverter for 110V as well as 12V power.  Inquire and we are happy to set you up. We include LCD monitoring on the charge controller to permit you to measure your battery health, current in from the modules and current out to your load. We have these units on every continent, in the arctic, in deserts, on mountaintops and in the jungles. Very popular with serious expeditions as well as scientific researchers needing remote portable reliable power.

Take a 16AH power center and at least one 32W panel and for most applications you will have more than enough power.