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  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

Goal Zero Solar Battery Charging With the Sun

Posted in Product Reviews on April 26, 2016
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When you are wheeling the backcountry for extended periods of time you may need auxiliary battery power. Of course, your 4WD battery is charging while the engine is running, but once you are stopped, electrical devices pull current from the battery and deplete its charge, everything from phones and laptops torefrigerators and camp lighting. Pull too much juice for too long and you'll wind up with a battery that no longer cranks the engine over.

Dual batteries are one option. They allow you to run camping accessories off one battery while keeping another in reserve for starting duties. You have twice the battery power of a single, but while sitting they are not charging. Adding a second battery adds extra weight, is costly, and further complicates your electrical system.

Another alternative for backup battery power is to carry a 12-volt jumpstart box. Today relatively small lithium power packs are available for backup jumpstarting or various charge duties. However, once expended, they need to be recharged to use again.

A solar panel is an option that can provide charging current for an auto battery and other electronic devices you carry with you. Whenever you have sun you have the ability to replenish power. We explored one option from Goal Zero that provides the ability to charge batteries using a portable solar panel. Goal Zero offers a wide range of solar charging solutions in both rigid mountable panels and portable folding panels. We opted to try the Nomad 20 solar panel. It provides up to 20 watts of charge power to several outlet types. Multiple Goal Zero panels can be easily connected together. Up to four Nomad panels can be connected in a chain to increase your total power output.

Our primary goal was to connect the Nomad 20 to our truck battery so that when parked at camp we could use it to replenish the battery and thus use our battery-powered devices. The Nomad 20 is one of Goal Zero's folding solar panels. It is used for everything from backpacking to remote camping where you don't have the ability for a fixed installation.

Along with the Nomad 20 we used the Guardian 12-volt charge controller, which allows connection of a solar panel to a 12-volt lead-acid battery to monitor the charging of the battery. It provides a three-stage lead-acid charger that is also compatible with AGM-construction batteries.

Our results using the Goal Zero panel showed it could be used alone to recharge small personal devices, or combined with the charge controller to provide a small sustaining current to charge your auto battery. Based on your anticipated remote power needs, you can decide if going solar makes sense and what panel space may be required for your overall supplement needs.

Here's the Nomad 20 in folded form. There are larger and smaller panels available based on your power needs. You can charge USB and 12-volt devices directly from the Nomad panel. Time to charge the devices will depend on current draw of the combined devices being charged.

On the back of the Nomad 20 is a zippered pouch that holds the various output connectors for charging or to daisy-chain additional panels together. It has a USB port capable of providing a regulated output up to 2.1 amps, which can charge most tablets directly. The panel also has a solar port and a mini solar port connector to route power to other devices. A female power port adapter is provided to accept 12-volt chargers with a matching input plug.

When folded for transport or storage, the panel is 8 1/2 by 13 by 1 inches. It opens to 30 1/2 by 13 inches. It weighs 2.1 pounds. The solar panel is a monocrystalline cell, typically the most efficient type. Goal Zero also offers rigid solar panels for when that form factor might be more appropriate for temporary or permanent mounting.

The Guardian comes with a pair of alligator clips for clamping onto a car battery. However, an adapter cable is available with an SAE connector to mate directly to common trickle-charger pigtail cables that connect to an auto battery.

On the face of the guardian are two LEDs that provide status of input power and charging of your 12-volt lead-acid battery.

We placed the Nomad 20 in late-morning sun to see what kind of power it could produce. We hooked the Guardian controller to a partially charged auto battery and were able to measure a charge current of just about 1.2 amps at 13.1 volts, or close to 16 watts during the bulk charge phase. As one might suspect, we found that moving the panel around in relation to the sun affected the power produced.

If you are remote from the vehicle battery and you need portable power, Goal Zero offers power packs that can be charged from a solar panel. These provide charge and power ports for all your portable gear, and can include a 110-volt inverter option. This can be useful in backpacking, rafting, or kayaking scenarios.


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