I am not a big one for generators, I believe they have their place, but in a very limited way. But there is a bona fide need for power; radios, tactical lights, GPS, etc. But I also believe that need is very limited. If you read my post about generators you know I see far more danger in using them then benefit from using them. < click here to read the article on generator dangers > However, when it comes time to have power, it is hard to beat the solar thing. And that is the focus of this article…solar power…specifically the Glowtech60 solar system.
I have written about other solar charging systems before, but only small units. But now I have the need for something more, and that led to the need for more solar charging capability.
And you might be asking just how much solar generating capability is needed. Good question. No, great question! But I can only answer that by defining the need for that solar power generating capability or we would get carried away. Then my wife would have a fit over the 100’ tall wind turbine in the back yard. Not acceptable. So let’s define the mission…
A portable solar generating kit capable of efficiently charging a 35 – 100 Ah AGM battery, or bank of batteries.
Requirements & Restrictions –
- It must be portable enough that one average person can carry it.
- It must be durable enough to handle the weather conditions in the desert SW.
- Set-up must be simple and intuitive.
- All wiring must be compatible with Anderson Powerpoles.
- If it is dual-panel it must come with its own frame, stand and other parts to stand-alone.
That began my journey to find the right piece of equipment. Since I already had been using GoalZero solar equipment before I naturally looked at their stuff first. Whoa!
GoalZero has always been a little pricey. And when you start looking at 50w+ panels, or dual 30w panels, it gets expensive quickly. And so GoalZero equipment was ruled out really early in the process. But that left me to doing a whole lot of research. But I got lucky…
I was doing some research on solar charger controllers and came across the Glowtech60 product. I guess it came up due to the kit has a charger controller built into the system. As soon as I clicked on the link I figured there must be some misprint in the price of the system…$135.
I did more reading and was impressed with what the system said it could do for the money. I read specs and they seemed to be right in line with what I was looking for. There were no negative reviews to speak of. The seller had a 99.7% positive rating with only 3 negative issues in the last year out of nearly a 1000 transactions. And the price was right.
I wasn’t really finding any other product that was beating the value/cost of the Glowtech product…so Bingo! I pulled the trigger and bought it.
Let me share the standard technical information…
- High efficiency monocrystalline solar panels
- Suited for flooded, gel, AGM, or calcium batteries
- Low iron tempered glass resists breakage
- Durable folding frame, so you can tilt the panels toward the sun
- Built-in PWM charge controller
- Bonus! Includes fabric storage bag
- Spring-loaded carrying handle
- Solar panels are weatherproof and sealed to withstand the elements
- Includes cables pre-wired for easy hookup
- 25 years warranty on the solar panels
Now comes the day I set it all up for testing. And it was a mixed bag in some ways but I am not real satisfied and let me share what I saw…
First, the unit is not lightweight but perfectly acceptable. It weighs in at 19pounds. The carrying case does have a padded handle on the carry straps. And the straps are plenty sturdy enough as is the rest of the carry bag. But there is a flaw in the bag’s design…it sucks. Well, it’s not all that bad but let me explain how it could be better.
The solar panels have a clip that hold them together on the short edge. And a spring loaded handle to carry the solar panel unit when the panels are clipped together. But the bag is designed for the panels to be inserted on the long edge. Confused yet? What I am getting at, you can place the solar panels in the bag using the built-in handle on the panels themselves. That bag orientation (long edge) doesn’t match the solar panel’s carrying handle orientation (short edge).
Yes, it is more inconvenient that anything but it makes it just a bit clumsy putting the unit into the bag. The picture may give a better story…
The panels are designed to fold together, obviously. But they designed the panels to fold with the glass surface to the outside. I would designed it to fold and protect the glass of the panels. But I understand that they are thinking of the protecting the charge controller mounted to the back of the panels. And having the hinge reversed in my design would make it impossible to angle the panels to maximize the movement of the sun across the panels.
That being said, I would then have place a little protective padding on the inside of the carrying case to protect those glass panels. And since there is some extra room in the bag I am going to improvise some protective padding. I will show that at the end of the article.
Setting up the solar panel kit itself is very easy. Pull it out of the case, pull the legs into place and set it down on the ground. That’s it for set-up, next it the wiring.
The built-in charge controller already has “pigtails” wired into the system and is ready to go. You just plug the extension that is provided into the pigtail and you are ready to go. One goes to the battery, the other goes to the “load”.
The charge controller is a PWM version and that is good to see.
The instructions that are provided with the unit describe step-by-step how to hook up the two extension cables, one to the load, the other to the battery. It says to hook up the battery first, but I am not sure why that would make any difference.
I first tested my battery with the multimeter to establish a voltage baseline. The 16′ cables were OK moving the voltage/current/power to the battery but I am going to move to 10ga wire to improve overall voltage transfer.
Then I hooked up the battery cable to my 100aH AGM battery using battery clamps. I wasn’t impressed with the wiring from the charge controller to the battery. It was only 16 gauge wire in a rather thinly insulated jacket. I measured the voltage at the end of the extension cable and there was a .74 drop in voltage. I plan on replacing the wiring with all 10ga wire and Anderson Powerpoles.
Next came hooking up the load side of the charge controller. Again, lightweight wiring with 16 gauge wire and a voltage drop. I tested various options that came with the kit and I am satisfied with the overall operations. I think the efficiency will improve with the better wiring. I am also converting everything to Anderson Powerpoles to make it compatible with all my radio and power boxes.
The charge controller is adequate, but that is about all from the outside “looks.”. But the overall electronic guts appear to be fully functional and plenty good enough for the job. I did the research and found the charge controller is a generic PWM charge controller made in China. The unit appears in many “private label” solar application. The information I was able to gather points to it being a decent little unit.
The PWM is not in the same category as the Morningstar SL-20L-12V but the Morningstar also cost $75. The biggest drawback to the charge controller is no temperature sensing. A good charge controller needs to adjust and compensate for different temperatures. So I am not sure where the efficiency is going to end-up and I have to figure out a way to test it. I may end-up running my battery to a certain discharge voltage and then charge it with the existing PWM charge controller and then rewire and retest with the Morningstar SL-20L-12V.
The solar panels themselves appear to be pretty decent quality and well built. They look like they can handle rain and dust pretty well. I will give them a good long exposure to the weather here in New Mexico and let you know how that goes.
However, there is a problem…I was getting far more than what I consider to safe DC voltage coming from the charge controller. It was coming into the battery at 19volts. I contacted the company selling the panels and they never responded to me. I am going to switch out the charge controller to a Morningstar SL20L12V. And that ups the cost of the system but then I will have a quality reliable charging system. But at an additional. I still think it was worth it.
I have bought an additional PWM charge controller exactly the same as the one on the GlowTech system. I am going to do some testing on it. I hope to find out what the issue is. I will post the results when I am done.
But here is the bottom line…this unit is perfectly adequate for the mission, very affordable at the $100 -$110 mark, and just an all-round great unit. It will recharge the 100 Ah AGM deep-cycle battery in an acceptable time-frame. And the Glowtech60 system is very affordable, well worth the money, and will surely come in handy when the power goes out.
Update: 7/24/2019 – This article is essentially for information only…and to give you ideas. These products are no longer available. I will try to get out another recommendation when I can.
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