There are so many portable solar panels on the market these days that it can be tough to choose the right one to meet your needs.
I’ve been using Bluetti’s EB3A Portable Power Station for over two months now, and I’m still super impressed, so I’ve been excited to get my hands on one of Bluetti’s compatible solar panels to see if they match the EB3A’s quality. Charging my power station at home with my AC wall socket is great, but who wouldn’t want to top up while they’re out camping?
Bluetti offers a range of solar panels that are compatible with their portable power stations. Both the power stations and panels can be bought separately or together. With my EB3A’s maximum solar input being 200 Watts, the PV200 is the perfect compatible panel for me.
What’s also perfect for me is that it’s portable, or at least as portable as you can make a 200-watt solar panel, meaning it’s ideal for our van adventures and camping trips. As I mentioned in my power station review, I tend to find myself working while I travel, so power is essential. If you’re a 4WD enthusiast or caravanner, this might be a good option for you, too.
Let’s take a quick look at the PV200 Portable Solar Panel’s main specifications, as listed by Bluetti:
- Power: 200W
- Lamination: ETFE (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene)
- Cell Type: Monocrystalline Silicon
- Cell Efficiency: Up to 23.4%
- Voltage at Max Power (Vmp): 20.5V
- Current at Max Power (Imp): 9.7A
- Connector: Standard MC4 Connector
- Warranty: 12 Months
I’ve had about a month to put the PV200 through its paces, so I’m excited to share my experiences with you.
Hopefully, my thoughts will help you make a more informed decision if you’re shopping for a portable solar panel yourself. Let’s get into it…
Functionality & Ease of Use (Rating: 95%)
The Bluetti PV200 is a four-panel, foldable solar panel. I’ll start by taking a look at the folded design before moving on to what it’s like once you unfold it, obviously noting the durability of features along the way.
Foldable design for PV200 portability
The thing that makes the PV200 Solar Panel portable is its carry handle and folding design, comprised of four connected panels that fold in on each other.
Although you wouldn’t exactly consider it small at roughly 59 x 63 x 5 cm (width x height x depth), that’s understandable for a solar panel that aims to generate up to 200 Watts. It weighs 7.3 kg, which similarly isn’t really lightweight, but again that’s to be expected.
The bright blue carry handle is made from moulded ABS plastic. ABS plastic is obviously ultra-durable, but it somehow still feels a little flimsy. I’m unsure how it’s connected to the panel, but my instincts tell me that might be where it eventually fails. Having said that, after a month of moderate use during testing (including a weekend getaway), I don’t see any signs of wear whatsoever.
The back of the panels (or the outside when folded) is covered with a durable, hard-wearing Oxford fabric, which is easy clean after use by wiping with a damp cloth. I’m unsure what the material is, but it’s almost like a synthetic canvas. It’s dark grey and features the Bluetti logo on one side.
On the opposite side, you’ll find one of the panel’s three adjustable kickstand legs (sitting flush and fastened with a stud) and a large, zippered pouch that houses the integrated MC4 connector cable. The zipper on this pouch seems sturdy and hasn’t missed a beat for me so far. It doesn’t catch on the surrounding fabric the way so many zippers on outdoor equipment seem to do.
While some might prefer the MC4 cable to be a separate, attachable accessory, I actually think this solution makes the PV200 more durable. There are no pins to bend when you accidentally attempt to plug it into the panel the wrong way, and there’s also no chance you’ll lose the cable.
The folded PV200 is held together by two plastic fastening clips attached to the panel with webbing for storage and transport. Every aspect of this fastening system seems tough as nails.
The PV200 solar panel unfolded
Once unfolded, the total width of the four panels extends to 226.5cm but considering we’re looking to use the PV200 in the great outdoors, space is hardly a concern.
The adjustable kickstand design is very clever. Each leg has a ribbon and press studs in various positions, allowing the leg to hold the PV200 at varying angles. Snap the press stud to a different position and pull the leg tight, then lean the panels back on the leg, and you’re done. I can’t see the legs or their connection to the panels failing in the foreseeable future. They’re very well manufactured.
Speaking of well-manufactured things, you’ll want to unzip and extend that MC4 cable once the PV200 is unfolded. The large, zippered pocket where the MC4 connector cable resides is nice and large, making it easy to retract and pack up. They could have left the cable dangling or made a small pouch for it that put unnecessary strain on the zipper or would frustrate anybody landed with the pack-up job. Excellent design decision. As for the MC4 cable itself, there isn’t a single thing about it that seems breakable.
One of the few design improvements Bluetti could make is adding an extra leg. Four panels supported by three legs just doesn’t work very well. During setup, the sag of the legless panel makes an inevitably frustrating far more frustrating than it needs to be. In use, the sagging panel also presents a challenge when it comes to setting up at an optimal angle for charging efficiency.
The ETFE-coated 200-watt monocrystalline solar panels
The PV200 comprises four connected 200-Watt Monocrystalline solar panels… because you obviously couldn’t fold it if it were one big solar panel.
Monocrystalline is one of the more energy-efficient solar panel designs, known for being durable, operating well at high temperatures, and producing high power output under less-than-ideal sun conditions.
Bluetti have also opted to connect the panels in parallel, which means that if one panel is under partial shade, the other panels can continue to operate at full capacity. While testing the PV200 on our camping trip, I witnessed this myself when I returned to camp and found one of the panels almost entirely shaded by the surrounding tree canopy. Other folding solar panels wired together in series can lose up to 40% of output when one panel is partially shaded.
These are some solid design choices by Bluetti, who claim that these are the best portable solar panels on the market.
The PV200’s panels are coated in durable, scratch-resistant fluorine-based (ETFE) plastic. After a month of use, mine still don’t show any signs of wear and tear. We haven’t exactly taken the best care of them either. So far, I’m impressed.
As for weatherproofing, the junction box (I assume that means where the MC4 cable connects to the panels) has an IP65 rating. Bluetti does recommend, however, that you don’t leave the PV200 out in the rain. I find this a bit confusing, but either way, for a portable solar panel I’m going to be using while camping, I’d much prefer the peace of mind of knowing for sure it isn’t going to die if there’s a downpour that I didn’t see coming because I was busy having fun.
Editor’s Note: I’ve spoken with Bluetti about the waterproofing issue, and they’ve pointed out that it’s very difficult to make a folding solar panel completely waterproof. I see their point. They are passing my feedback on to the Research and Development team, so it will be interesting to see if they come up with any solutions for future product releases.
Design & Durability (Rating: 97%)
With all that covered, it’s time to get down to it and tell you about my experiences using the PV200 Portable Solar Panel. If you’ve read this far, you’ll have noticed I’ve been using it to charge my Bluetti EB3A Portable Power Station. I’ve brought the PV200 along on a weekend camping trip, but I’ve also tested it extensively at home and in the park beside my house under varying weather conditions.
Setting up the PV200 Portable Solar Panel
Unfolding the PV200 can be a little awkward due to its size. Ideally, it’s a two-person job – one to hold the panel and one to set up the legs. I can’t see any way this could be made easier, though, so I should emphasise that I’m mostly very happy with the design. All that’s required to set up is to unclip the two plastic buckles and unfold the four panels.
I suggest extending the kickstand legs one by one as you unfold each panel, but you’ll figure out what works for you. As you extend each leg, you’ll need to choose one of the studs to fasten the ribbon strap onto in order to angle the panels optimally toward the sun. As with any solar panel, this is a bit of a guessing game, but on the EB3A’s screen, you can see the immediate difference in power input as you move the panel around. This makes finding the right position considerably easier. It’s worth noting here that as the soon moves, you will need to adjust the panel’s angle and the direction you face it accordingly. Again, this would be the case with any panel.
As I’ve already covered in the Design & Durability section above, I’m impressed with the kick-stand leg design. They would make setting up the panel relatively easy if it wasn’t for one thing – they’ve forgotten to include a leg for each of the four panels. This is certainly not a deal breaker, though. At worst, it’s a mild frustration.
The ends of the MC4 cable then attach directly to my EB3A Portable Power Station’s included MC4 cable, and that’s it – we’re charging. We just need to make sure there’s no rain on the horizon.
How good is the PV200’s power output?
This review has little left to cover except for this burning question. Bluetti boasts that the 200-watt monocrystalline panel can achieve up to 23.4% conversion efficiency. Anything over 15% is considered fairly efficient, so 23.4% is pretty impressive if true. I don’t have a maths brain, so I won’t attempt to calculate the efficiency the PV200 achieves for me. Let’s just talk about power output.
200 Watts is obviously a measure of the absolute best-case scenario – under clear skies on a summer day, with no shade, the panels at the perfect angle to catch the sun, and the panels at their optimal operating temperature.
Melbourne’s weather in April and May is never going to provide the right conditions to do its part in that equation, so my expectations were adjusted accordingly.
I tested the PV200 in all kinds of conditions and was astonished to find that the only times my power station showed under 95 watts from the panel were when there was shade on the panel or when the sky was completely overcast. On the clearest day, the power station showed up to 167 watts. Plug a few mobile phones – or anything that draws less than 95 watts – into your power station, and as long as it isn’t overcast, you can power up straight from the sun. Impressive.
One final note to mention is that one thing I found challenging was finding a spot to charge the PV200 where there was no long grass shading the bottom of the panel. Many of the places you or I would likely find ourselves using the PV200 would potentially have this issue, so it’s worth mentioning. I haven’t found any portable solar panel on the market that attempts to address this issue, but they probably should.
So, there you have it… If you’re a 4WD enthusiast, camper, van lifer, or caravanner, Bluetti’s PV200 Portable Solar Panel should be on your radar. It’ll work with many power stations (any equipped with MC4 connectors), but I can vouch for the Bluetti EB3A. You’ll get both a little cheaper if you buy them together.
What I Like
- The folding design makes for easy storage and transport.
- Seems relatively durable – so far, so good after a month of testing.
- Easy compatibility with many power stations via integrated MC4 cables.
- Impressive power output, even under partial shade.
What I Don’t Like
- Setup would be easier with the addition of an extra kickstand leg.
- For my camping worst-case scenarios, I’d obviously prefer it to be completely waterproof.
- The carry handle feels like it may fail at some point, though after a month of heavy use, there are no signs of wear.