This is an unpaid review of the Redarc SSF1190 Solar Blanket. In this review we aren’t going to get into the tech spec’s. This is more about the pros and cons of blankets versus permanent panels. It’s a real life comparison.
For the sake of this review an Anderson connection was added to the solar input, before the camper’s MPPT controller. This allowed us to alternate between the amorphous 2x 100w panels on the roof of our camper. But using the same MPPT to monitor input from both types of panels.
The existing permanent amorphous panels and solar system were installed by the previous owner. But they were a relatively new addition at the time of purchase 2 years ago. It would appear the 2 flexi 100w panels and MPPT controller would have been a package kit around the $1500 mark. As you can see from the images they haven’t weathered well at all. BUT they are still working fine.
When we are camping off the grid, these two panels keep our house 180 Amp Hour AGM battery bank topped up. We are running a 45L Waeco chest fridge, charging laptops [via the inverter], phones and camera batteries charged via USB ports. The lights in the camper are LED’s. The fridge is our biggest draw. Over 2 years with this set up, it would appear the solar panels run everything perpetually. As long as there’s sun of course.
There’s a couple of issues. The panels are adhered directly to the fibreglass roof. To make room for the panels the previous owner took out the existing sunroof and had the hole fibreglassed. It was done well. Solar panels are black, they get hot. Over time ours have distorted and warped the fibreglass roof. If you look closely in the photo you can see that warping.
We added the roof rack system. If the panels weren’t there already we would have mounted rigid solar panels to the roof rack. This would have meant they get airflow around them and not be in direct contact with the roof. The sunroof/ventilation wouldn’t have been taken out.
There are huge downsides to having permanent panels bolted onto your camper. They are always outside, so they are always going to get weathered and age. If you are doing any type of backcountry touring or overlanding chances are they are primely positioned to cop low [hell…high] branches. Being unmovable, you can’t set up camp in the shade. Of course they take up value roof storage space. And you’re making holes in a perfectly watertight roof to accommodate the wiring and possibly the panel mounts.
There is the advantage that the batteries are constantly on trickle charge, batteries like that. And the ease that there is no setup once you are where you wanna be.
Chances are your current camper isn’t going to be your forever camper. Why not have a solar system that is highly transferable to your next project.
Instead of bolt or stuck ons, there is another option, a decent Solar Blanket. Stowing a solar blanket reduces the weathering exponentially. It certainly means they aren’t getting road damaged. And the big one, you can park up the shade and simply move the blanket around, tracking the sun.
The Redarc SSFF190 is not merely a decent solar blanket. It’s the mac daddy of solar blankets. It’s not cheap at $2330.03 NZD, but it is a prime example of you getting what you pay for.
The first thing you notice about the panel is it’s heavy, it’s 7.2 kgs! These aren’t conventional amorphous or monocrystalline cells. They are Sunpower cells. Sunpower cells are a triple layer with a rigid copper foundation. Sunpower claims 60% more energy over a 25 year period.
Because each cell has a copper plate backing they are far more corrosion resistant and sturdier. Most solar cells are made by coating the silicone crystals onto thin aluminium. The copper also helps distribute heat. An irony of solar panels; they need to be in the sun, but that means they get real hot. Solar panels will stop working if they get too hot. Redarc’s solution means their panels will keep working longer, claiming they will work to 85 Celsius.
The panel is folding, making it easy to store and even at 7.2kg it is about a third of the weight of an equivalent glass solar kit. The folded panel, in it’s provided stash pouch is only 310 x 310 x 90mm, so it slips easily behind the front seats. Probably under most camper front seats. Think fat laptop bag size.
The Redarc build is excellent. You know that feeling you get holding something well made? Without being able to confirm it yet, the panel feels like it will last those 25 years easily.
The panel has 6 peg/mounting eyelets to secure the panel in wind. It comes Anderson plug ready. It’s NEARLY plug and play. But slow your horses, if you don’t have a MPPT controller, you are still in the gun for some sort of Regulator.
Redarc stipulates at least a 20A Reg. Quickly, this is a box that regulates the power coming out of the solar panels and into the batteries. So you don’t fry your batteries. A Redarc 20A Regulator and Cable pack will set you back another $286.48 nzd. So now you’ve thrown $2616.51 at the sun. It’s a lot, but keep in mind it’s highly transferable from vehicle to vehicle. It’s a one off cost instead of redoing a solar system every new camper.
Our existing panels are fractionally larger at 200w than the Redarc 190w, but older and weather worn. The guestimate was they’d perform about the same. The test was done on a blue sky day with high sun. Both sets of panels were in the same direction to the sun. The fridge was on so that the battery bank was drained down to 12.5 from 13.9V. The older amorphous 200w panel combo was pumping in 6.8 amps, that’s about as good as it gets.
First test for the Redarc 190w was out away from the camper, flat on the grass, using the Redarc 5 metre long Anderson to Anderson extension. Hypothetically using a lead that long there could be amp drop off. But no, straight away a whooping 8.4 amps pouring in. That’s a big difference.
Next test was to move the blanket to another common venue. The bonnet, of course if you have a van, this is redundant. But if you’re in a 4×4, that potentially shortens the leads, no tripping over leads and gets the panel off the ground. A constant 8.4 amps again.
Next placement was one recommended in the Redarc manual. Considering the weight of the panel there wasn’t too much keenness to lob it on the awning. But it was easy to place it there and the awning seemed fine. This would, for us, be the preferred deployment because it keeps the panel and the wires out of harm’s way. It was also the nearest to the old panels and perhaps same angle to the sun. 8.4 amps.
One of the concerns prior to this review was adding another stage to camp set up. Doesn’t matter how easy, it’s still another thing to do, another thing to remember to pack down. It can be done in seconds, it’s a non issue. It pales in consideration of the ability to move the blanket around.
Confused about Solar in general…well join the crowd, it can be a minefield. Our explanation of some of the ways to power, including the difference between solar panels, is HERE