Let it Shine: PowerFilm Rollable Solar Charger Review

Solar panel technology has moved forward rapidly in last several years.  Not only are today’s panels more efficient and affordable, they’re also more durable and portable. Take for example the series of rollable solar panels from PowerFilm.  PowerFilm markets them as “go anywhere, do anything, stand-up to the toughest punishment, lightest, most flexible, waterproof (including saltwater) solar panels on the planet." That’s a hefty description to live up to. Is PowerFilm exaggerating or are their rollable panels really that good?

I recently tried out the R14 model (14 watts) on our sailboat and am pleased with the results. The first thing I noticed was what appears to be excellent build quality. This panel may be flexible, but it doesn’t feel flimsy at all. The main body and edges of the panel feel like a high-grade vinyl, though I’m not sure what the actual material is. The connectors for wiring and accessories are gasketed with rubber o-rings and appear to be of “marine grade” as the brochure claims. Incidentally, the brochure also claims PowerFilm’s proprietary manufacturing process produces a panel that works even after being punctured, although I did not test this claim. Obviously, a puncture would affect the panel’s waterproofing, however.

PowerFilm's R14 Rollable Solar Panel deployed on our bimini

The panel was easily rollable, though some care should be taken to make sure the roll isn’t tighter than about the size of a soda can to prevent damage. I suspect PowerFilm’s unique manufacturing process and the long but narrow dimensions of these solar panels are what make them so flexible and rollable. Once rolled, there’s a built-in Velcro strap to keep the panel from unrolling. 

There are metal grommets on the edges of the panel that should make both temporary and permanent mounting simple. The wind was calm the day I used the solar panel, so I simply placed it on top of our cockpit bimini. Full sun was not continuously available through the broken clouds, but the panel seemed to still produces power. I used the R14 solar panel to charge both an iPad2 and an iPhone 5 from a fully discharge state to 100% charge and was pleased with the performance (~5 hr. for the iPhone, ~6 hr. for the iPad 2).  

While the R14 is not nearly large enough to power a cruising sailboat’s onboard battery bank, it’s about the perfect size for charging small to medium electronic devices (phones, tablets, handheld vhf’s, GPS’s, etc.) and could serve nicely as a trickle charger/battery maintainer for your larger house and start batteries. If the rollable/flexible characteristics are desirable, but you need more power, consider one of PowerFilm’s larger rollable panels available up to 42 watts. The R14 solar panel comes with a 12 volt female power port adapter and a 15’ cord extension with o-ring connectors. Other accessories are available from PowerFilm such as a charge controller and a 12 volt USB power port adapter. I personally used a 12 volt USB adapter that I picked up at WalMart for about $5. The price for the R14 is around $200 on Amazon.

Here's what's included w/ the R14

Operating Voltage: 15.4
Wattage: 14
Current: 0.9 amps
Width (in): 14.5
Length (in): 42 (unrolled)
Weight (lb): 0.981

Ready to get your own PowerFilm R14 Rollable Solar Panel? Get it here:

Looking for reviews of other solar products for sailors?  Check out these previous blog posts:

>> Don't forget to visit SFLF's Gear Review page for more sailing gear reviews/tests. <<


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