Goal Zero Solar Kit? Read this first.

Everyone in the solar industry has at least heard of Goal Zero by now. They are the American portable solar power company that was born out of african humanitarian aid projects. Goal Zero builds some fantastic products… heck, I sell a lot of them myself (see here). And Goal Zero does a great job of marketing their equipment, which is why you can find it almost everywhere solar panels and innovative outdoor gear are sold. But, should they be on your equipment short-list?


Just as the old saying goes: “There is a tool for every job”, so it is with packable solar power systems. In this article, I will take a look at several popular Goal Zero power kits, suggest the best applications for them, and suggest excellent alternatives that may be better suited to your specific needs.

A few numbers to help you compare:
     Smart Phone battery full charge = 5-6 Watt-Hours
     GPS receiver battery full charge = 8+ Watt-Hours
     Tablet PC battery full charge = 20+ Watt-Hours
     Laptop battery full charge = 50+ Watt-Hours

Onward…

The Goal Zero Switch 8 : $139.99 (est)
This is the latest kit release from Goal Zero. It features their Nomad 3.5 folding panel, with the new Switch8 lithium USB battery pack. Following are the key specifications…
     Solar Panel Type : Monocrystalline
     Max power generation : 2.5 Watts (USB)
                or 3 Watts if using the Guide10 battery
     Power Storage : 7.92 Watt-Hours
     Max output : 1,000mA @ 5V USB
     Total Weight : 310g (11.2oz)
The verdict:
Like all Goal Zero products, this kit is very well built to take the abuse of wilderness use. The monocrystalline panel is best suited to direct sunlight, so it makes sense for regions that have a lot of sunshine (Africa, SW USA, Mexico, etc).
But, an integrated Voltaic charger like the Fuse 4W provides better performance with the same solar technology for less money, plus you get a very nice gear case…

Voltaic Fuse 4W : $129.99
     
Solar Panel Type : Monocrystalline

     Max power generation : 4 Watts
     Power Storage : 11.1 Watt-Hours
     Max output : 1,000mA @ 5V USB
     Total Weight : 600g (20.8oz)


So, that being said, what USB solar charger would be my lead recommendation for difficult Canadian & other North American locations? If there is a good chance you will get partial shade, variable sun exposure, variable weather, or will be working at high latitudes, then the following will be the best options for you…

1. SUNLINQ1 + Voltaic V11 : $99.99 (est)
        Solar Panel Type : CIGS thin film
        Max power generation : 2 Watts
        Power Storage : 11.1 Watt-Hours
        Max output : 1,000mA @ 5V USB
        Total Weight : 2.21g (7.9oz)
        – lighter weight, more sensitive in low-light & partial shade,
          & more affordable


2. SUNLINQ2 + Voltaic V39 : $189.99 (est)
        Solar Panel Type : CIGS thin film
        Max power generation : 4 Watts
        Power Storage : 39 Watt-Hours
        Max output : up to 2.1A @ 5V USB (supports tablets)
        Total Weight : 540g (19oz)
        – More power in any light condition, greater sensitivity,
          & greater power storage.


The Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit : $119.99 (est)
This is the most popular Goal Zero kit. It features their Nomad 7 folding panel, with the Guide 10 Plus USB battery pack. This kit has all sorts of strange specifications… it says the rated output of the panel is 7 Watts, but the most you can get out of it is 6 Watts (USB) if connected directly to the Guide 10 pack using the special cable.
Following are the key specifications…
     Solar Panel Type : Monocrystalline
     Max power generation : 2.5 Watts (USB), 3 Watts (12V socket),
                          or 6 Watts via special Guide10 interface cable
     Power Storage : 12 Watt-Hours
                         (using 4 NiMh rechargeables – included)
     Max output : 1,000mA @ 5V USB via Guide 10,
                         (see above for max solar-direct performance)
     Total Weight : 540g (19.2oz)
The verdict:
I find this kit to be a bit disappointing… for $120 you get a very low-power 12V charger, and a very ordinary USB charger. I like the concept of the dual-voltage Nomad panel, but it is NOT a 7W panel! At the performance level of the Nomad 7, you should not expect to be able to charge many things directly from the panel… certainly not your iPhone or iPad. The monocrystalline solar cell type is best suited to direct sunlight, so it makes sense for regions that have a lot of sunshine (Africa, SW USA, Mexico, etc), so you might get frustrated in non-intense sunlight.
The Guide 10 performs well, and being able to use NiMh cells comes in handy, but even it lacks the punch to support many of the new ‘smart’ devices while they are running.
So, what alternatives would I recommend for Canadian latitudes & most North American locations? What systems would properly support 12V & USB devices in difficult weather & mountainous terrain?…

1. Powerfilm F5 + Novuscell 24 : $279.99 (est)
        Solar Panel Type : Amorphous thin film
        Max power generation : 4.8 Watts (12V)
        Power Storage : 24 Watt-Hours
        Max output : approx 20 Watts (2.1A @ 5V USB -or- 2A @ 11.1V)
        Total Weight : 340g (12oz)
        – lighter weight, more sensitive in low-light & partial shade,
           & powers far more 12V & USB devices (which is the point!)


2. Powerfilm R-7 + Voltaic V60 : $289.99 (est)
        Solar Panel Type : Amorphous thin film
        Max power generation : 6.9 Watts (12V)
        Power Storage : 60 Watt-Hours
        Max output : up to 48 Watts @ 12V, 16V or 19V, plus 2.1A USB
        Total Weight : 840g (29.6oz)
        – More power in any light condition, greater sensitivity,
          waterproof solar, & greater power storage,
          varied output voltage support.

Keep these options in mind, as they form a foundation for looking at the next level of portable power. This brings us to the last of the three Goal Zero kits I will look at in this article…

The Sherpa 50 Solar Recharger : $349.99 (est)
Goal Zero has put this kit together to address the varied needs of remote camps, serious trekkers, and anyone who has a comprehensive list of electronics to keep running while miles from civilization. The 13W Nomad panel is a good match to the Sherpa 50, and the combination supports both 12V & USB devices.
Here are the details…
     Solar Panel Type : Monocrystalline
     Max power generation : 13 Watts (12V), 5W (USB)
     Power Storage : 55 Watt-Hours (Sherpa 50 v2)
     Max output : 75W @ 12V & 1.5A @ 5V USB
     Total Weight : 1.22Kg (2.7 lbs)

The verdict:
This is a good kit, but again designed for sunny, tropical environments. The Nomad 13 panel provides solid 12V output, plus a USB option that is strong enough for fussy USB devices (in full sun of course). If you really need household AC power (not recommended), there is an inverter option for the Sherpa and this in itself is unique for a lithium system.

So, what alternatives to the Sherpa 50 Solar Kit would I recommend for Canadian latitudes & most other North American locations? What systems would properly support 12V & USB devices in difficult weather & mountainous terrain?

First, I will dispense with an AC inverter option. This is rarely needed as there are more efficient DC options available for most devices. Therefore we are left with specifying a comparable solar panel, but with improved low-light sensitivity, and bundle it with a storage battery that supports 12V & USB devices.
Here they are…


1. SUNLINQ4 + Brunton Sustain : $444.99 (est)

        Solar Panel Type : CIGS thin film
        Max power generation : 12 Watts (12V)
        Power Storage : 72 Watt-Hours
        Max output : 
up to 60 Watts @ 12V, 16V or 19V, plus 2.1A USB
        Total Weight : 937g (2.06 lbs)


2. Powerfilm R-14 + Voltaic V60 : $379.99 (est)
        Solar Panel Type : Amorphous thin film
        Max power generation : 13.9 Watts (12V)
        Power Storage : 60 Watt-Hours
        Max output : up to 48 Watts @ 12V, 16V or 19V, plus 2.1A USB
        Total Weight : 1.14Kg (2.5 lbs)


This concludes my little report on Goal Zero and what alternative equipment combinations I would recommend for Canadian & North American locations. Again, the point of the exercise is to pack along equipment that will work under the widest range of conditions. Goal Zero equipment is good, but not the best option in challenging northern latitudes.

I understand that I presented quite a few numbers here. Sorry about that. I tried to keep them simple so that you can make meaningful comparisons between devices. If you have any questions regarding anything I have presented here, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Cheers!

Out here, things have to be a little tougher,
a little smarter,
and a little more responsible.
Welcome to the Modern Outpost.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: