Cheap solar: some basics.

I keep going round and round with the idea of getting a Harbor Freight Solar Kit.   It's 3 15 watt panels a cheap charge controller and a couple of 12V CFL lamps for about $150 on sale to $250 normal price.  It's enticing but when you look at real solar panels you realize that it's not a good buy.

Problem 1 - They are thin film Solar panels.   Thin film panels have a very very short lifespan.  Depending on the quality and thickness of the film they can last from 1 year to 12 years.  If you can see through the panels, it's  a low quality one.  I went to harbor freight and had them open a box for me.  You can see the lights on their ceiling through them.   This is not good.

Problem 2 - durability  These thin film panels are printed on thin glass.  This means you need to protect them with a frame and more glass, making them produce less power.  OR, you need to bring them in out of the weather.   both of these are not a good thing for solar power generation.  dont even think of mounting these to a camper all the time. the flexing of the trailer would crack the glass.

Problem 3 - Power output.   One China made polysilicon cell based panel for $199.00 will produce 85-100 watts of power.   At this point it's silly to think of buying the Harbor freight kit for ANY reason other than you have an emergency and need a very small amount of solar power right now.

Considering that 45 watts of 12V power will NOT charge a typical car battery in a day, this means you cant use it as a power source unless you buy several of these kits.   4 of these kits will give you about 170 watts of useable power after you add diodes and a proper charge controller.   For that price you can get three China 100 watt panels and a charge controller and end up with 260 watts.  More than twice the power for the same money.