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Well after more than three years of hard work and being bounced around in the cab of a truck, our REDARC 115W SunPower solar blanket decided to pack it in.
Now you might think a three year lifespan for a premium product is pretty average. However, there’s more to this story than meets the eye…
We were caretaking in NSW Corner Country at Fort Grey for a month in January. And before you think we’re completely mad, we had air-conditioned accommodation available. The truck and camper were tucked away under an awning for the duration.
I unfolded the solar blanket, planning to maintain charge of the lithium batteries in the dual battery systems (one in the truck and another in the camper).
Like always, I opened it up on the ground, ran the extension cord and plugged it into the camper. Both our systems have REDARC Manager30 BMS’s, which come with remote battery monitors.
But when I checked the input voltage on the battery monitor, it was showing zero. Hmmm…
A quick look at the blanket revealed a problem. There was a distinct burnt spot between two of the solar cells. It looked like one of the internal wires had failed.
Time to send the blanket off to REDARC.
I contacted them via email. They were keen to get it back and check out the issue for themselves.
After REDARC checked it, they confirmed one of the internal wires between two cells had indeed failed.
Here’s what Shannon the Tech Support Team Leader came back with…
Due to repetitive folding and unfolding, one of the internal wires had become thinner. Exactly like if you take a piece of wire and bend it backwards and forwards. It gets thinner and eventually breaks.
The thinner cross-sectional area meant higher resistance in this spot, which in turn means more heat build-up. Eventually the wire overheated and melted.
How Long Should It Last?
As I said earlier, you might think a premium quality solar blanket should last more than three years. However, we used it constantly… which means constantly folding and unfolding it. You see, we don’t stay in one place for long. We might stay a day or two, then move on.
Then add in the heat factor. Many places we go are hot, often very hot. Ground temperatures can be pushing 70°C. On hot days, solar cells cop an absolute flogging.
By their very nature, they absorb heat and lots of it!
REDARC put our usage level in the “heavy” category, which I’d totally agree with. In fact, this is one of the reasons they gave us a solar blanket in the first place. Our usage is ideal for a long-term review, as it’s actually an accelerated wear test.
Shannon said our usage is four to five times higher than the average user, meaning others generally use the solar blanket once a year for a two-week trip, then a few other weekend trips during the year… at most.
Under these conditions, the solar blanket will easily last ten years or more.
Given the performance of this solar blanket, I’d be more than happy if it lasted ten + years. This little 115W blanket punches way above its weight, as we saw when we tested it against a 200W portable panel.
The other thing to consider? Ten years is like several lifetimes when it comes to solar technology. It’s moving so fast. What’s considered state-of-the-art now, will be ridiculously out of date ten years from now.
If you get ten + years life from a blanket, then it’s probably time to upgrade anyway.
The big question…
Would We Buy Another One?
I said earlier, REDARC gave us this solar blanket to review. So we didn’t fork out the cash for it.
Regardless, I would definitely buy one with my hard-earned cash. And I’m not just saying this because it was a freebie. If that was the case, would I even be telling you it failed?
Its performance, portability and yes, quality make the 115W SunPower solar blanket worth the money. And REDARC’s technical and customer support is excellent. They actually care about their customers, which is refreshing.
A Useful Tip
One other thing Shannon from Tech Support mentioned is worth repeating here. When you pack away your solar blanket, try to let it cool down first. Move it to the shade or wait until the cool of the evening.
This minimises the stress on all those internal connecting wires which run between the cells. If you do this every time, you’ll maximise the life of the blanket.
A New Test Dummy
Since we managed to kill our monocrystalline solar blanket, REDARC have given us a brand new 112W Amorphous solar blanket to run through its paces.
This thing is an absolute beast! It cranks out the power like crazy, at a level way beyond any other solar blanket or panel we’ve ever used before.
We’ll do a review on our new amorphous solar blanket soon. Watch this space…
Looking for more reviews on 4×4 Accessories? Then go here for more.
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Any errors or omissions are mine alone.
NOTE: The REDARC solar blanket was supplied to us free, in return for a review. (That said, our reviews are always honest and authentic – we tell it how it is).