Solar panels enable portable power stations to provide free and clean energy for households during blackouts and for RVers and campers during their outdoor adventures. In addition to preparing high-quality and efficient solar panels, customers should also ensure that the station has an input port compatible with the panels.
In this article, we will explore different types of ports that are used to connect solar panels, and discuss which ones are suitable for portable power stations and which are not.
The MC solar connectors were invented in 1996, while the MC4 standard was created in 2004. Now MC4 connectors have become the most commonly used connectors for either residential or large-scale projects in the solar industry.
These connectors utilize durable materials and are designed to withstand harsh conditions. They are made with premium IP67 and even IP68 waterproof standards, which means that you don't have to worry about electric leakage in most regular humid environments. With a celebrated secure locking mechanism, MC4 connectors offer optimal safety to prevent accidental disconnections.
These advantages appear to shape them into a shining port standard on portable power stations; however, their poor flexibility dims them down because a professional tool is needed for disconnecting the plug from the port. Thus, today, you can hardly encounter any portable stations offering such a port type for solar connection.
First rolled out in the 1950s, Anderson connectors have a longer history. Unlike MC4 solar connectors, they feature a genderless design with color coding, making them easier to connect and disconnect compared to the MC4. Their spring-loaded mechanism also makes them a secure option.
Though not used as commonly as MC4 connectors, Anderson connectors are famed for their high current-carrying capacity, which enables a variety of applications, including RVs, audio and entertainment systems, industrial machines, marine applications and other large setups.
However, most portable power stations support a maximum solar charging input of around several hundred watts. To wit, their corresponding supported input current ranges from single-digit to dozens of amperes. Given that Anderson connectors are primarily designed to handle large currents for particular use cases, Anderson ports are also not typically used for solar charging purpose on regular portable stations.
In contrast, some portable power stations would instead incorporate Anderson outlets for the sake of sufficing the power consumption of RV applications, industrial tools, etc. And they generally adopt the PP15/45 standard. Some niche stations would even equip a bi-directional Anderson port for large current charging and discharging.
XT connectors were first introduced and manufactured by AMASS. XT is a connector series with XT30, XT60 and XT90 models available. The numbers that come after XT indicate their current rating. For example, XT60 connectors handle a power current of 60 amperes.
XT series connectors are widely used for battery connections and now you can often come across them in radio-controlled (RC) hobbies, drones, small electric vehicles, DIY electronics and various other high-current connections. They are made from high-quality materials suitable for long-lasting use, and their snap-on design also ensures a secure and reliable connection.
Similar to the case of Anderson connectors, XT ports are not often included on portable power stations. But particular user groups seeking high-current applications and fast solar charging would require them, and so do stations with large storage capacity.
As the name indicates, barrel connectors come from a cylindrical design resembling the shape of a barrel; they are also known as coaxial connectors. These connectors come in various sizes, typically measured by the inner and outer diameters of the plug and jack/receptacle. Generally speaking, connectors with larger dimensions would allow for higher voltages and bigger amperage.
Barrel DC connectors are a popular choice for low-to-medium power applications, transferring power to small appliances and gadgets such as laptops, LED lighting systems, CCTV cameras, fans, lamps, and the like.
These connection ports can be found on power stations with a small-to-medium capacity anywhere from several hundred watt-hours (Wh) to 2,000 Wh. In general, they utilize DC 5.5*2.1mm, DC 5.5*2.5mm or DC 8mm standard with a voltage rating below several dozen and amperage below 13 or so.
The electrical specs of the power a regular portable solar panel structure supplies are closer to these DC input configurations. Hence, barrel input ports gain more adoption on portable power stations in comparison to the high-current Anderson and XT connectors.
Undoubtedly, this type of port is the most popular among customers living in an era overwhelmed by the use and supply of small electronic devices.
But do you know there are varying USB versions and port models?
Besides being used for data transfer, USB connectors are particularly suited for low-current charging, including everyday mobile phone charging. Many USB cords consist of a USB-A port at one end for a connection to a power source (through AC/DC adaptor, USB power strip, etc.) and another port model at the other end, depending on the port type of the device to be charged.
Things are changing. That's just the way life is!
The USB-C (multi-lane) standard can accommodate 5 volts and 3 amperes at maximum. For the purpose of solar charging, these specs can only handle lightweight and portable panels that operate at around 5 volts. This option doesn't make sense and is apparently not practical as a solar charging port on portable stations.
Now comes the USB-C standard running under the Power Delivery (PD) protocol. It still maintains 5 amperes at maximum, but the supported voltage is lifted up to 20 volts, and it enables bi-directional power delivery. When it comes to DC output, it is definitely an alluring output port. Many manufacturers combine USB-A and USB-C PD output ports to offer more flexibility. Meanwhile, customers can still deliver charges to the station via USB-C port from external power sources not limited to solar panels, though it may take much longer charging time.
Wrapping up: Which port types better suit solar charging for portable power stations?
The port types for solar charging discussed above echo different application scenarios. Whether one type is better than the others should be analyzed case by case.
First of all, there is no reason to mount MC4 ports on portable power stations since their use is complicated and they are specifically configured for solar panel connections.
Wait, aren't we talking about ports for solar charging?!
Yes. But it doesn't mean we should disregard other uses of the ports. One gut characteristic of portable power stations is their portability. Each section of space on power stations holds significant value, and it is important to make efforts to maximize the uses of each individual port. Even so, the storage capacity of power stations plays a crucial role in determining the choice of input port type.
Input ports that support higher currents and voltages are compatible with more charging methods when paired with suitable adaptors, allowing for a fast charging time. For example, with the Anderson port, you can connect solar panels to your power station for solar charging or connect an external power generator/source to the station for high-power charging.
Finally, the personas of customers also matter in the decision. People who prioritize high-current and high-power applications would be in need of a high-capacity station and a powerful charging method, in which case Anderson and XT ports may fit better. For those who require a compact power station to power small gadgets, using barrel input ports is sufficient for charging through solar or other low-current DC sources.
No matter which solar charging port type to choose, make sure that their supported voltage and amperage ranges (and the maximum watts) will work for practical use.
Remember that safety is paramount.