I have had one of the 3 panel Coleman systems (45w@ 3a) for quite some time. Before I got them, I had (and still have) a small folding briefcase 13 watt@ 1a panel.
Altho the Coleman set works great and I have been satisfied with their electrical
performance, I have been long annoyed by their size and weight
. I had difficulty in moving the array as a set because of the weight
. I could wrestle them into place, but it was not fun. In my 13, I could sort of tilt them up and slide them into the trailer as the last thing I packed, but the 17 sits much higher and they had to be lifted in, and the array took up too much space. Not convenient for those quick rest stops.
The guitar case that Fred has actually came from me. I broke down the set and intended to carry the panels in the case, but the frames on the panels were about 1/8" too wide to fit into it. OK, back to the drawing board.
Carrying one at a time is far easier than hefting all three. I removed the frames and came up with a poorly executed PVC frame with alternating sockets and extended ends so I could fit the panels together in an array and lock them together. Since I often leave the trailer during the day, I am deeply concerned about easy theft, so I don't want to leave them sitting on a frame as individual bits that can easily walk away. 3 bolted together would take longer to swipe, and the perma frame I had them on could be locked to my trailer frame or a tree.
Well the PVC idea was a bomb, but I only got as far as doing 2 of them before I came to the brilliant conclusion that "This ain't gonna work". I also tripped on one of them at Quartzsite and cracked it, fortunately, on the back, which is exposed glass. It still works fine, it was the back, but it shows the perils of having them exposed and movable.
I will be taking the one with the original frame and attaching it with hefty hinges so it can be folded up INTO my rock guard for travel, then flipped out and supported by hefty telescoping poles for use. The poles will also double as a support for it when it's stowed. It will be hard wired into my controller, so I will need to do nothing but deploy it for quick afternoon and overnite stops etc. (The other two will get roof mounted permanently.) I will provide pics as I go along.
Since I still want the ability to adjust panels to the direction of the sun, I have decided to go back to my original briefcase panels.
I found a source on eBay that I can get them from for around 50 a piece + shipping combined, so that puts them at just a over the HF system for price per watt for 3 of them. They do not come with the charge controller the HF one does, which should be tossed in the trash anyway :-P. I already have a nice controller.
The bonus for the slight upcharge for me is.. I already have one and can vouch for their quality and durability. They also COME with their own carrying and stand solution and are actually MUCH smaller when folded, yet only a hair deeper than a single coleman panel. They weigh less as well, and they have a handle. I currently stow them in one of my rear cubbies. The large panels have to be stowed on the floor.
I will fashion an aluminum sliding bar that spans through the handles and locks down so the panels will be latched together and I will have a place to run the Kryptonite cable lock through. Anyone with a hacksaw could still pinch them, but I had the same situation with the heavy coleman array. It will keep impulse snatchers at bay, however.
Sounds complicated, but I have already built a connection box with 1/4" phone jacks and will be fitting the panels with 1/4" phone plugs and then tethered to the controller. It will all snap together and be running faster than the frame for the HF one can be erected.