How To Connect A Solar Panel Bought At Harbor Freight To A Jackery Explorer Power Station
Solar panels can be bought at a lot of different places nowadays, the popular hardware store Harbor Freight is one of those places.
A Harbor Freight solar panel is not compatible with a Jackery power station directly out of the box though since it requires additional adapters.
Related Product: Extend the cable between the solar panel and the power station with an SAE extension cable by iGreely (click to view on Amazon)
In this article I am going to tell you what these connectors are called, and how you go about connecting the two.
What You Need To Know
Before we get into the specifics, there are some things we need to know before we connect anything.
Solar Charge Controller
The job of a solar charge controller is to take the voltage and amperage generated by a solar panel and regulate it. Then it sends the regulated electricity off to the battery.
Portable power stations have built-in solar charge controllers so you can connect solar panels directly to them.
The Jackery Explorer is not going to charge if you use two charge controllers. Therefore, we should not buy a solar panel that has an external solar charge controller.
If you have already bought a panel that included a solar charge controller, you can (hopefully) simply not use it. If it’s hardwired to the solar panel you’re going to have to either bypass it, or buy a different panel.
Not all solar charge controllers are the same. They have different input ratings, meaning that they accept different voltages and amperages.
The input ratings can usually be found in the manual of the power station, or by the port on the power station.
Most Jackery Explorer power stations can handle voltages between 12-30V, and a typical 100W 12V solar panel like the most popular one from Harbor Freight outputs around 18V which makes it compatible.
If you combine two or more panels, you’re going to increase either the voltage or the amperage but we will get to that later on.
While it’s OK to exceed the amperage to a certain point, you should never exceed the max input voltage.
The Harbor Freight Solar Panels – What Connectors Do They Use?
Most solar panels sold by Harbor Freight today use SAE connectors. This is a two-conductor DC connector that is easy and quick to connect/disconnect, which makes it a great connector for a solar panel.
SAE connectors have one male pin and one female pin. One is positive and one is negative, but which is which depends on the wiring and adapters used.
The panels from Harbor Freight that use SAE connectors I have looked at have a positive female pin and a negative male pin. This is important when we search for the right adapter.
A positive wire is often red and a negative wire black. The wires are not different from one another other than the color, which is only made this way to make it easier to connect and follow the wire.
You might find a connector with a small “+” or “-” on it, with a cable color that makes it look like it’s the opposite of what the connector says.
This is nothing to worry about, as long as you can follow the wire and make sure that the positive output ends up with a positive input.
The Jackery Explorer Input And The Adapter You Need
The input on Jackery Explorer power stations is called an 8mm connector. This is a round connector which also has a positive and a negative part to it.
Since we know that the SAE connector has a positive female pin and a negative male pin, we need an adapter that has the opposite.
This adapter includes what is called an SAE reverse polarity adapter, which will reverse the positive and negative. You do not need to use that to connect the panel to an Explorer power station.
Note that if you have the newer Explorer 1500 (click to view on Amazon), you are going to have to use the adapter included by Jackery to connect the adapter above to the power station.
That’s because Jackery has created a proprietary 8mm input for the Explorer 1500, and even though it’s called an 8mm input it’s slightly different from the regular 8mm connector used by other manufacturers.
When you have the adapter, you simply connect the solar panel to the adapter, then connect it to the power station.
Combining Two Or More Panels To Increase The Charging Speed
It’s possible to combine two or more panels to charge the battery faster, but it’s not always worth doing so.
Since the charge controller in the power station decides how many watts it’s going to use to charge the battery, it’s good to know these limitations before spending money on more panels.
For example, the Explorer 160, 240, 300, and 500 max out at around 50-80 watts depending on model. The larger Explorer 1000 max out at 127W, and the even larger 1500 at 300W.
A 100W 12V solar panel will generate around 70-80W in sunny conditions.
It’s not always perfectly sunny though, and if you’re going to use the panels where it’s often cloudy it might be more worth it to buy an extra panel or two.
To combine two Harbor Freight panels for the Explorer power stations, you need an adapter like this by SolarEnz (click to view on Amazon).
This adapter also includes the SAE reverse polarity adapters, which you might need to ensure that positive goes to positive and negative to negative.
When you combine panels in parallel like this it’s very important that you have made sure that all wiring used can handle the amperage. That includes these adapters and extension cables.
I recommend using SAE extension cables that come with caps to protect the connectors while not in use. These dust caps keep dirt, debris, and moisture out.
The thicker the cable the better, so look for the lowest gauge you can find and make sure it can handle the total amperage of your panel(s).
I like and recommend the iGreely SAE extension cables (click to view on Amazon). They come in different lengths and are compatible with the adapters I have linked to above.
While you can combine two shorter extension cables I suggest getting a long one instead. The more connections, the higher the voltage drop, which will decrease the total output to the power station.
Frequently Asked Questions
I’m not sure whether the polarity is correct or not!
You can use a multimeter to check the polarity of the wires. This is also helpful when troubleshooting a setup that’s not working correctly.
A digital multimeter like this one by Kaiweets (click to view on Amazon) works, just set it to four o’clock (20 by V DC) and stick the red test lead in the supposedly positive SAE connector on the panel/adapter.
Then do the same with the black test lead. If it shows a positive voltage on the little screen, you know it’s wired correctly. You can test it the opposite way to understand what it looks like if the polarity is reversed.
How long will it take to charge my Explorer power station?
It depends on how big the power station is in watt-hours. A 100W panel will generate around 70-80W, but if your power station has a max input of 65W you need to do a calculation based on that.
For example, the latest Explorer 500 (click to view on Amazon) has a battery capacity of 518Wh and maxes out at around 70W.
The way to calculate how long it would take to charge the Explorer 500 with a 100W solar panel is then: 518/70=7.4 hours.
We also need to consider the fact that the charge controller will start out charging the battery fast, then slow down as it is getting closer to a full charge.
Therefore, I would add another hour or two to the estimate to get a more accurate number, resulting in 8-9 hours for a full charge.
How much can I go over on the amps?
While I personally don’t recommend going over 150% of the maximum amps with an Explorer power station, Jackery do not recommend going over on the amps at all.
For warranty reasons you should stick to what the manufacturer says.
Some charge controllers are more sensitive than others, but I haven’t had any problems using 200W of solar with my Explorer 500 for a couple of years.
Are Harbor Freight solar panels waterproof?
The junction box on the back of the panel is water-resistant, and the SAE connectors should withstand rain as long as they’re connected to another SAE connector or has the cap on.
I would ask Harbor Freight to be sure though, since it might void your warranty if it’s damaged due to rain and/or dust.
Can I combine a Harbor Freight solar panel with a panel by different manufacturer?
You can, but I don’t recommend doing so. The reason for that is that the setup is going to limited by the voltage of the lowest-rated panel.
If you have two panels that are rated similarly you won’t lose much, but be aware of the limitations.
Please leave a comment down below if you have any questions or experience with this and have something to add.