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All about solar panels for golf carts

Golf carts are overlooked and underappreciated. They are small, nimble and versatile — you can use them not just for sports but in the city or in the countryside as well. Their low cost makes them a solid alternative to a bike or even a car. What holds them back is their short range. Fortunately, you can increase it with the help of solar panels. In this article we’ll tell how to pair the two.

Not just golf: How golf carts are used

Despite the name, golf carts have multiple uses that have nothing in common with golf. For instance, police departments in Ohio and Massachusetts patrol on golf carts. Other uses include maintenance services, recreational area employees and people with disabilities. We have a client who employs his solar-powered golf cart to move around his ranch and tend to the animals.
Solar power and golf carts are a perfect combo. When these vehicles are used in the country far from electrical sockets, the ability to get power literally out of thin air is invaluable. You only need a single panel and it can double as a roof. The vehicles also run on direct current — exactly what your golf cart solar panel roof will produce out of the box. It means your golf cart solar kit may include only a panel and a charge controller, requiring less than two hours to install.

Granting solar powers to a golf cart

The roof of a two-seat golf cart is about 60″ in length and 40″ in width. Four-seat carts may have roofs of up to 112″ in length. For comparison, a typical 60/120-cell panel is 65″ by 39″, and 72/144-cell solar panels are roughly 80″ by 39″. There’s enough room to install a 72/144-cell solar panel or even larger, especially if you have a 4-seat model or want an extended roof to give additional protection to the rear of the vehicle. 72/144-cell panels tend to have a power output between 400 W and 550 W.

After you purchase a panel of appropriate size for your golf cart, you’ll need to replace your cart’s roof with it or install the panel on the top of the cart using a mounting system. Golf cart roofs are typically held by a few bolts and are easy to dismount. You can use Z brackets and corner brackets to fix the panels on the roof.

You will need a charge controller to protect your batteries from the high voltage of solar panels. To size it correctly, divide the wattage of your panels by the voltage of your solar golf cart’s batteries. For example, a 450 W solar panel and a 36 V battery bank would require at least a 12.5 A charge controller (450 W / 36 V = 12.5 A). Don’t forget to check the controller’s maximum voltage and compare it to the panel’s output. The wiring is simple: just connect the battery bank and the panel to the charge controller and you’re good to go.
When everything is wired together, a solar panel constantly charges the batteries, increasing the range of your vehicle. An average golf cart has 6 batteries, each around 1.5 kWh, totaling at 9 kWh. The panel is likely to perform at 70-80% of its capacity because of shading, uneven irradiance and imperfect positioning. Still, with 6 peak sun hours per day, a 450 W PV module can fill about 20-30% of your batteries. This means that your golf cart solar panel roof will give you about 9 extra miles on each sunny day.

How to choose solar panels for golf carts

Solar panels for golf carts should be the size of the cart’s roof or slightly bigger. Very big panels will be harder to install, will make the cart bulky and may ruin its looks. There may be no point in going bigger anyway — a 400 W panel should provide enough energy to charge the batteries of a standard golf cart.

It’s hard to install a rigid panel on an uneven roof though. You can either remove the roof and replace it with a PV module or pick thin-film panels instead. They are lightweight, flexible and can adapt to the shape of your cart’s roof. You can use adhesives to fix them whereas rigid panels require drilling. The downside of thin-film panels is lower efficiency and shorter lifespan — they tend to wear out in under 20 years.

When it comes to the specs, solar panels for golf carts should be energy-dense, maximizing the amount of electricity per square foot. Look for the efficiency number in the datasheet. You want rigid panels with above 20% efficiency for a golf cart. Thin-film panels average efficiency ranges from 10% to 15% thus you might not be able to fit as much power on your roof as you would want to.

Popular brands of solar panels used for golf carts

Q CELLS is a brand known for efficient and good-looking panels. The company released its first gapless PV module in 2019. This type of panel packs solar cells so tightly together that there are no spaces left between individual silicon cells. What you get is a more compact module with the same power output. Q CELLS gapless solar panels are all-black, with a smooth uninterrupted surface. This makes this brand a perfect candidate if you’re looking for solar panels for golf carts.

Panasonic also manufactures gapless PV modules. The brand’s panels are among the most efficient in the industry, which means that a Panasonic panel can probably give you the most power from the limited space on the roof of your solar golf cart.

If you value practicality and affordability above all else, Canadian Solar is a good option. The more affordable models are not gapless, but if you don’t mind an extra couple of inches in length, they will charge your solar-powered golf cart just as reliably.
Note that powering a golf cart is not a so-called “intended” use of a rigid solar panel. That’s why the manufacturer may void the warranty for your panel. Flexible panels are designed for mobile installations but the warranties for them are shorter — from 1 to 10 years.
Vasily Smirnov,
A1SolarStore engineer

Three best solar panels for golf carts

We based the rankings in this article on expert opinions, customer reviews and technical details of the products.

Q CELLS Q.PEAK DUO ML-G10+

Q CELLS Q.PEAK DUO ML-G10+

Q CELLS managed to pack 132 solar cells into a very thin and compact frame without any gap in between, making this model one of the best solar panels for golf carts. With a high efficiency of 20.4% and a 400 W power rating, ML-G10+ can rapidly charge your vehicle. Furthermore, the panel demonstrates an exceptional level of resistance to snow and wind loads — 5400 Pa and 4000 Pa respectively.

Panasonic Evervolt EVPV360K

Panasonic Evervolt EVPV360K

This small and thin gapless Panasonic solar panel boasts 360 W of power output at 20.6% efficiency. Part of the EverVolt series, this model is all-black, meaning a tidy and elegant look for your vehicle. Panasonic offers 25-year warranties for product, parts, labor and performance. The panel ages slower than most: even after charging your solar golf cart for 25 years it should retain over 92% of initial output.

Canadian Solar HiKuBlack 390MS

Canadian Solar HiKuBlack 390MS

Just a couple of inches longer than a gapless module, this Canadian Solar 390 W panel is significantly more affordable. It’s a sturdy, weatherproof PV module with a stylish, all-black appearance. Canadian Solar is a reputable brand from Ontario which adapted its panels to North American climate.

Frequently asked questions:

How long do solar golf cart batteries last?
The lifespan of the batteries will depend on their type and intensity of usage. On average, batteries can operate for 5 to 20 years. Lead-acid batteries last for 8-12 years on average while lithium-ion ones live up to 20 years.

Can I charge and use a battery at the same time?
That is precisely what takes place inside a moving car. The alternator continuously recharges a 12 V battery as it is used. So there’s nothing wrong with this kind of arrangement.

Can I buy just one panel?
A1SolarStore's minimum order requirement is pretty low. Typically, just 6 panels are needed to place an order for delivery. However, we allow customers to purchase as few as a single panel if you pick it up yourself from one of our distribution centers.
Illustrations – Natalya Absalyamova


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