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How do Portable Solar Panels Work?

The sun is the ultimate source of energy, and Portable solar panels can harness the sun’s immense power to convert light into electricity.

But how do portable solar panels work?

How can a simple easily transportable panel take advantage of the sun and use it to generate electricity that you can use when camping, backpacking or for emergency preparedness?

Basically, portable solar panels combine “Photovoltaic cells” also known as “solar cells” together. These cells are typically made from a semiconductor like Silicon.

When light energy from the sun strikes the solar cells, it excites the electrons of Silicon causing it to separate away from the atoms. These released electrons create an electric current that can be harnessed as electricity.

Here’s the process in detail:

1- The portable solar panel absorbs sunlight

In 1839, Henri Becquerel, a French physicist found that certain materials can produce small amounts of electric current when exposed to light.

This reaction was named as the Photovoltaic Effect which meant “light into electricity”.

Today, Cadmium Telluride or Silicon are considered semiconductors that make up Photovoltaic cells linked inside.

Read More: How Long do Solar Panels Last?

2- Sunlight energy releases electrons

For Photovoltaic Effect to work, photovoltaic cells need to create an electric field. So inside every cell is like a sandwich made up of two slices of silicon.

Meanwhile, sunlight is composed of light energy called Photons. When these photons hit the silicon atoms inside the solar cell, the electrons get energized and separate from the atoms, forming an electric field between these two layers of silicone.

Think of photons as a white ball in a game of billiard and the atoms of the silicon as the colored balls.

Every time the white ball smashes into the colored balls, energy gets transferred. This knocks off the electrons from the atoms setting them loose.

Freed up electrons create an electric field with the electric voltage sandwiched in between.

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3- Electric voltage gets channeled or stored

A typical portable solar panel has electrical conductors attached to the positive and negative sides to form an electrical circuit.

The electrons can be captured as a usable voltage, which can provide power right away or be stored in batteries for later use.

Since portable solar panels depend on the intensity of light to create electricity, they hardly work well on cloudy days and will not function at all at night.

The prime hours to capture sunlight are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the ideal orientation leaving no shade on the panels. Any shading will significantly decrease power production. In fact, if just one cell is shaded, energy output is reduced by half.

Additional Devices Required to Run a Portable Solar Power System

The good thing about having a portable solar panel is you can maintain power when you travel in even the most remote locations (where there is sunlight).

Many compact models also come with convenient features to make solar power sources durable and versatile such as folding panels, handles, latches and a kickstand.

Read this: What is Whole House Water Filter and How Does it Work?

How do portable solar panels work for camping or traveling?

You can power mostly 12V (or 120 watts) device away from home in two primary ways: plug directly into the solar panels or plug from the solar-charged battery bank.

But just like regular solar panels, portable variants may require extra components to produce and store electricity for the long haul such as:

Deep Cycle Battery. Also known as lead acid battery. You need a battery bank to sustain power over a long period of time so you can enjoy the convenience of having a plug and play solar generator.

 Solar Charge Controller. Solar regulators ensure a steady flow of current from the panel to the battery and avoid damages to the battery due to overcharging.

Inverter. If you are planning to power up a 24V appliance such as your laptop or fridge you can rely on an inverter to adjust the voltage and convert the power output from 12V, unless you use appliances that already run on 12V DC power.

Read more: What Is a Tankless Water Heater and How does it Work?

Do Portable Panels Really Work?

In the sunniest parts of the world, more and more people are depending on portable solar panels. After all, solar energy has become the world’s fastest-growing source of power surpassing that of all other fuels.

The rapid growth of portable solar energy is also foreseen in the next 10 to 20 years. So it would be incredibly beneficial to invest in portable solar panels.

Whether for camping or as backup sources of power, you’ll never know when renewable energy becomes handy.

Keep Reading: How to Make a Solar Battery Charger?


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