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How Do Solar Panels Work?

How Do Solar Panels Work?

We're lucky to live in one of the sunniest places in the world in Australia and being able to harness that reusable source of power certainly helps with the power bill or having a stress-free time on the road.

At some point, every adult comes to a relative idea about solar panels - they're in the sun, the sun hits the glass and bam, there's power.

Naturally, it's a little more complicated than that. We've developed a quick guide on understanding solar panels and how to get the most out of them, whether you're using them in your home or out on the road.

Step 1: The power of the sun

The sun (and UV) releases little energy balls called photons to the Earth constantly. Their incredible power could theoretically light up electricity all over the entire planet. Particularly during hot, sunny periods, solar panels were invented as a way to use this incredible energy to maintain everyday life. Sunlight activates the panel and although it can still gain energy from UV rays instead of direct sunlight, it works best when the sun is brightest. The best part is it's renewable and free. When traveling, instead of having to worry about stopping for petrol to help keep your electronics running, or paying fees to park at a powered campsite, you can enjoy nature at its finest and just use the power of the sun with your solar panel - even using it to keep batteries running for larger set-ups.


Step 2: The panel make-up

Most traditional solar panels are made up of solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells, which absorb sunlight. Panels are generally made from a layer of cells covered in a glass casing with metal frames and busbars to keep it all together.

As technology advances, Outbax moves forward too. We have invested in shingle-cell technology with our brand new portable solar panels. Quite simply, the cells are cut into strips and overlaid using special adhesive. This means no metal or busbars disrupting the chain of cells. They have no gaps and can be wired in parallel, which means you are getting more power out of a solar panel of the same size.

You're effectively getting rid of any shading that may be coming from the busbars, so every single cell is able to soak up the sunlight.

Now that we have the basics, what happens when light hits solar panel glass?


Step 3: Transforming energy

When the photons hit a cell, they knock electrons loose. The electrons then flow through a circuit which includes one positively charged and one negatively charged conductor, and create DC electricity. The DC electricity runs through an inverter which converts it to AC electricity - the type that powers things we regularly use around the house, in a building or on a campsite. For many portable solar panels, you will have to buy an inverter separately to the system. You may have one portable panel or several panels joined together in a module. The more solar panels you have, the more electricity you're going to get. You can either plug things directly into your solar panel or connect your solar panel to a battery to keep power flowing. Considering rainy days are rare in Australia, it's a safe bet you will be covered power-wise with a panel or two in your arsenal.


Step 4: Using the portable kind

There are lots of different kinds of portable solar panels and key to understanding what you need is how you will use them on your trip. For many, hooking their solar panels up to the roof of their 4WD or caravan is the best practice. It means they can pick up electricity while they are driving around and don't have to worry about moving the panel from place to place.

One downside is once you've decided where you're parking for a time, you won't be able to adjust the angle of your solar panel to chase the sun's location.

In that case, you may need a flexible or folding solar mat. At Outbax we stock an incredible flexible solar panel that bends to 60 degrees, effectively ensuring you have access to sunlight wherever you are.

If you're travelling light, you can use the 200W or 300W folding solar mat. It literally folds up to just over half a metre and both models hover around the 10kg mark, making them very easily portable no matter your level of strength! They're perfect for remote camping or hiking. They also have multiple USB ports so you can plug in your phones, tablets or laptops for quick charging.

Using portable solar panels, you'll be able to travel where you like, when you like, without having to worry about paying fees for powered campsites or giving up creature comforts like handheld devices and fridges.



Step 5: Size matters

With your solar panels ready to soak in the sun's rays, you might need to consider what size you need for your home or your trip. Solar panels installed on house roofs are big systems and need a professional to get them installed correctly.

For your portable solar panels, the size of the electronics you plan to run will be of highest importance, as is the weather forecast! For specific devices, you can do a quick search to find out their starting wattage and running wattage to work out how much juice you need from your panel.

So check for clear skies and get moving!