Portable solar panels, like rooftop solar panels, are super effective. They’re great for using solar current on the road, such as on camping trips and boating. However, do their dynamic abilities stretch to areas without direct sunlight?
Portable solar panels work in the shade, but they are not as efficient this way. Since solar panels depend primarily on the energy they get from sunlight to work, reducing their exposure will significantly reduce the amount of energy they can convert.
Let’s shed some light on how well portable solar panels work without direct sunlight and if they still generate enough power to be a worthwhile investment.
How Well Do Portable Solar Panels Work in the Shade?
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are operational in direct and indirect sunlight. They’re fully functional in cold weather, cloudy days, and shade.
PV panels absorb photons, which are present in both direct and indirect sunlight. As a result, these panels will almost always work during the day, provided at least a little sunlight is present.
However, while they will work regardless of shade or bright sun, leaving them without full exposure to direct sunlight is far from optimal.
Solar panels need about four hours of direct sunlight daily to produce a decent current. In the shade, PV panels produce only about half of what they would in direct sunlight.
The specifics of this depend mainly on the intensity and duration of the shade. This is an even more significant consideration with portable solar panels, which are far smaller than fixed ones and produce less power.
On average, solar panels only produce about 40% of their optimal current when placed in the shade.
What Is the Capacity of a Portable Solar Panel?
Rooftop panels produce 250 to 365 Watts at total capacity, whereas portable solar panels produce only about 100 Watts. Some, such as the Bluetti SP200 200W Solar Panel (available on Amazon.com), can produce up to 200 Watts, but this is the exception rather than the norm.
Depending on the cloud cover, this wattage reduces from 60% to 10%, with thicker coverage pushing the numbers down further. 1000 W/m2 of sunlight is the optimal amount of sunlight your panel should be getting. Anything significantly below that will impact how much energy you can store.
It’s possible to minimize the adverse effects of shading on solar panels with several methods:
- Installing an MLPE: An MPLE is an AC to DC micro converter that improves the functionality of the solar panel in certain conditions, such as shade.
- Installing a DC optimizer: A DC optimizer boosts the power from the solar cell generating current to better suit the environment by lowering the voltage output, for example.
Since you can improve the current in a “weaker” solar panel and still gather electricity in the shade (albeit at a reduced rate), investing in a portable solar panel, shade or no shade, is typically worthwhile.
The investment becomes less useful in areas with particularly inhospitable winters, even risking damage to the panels. However, these areas can benefit from solar solutions in the summer months and warmer conditions.
Different Kinds of Shade and How They Affect Portable Solar Panels
This may seem an overly specific distinction, but it’s significant in determining if your solar panels will produce enough current.
There are two main types of shade:
Partial shade likely won’t cause much of an issue if the panels are exposed to direct sunlight for a few hours daily. This type of shade is caused by trees or light cloud coverage. Solar panels are built with these conditions in mind.
On the other hand, deep shade is caused by dense, permanent structures like buildings. A high density of these structures in the path of your panels can ruin any chance of exposing the panels to direct sunlight or even any sunlight.
Deep shade also comes about due to heavy cloud coverage or harsh winters. Without light, the solar panels will have nothing to harness to produce a current.
Because portable solar panels are constantly moving and can easily change positions if there’s too much shade, this is less of a concern than with rooftop panels.
Are Portable Solar Panels Effective in Cold Climates?
When we think of solar panels, our minds immediately conjure images of deserts and sweltering heat. While these are some of the best conditions to generate solar power, the idea that they don’t work in colder climates is a myth.
Solar panels do not require heat. Rather, they create electricity using energy from the sun’s light. Even in severe cold, if there’s sunlight, there’s potential for solar power. The efficacy will be diminished in areas with heavy clouds or snow, but those areas can still benefit from solar.
There is, of course, an exception to this. Places with hefty snowfall and snow buildup, such as the Arctic, are pointless to try and harness solar energy from during the harsh winter.
In the warmer seasons, there is plenty of opportunity to produce solar energy through available sunlight, even when it’s snowing.
The downside? Cold conditions can pose a serious threat to solar panels and can cause permanent and severe damage.
Portable solar panels can create more opportunities in colder climates. They can be used to heat interiors and water, creating a more sustainable heating solution for the areas where heating is needed the most.
This isn’t a theoretical advantage but rather a practical one. Finland, for example, has seen a massive rise in the affordability and availability of solar solutions and a significant downturn in the cost of solar solutions.
Residents with solar access can also produce excess power that can feed back into the grid, lessening the reliance on traditional grid electricity. This reduces the environmental impact of conventional electricity generation.
Climates That Produce the Most Solar Power
According to the World Population Review 2022 report, the countries that produce the most solar power are:
- United States
- South Korea
In particular, China’s climate has significant regional temperature variations, with southern regions experiencing extreme temperatures. Tropical climates create hot, humid conditions and heavy rainfall interspersed.
That said, areas like Tibet and Mongolia have similarly extreme conditions but much harsher winters. Other areas are more moderate and remain primarily humid in the warmer months.
The point here is that despite this seemingly unpredictable weather — including icy conditions and heavy rainfall — China is still noted to produce the most solar power on the planet. More specifically, 306,973 megawatts.
It’s important to note that China also produces 80% of the world’s solar panels, so the results aren’t purely based on climate but on availability.
Types of Portable Solar Technology
Solar panels are silicon cells that create an electric field. This direct current (DC) gets converted into alternating current (AC) through an inverter or charge controller.
There are three primary kinds of portable solar panels:
- Phone chargers: Solar phone chargers are tiny and produce around 5 to 20 watts. They’re excellent for the outdoors, allowing you to keep your phone on hand.
- Flexible panels: These solar panels are flexible because they can fold, often called “suitcase” style. They produce 20 to 100 Watts of power.
- Rigid panels: These are less convenient than cell phone chargers or flexible panels but produce more power. They usually use a kickstand, which is a fantastic choice for camping and road trips.
These, of course, are broad categories, so for people in the market for one (or all) of the three types of portable solar panels stated above, having actual product recommendations might be a bit more helpful.
Solar Phone Charger
The BLAVOR Solar Power Bank (available on Amazon.com) wins this competition. It’s got every feature you could want in an outdoor accessory, including:
- Built-in flashlight
- Built-in compass
- Flame retardant
It can also supply power to three devices simultaneously and wirelessly. The downside is that it has limited capacity due to its small size, which is further limited in the shade. In an emergency, they can work in shade and cloud cover, albeit at a slower rate.
Flexible Portable Solar Panels
For a flexible and effective portable solar solution, look no further than the BLUETTI Solar Panel PV200. Don’t let the lightweight and convenient dimensions fool you; this solar panel is a powerhouse and generates up to 200W of solar power.
It works reasonably well in the shade and bad weather, making it the ideal choice for solar energy in any location. It’s also scratch-proof and waterproof.
The flexible solar panels are excellent in all levels of sunlight, including partial and complete shade and cloudy weather. The ideal conditions are direct sunlight, but the lack of the sun won’t render them useless.
Rigid Portable Solar Panels
It may not fold like the BLUETTI, but the Renogy Solar Panel (available on Amazon.com) is still lightweight and compact for maximum convenience on the road. This set comes with two panels and is very easy to assemble. In addition, it is:
- Iron-tempered for maximum strength.
- Weather-resistant, even in extremely high or low temperatures.
- A long lifespan.
- High efficiency and conversion rates.
The panels produce 100W of power and are available for an incredibly affordable price, so take advantage of them! They’re also effective in all weather conditions.
What Can You Use Portable Solar Panels For?
Portable solar panels are much smaller than fixed rooftop panels, and though this is more convenient, they produce far less power. They’re handy but can’t supply an entire household with electricity and heating. So what can they do?
Portable solar panels are brilliant for charging smaller appliances like phones and laptops. They’re also used to charge flashlights and even car batteries. In a stitch, they can heat water and act as a power source at campsites.
Their uses apply primarily to a domestic setting and more remote environments. They reduce reliance on the grid and provide a backup plan during power outages.
Deciding what kind of portable solar panel best suits your needs means working out the items you want to power. Does it charge phones and laptops? Does it need to power appliances or heat water?
The more power needed for certain appliances, the more powerful the portable solar panel will need to be.
The main benefits of portable solar power are:
- Convenient and portable. Portable solar panels can be moved according to which spots have the most available sunlight and are helpful for camping and road trips.
- Grid independence. Though not consistently as stable as grid energy, portable solar panels allow freedom from grid energy that lessens stress on you and the environment. They are also quite useful in emergencies.
- They’re versatile. Portable solar power comes in numerous forms, and you can collect these forms bit by bit to become more and more independent from the grid over time. They can even supplement conventional rooftop panels.
- They’re quieter than generators. Generators are powerful but intrusive and distracting, especially in a camping situation where such a loud sound might scare or attract wildlife.
- They’re compact and convenient. Portable solar panels are easy to carry, store, and set up. There’s little to no hassle in arranging and maintaining them in a new space and maintaining them.
- They’re versatile. Installation is as easy as putting in the sun or plugging them in. They work in a wide range of conditions and can be used to power large and small appliances.
Sunlight is essential to allow portable solar technology to operate at its full potential. However, even though direct sunlight isn’t necessary for generating current through solar panels, enough shade will reduce efficiency.
Still, while enough shade can reduce the amount of power you can convert and store from the sun, it doesn’t negate the benefits of a portable solar panel. So, if you live somewhere if a lot of cloud cover, a decent solar option is still a good choice.
- Energy Sage: Best portable solar panels
- Solar Reviews: Do solar panels need direct sunlight to work?
- Renogy UK: THE EFFECT OF SHADE ON SOLAR PANELS – WILL SOLAR PANELS STILL WORK IN THE SHADE?
- Boston Solar: Do Solar Panels Need Direct Sunlight to Work?
- RevoluSun: What You Need to Know Before Purchasing Fixed or Portable Solar Panels
- Solar Reviews: Do solar panels need direct sunlight to work?
- JUP Solutions: Shade and solar panels – here’s what you need to know!
- Lithium Hub: Portable Solar: How it Works & Who Should Use It
- Sunrun: Do Solar Panels Work in Cold Weather?
- University of Oulu: Potentiality of solar energy in the Arctic
- The Economic Times: Major push for Atmanirbhar Bharat: Mitsubishi Electric launches solutions for various sectors
- World Population Review: Solar Power by Country 2022
- Climate Change Knowledge Portal: Climatology
- The Washington Post: How Joe Manchin’s change of heart could revive the U.S. solar industry
- Deege Solar: SOLAR PANELS & SHADING
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