These portable panels operate like large solar panels, but generate less electricity due to their smaller size. Like their larger cousins, they operate best under direct full sun conditions. Most of them will work on cloudy and rainy days, but it will take longer to generate the electricity to charge your device. Most will not operate with indoor lighting, but there are solar panels being developed that will be able to use indoor light. They’re projected to reach the consumer market in another 4 or 5 years.
Good portable solar panels have built-in regulators
They’ll automatically adjust the amount of energy they produce to the amount that the device requires. So be sure that the units you buy have this feature, otherwise there’s a danger of overcharging (or “frying”) the device that you’re trying to recharge.
Most foldable solar panels come into sizes small enough to fit into a large pocket or purse
But you can’t fold the cells themselves. Think of a weight belt. It’s foldable and flexible when compared to a barbell. But it folds because small weights are sewn into a flexible fabric, not because the weights are foldable. It’s the same with the foldable solar panels: they fold because the solar cells are small enough to be mounted on foldable fabric.
So even though portable solar panels are advertised to be durable and waterproof, you still need to be careful when handling them. If you fold or crease the solar cell itself, you’ll probably break or disable it. So don’t fold the cell, or put the portable panels in the washing machine, or poke them with sharp objects. Your weight belt will survive that kind of treatment, but your portable solar panel won’t.
One more word of caution: the portable solar panel can’t recharge regular batteries. It can only charge rechargeable batteries. This may be obvious to you, but you’d be surprised how many people try to recharge regular batteries.
You will need additional connector equipment in order to use the portable panels, so plan for the additional expense. You’ll need connectors that fit with the charging plugs on your portable devices. And if you plan to use your portable solar panels to trickle charge your car, boat or snowmobile battery, you might need a set of battery clips.
“Trickle charging” can keep your vehicle’s battery fully charged. Here’s how it works: place the portable solar panel on a surface where it receives the most sun; then plug it into the cigarette lighter socket, or attach the clips to the vehicle’s battery. This can be a great help in really cold climates where temperatures drop below freezing, and you have to keep your car parked outside all day.
Portable solar panels are still relatively expensive compared to using grid electricity at home or in the office. But they make sense if you spend a lot of time camping, hiking or working from your car. And they’re great backup systems for times when the power goes out.
Thin film solar panels are a newer, thinner type of solar panel that has the potential to make solar energy much more affordable. They rely on the same photovoltaic process that “thick” solar panels use. Put simply, the PV cell contains semiconductor material. Sunlight passes through and interacts with the semiconductor material, and creates an electric current. This electricity can be used immediately to power appliances in your home or business, or stored in batteries for later use. More here
So what’s so great about thin film solar panels
Well, thick solar panels (the first generation of solar panels, and the ones you are used to seeing), traditionally use crystalline silicon for the semiconductor material. It works as a way to create electricity from sunlight, but it’s labor-intensive to manufacture. Each cell has to be produced on an individual silicon wafer, one by one, which makes it expensive.
But thin film solar panels use materials for their semiconductors that are much thinner than crystalline silicon. The “thin film” semiconductors can be mass produced using automated systems and cheaper materials. At this point, the process is almost 3 times less labor-intensive than the process for manufacturing the traditional crystalline silicon thick cell solar panels. So the cost to manufacture solar panels is coming down. This means it will be cheaper for new start-up businesses to enter the solar panel manufacturing market. And as more businesses produce and supply portable solar panels, prices will drop even further.
The “thin film” process also means that the solar cell is smaller, lighter weight, and can be applied to materials that are smaller, lighter weight and more flexible themselves. In fact, “thin film” technology has changed the look of home solar panels so much that you might not recognize them. Instead of needing a heavy and elaborate steel structure to hold a large array of thick silicon-based solar panels in place, the thin film solar panels can be integrated into the roof or wall itself.
Thin film composition roofing shingles and thin film panels for metal roofing are already commercially available and being used in construction. Smaller portable solar panel systems are being manufactured to power up your electronic devices. Cell phones, GPS devices, MP3 players and even televisions and laptops can now be powered with thin film solar technology.
Thin-film foldable solar panels are widely used by the military
These portable solar panels are small enough and lightweight enough that you can “install” one on your backpack or carry one in your purse. And just like digital watches, which cost hundreds of dollars only a few decades ago, it won’t be long before the price of home solar panels will be so low that we’ll be buying them with our pocket change at the corner convenience store.