How Do Portable Solar Panels Work

How Do Portable Solar Panels Work

Solar panels give you clean, easy-to-use renewable energy. We’re big fans of portable solar panels for power at campsites, on the road, and in off-grid homes. Keep reading to learn about how these solar panels work.  

How do panels collect solar energy? 

Solar panels are built with photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. When particles of light (photons) hit a solar panel, electrons are knocked loose. Solar panels are designed to force the electrons to flow in a specific direction to create a current of electricity.  

It’s important to remember that solar panels only collect energy—they do not store it. So, if you want to get power from your solar panel it will need to be hooked up to a storage solution, like a portable power station. 

How much energy does a solar panel produce? 

A Goal Zero power station is charging from a solar panel


The amount of power produced by a solar panel depends on the size of the panel, the placement and angle of the panel, temperature, cloud coverage, and time of year. Solar panels are rated at a specific number of watts, but because those watts are calculated using ideal conditions, most panels will produce a little less power than the rating states.  

At Goal Zero, we use the Rule of 5 to estimate how much power a panel will produce. 

This rule states that on a sunny day, a south-facing panel will produce about 5 times the energy as the panel’s rated watts.  

For example, a 200-watt solar panel would produce approximately 1,000 watt hours of solar energy in one day of full sun.  

We also include the number of watts in the names of our panels to make it a little easier to figure out how much power your panel can produce. For example, the Nomad 50 is rated for 50 watts and the Boulder 200 Briefcase is rated for 200 watts. 

Tips for using your portable solar panel 

Goal Zero panels are set up on a lawn next to a pool while charging a power station

Our portable solar panels are easy to use, but following these tips can help you get the most out of your panel. 

  • Your solar panel collects energy but does not store it. To use the solar energy generated by your panel, connect it to a power station, or charge your devices directly with the cables attached to the panel. 
  • When possible, set up your panel so it faces south. 
  • Avoid placing your panel in a shady area. 
  • Adjust your solar panel throughout the day for optimal sun exposure. 
  • Don't forget that you can still use your panel on a cloudy day, it will just be less efficient. 
  • Use ground stakes to secure your panel while you're away or during windy weather. 

Need help deciding which panels are right for you? Check out our Back-to-Basics post on How to Choose a Solar Panel 

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