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Solar Panels 101 What They Are How They Work, Why Do You Need One

Solar Panels 101: What They Are? How They Work, Why Do You Need One?

Did you know that the amount of sunlight striking the earth’s surface in just an hour and a half can provide for the whole world’s energy needs for one year? Yes, solar energy is that powerful and using solar panels to convert the sun’s energy into electricity is now being practiced in many countries all over the world. It’s proving to be an efficient alternative source of energy that can both be economical and environment-friendly. How does solar energy work? What are solar panels and why should you consider investing in them?

Solar Energy 101

Solar energy is essentially any kind of energy produced by the sun. Solar power, on the other hand, is the energy coming from the sun that is transformed into electrical or thermal energy. There are two main ways to convert the sun’s energy into solar power: through concentrated solar power (CSP) or photovoltaic (PV) cells. Concentrated Solar Power refers to the process in which sunlight is concentrated on an area with water which is transformed into steam, and is then used to generate power. Photovoltaic or PV cells are electronic components that can generate electricity when exposed to particles of light or photons. The conversion of sunlight into electricity is called the photovoltaic effect. 

How a Photovoltaic Cell Works

If you take a closer look at a photovoltaic cell, you’ll see that it is made of semiconductor materials that can absorb photons from the sun and then in turn create electron flow. To generate electric current, electrons have to flow in the same direction. Two types of silicon are used for this. One side has a layer that is coated with atoms of phosphorus, which has one more electron than silicon. The other side is lined with atoms of boron, which has one less electron. As a result, the combination works like a battery where the side with excess electrons becomes the negative terminal and the side with deficit electrons becomes the positive terminal.

Once the electrons are stimulated by the photons, they are arched to the n-side, while the holes go to the p-side. Both electrons and holes are moved to the electrical contacts applied to both sides, flow to the external circuit as electrical energy, and in effect produce direct current. 

RV Solar Panels, How Solar Panels Work

How Solar Panel Works

In a nutshell, solar panels transform sunlight into electricity first by generating an electric field as the sunlight rays hit the panels. Electricity is produced then will flow to the edge of the solar panel, and into a conductive wire. The conductive wire will bring electricity to an inverter, where it is converted from direct current (DC) electricity to alternating current (AC) and used to power buildings.

Another wire will carry the AC electricity from the inverter to the electric panel on the property which will distribute the electricity throughout the building as per demand. If there is any excess electricity it flows through the utility meter and into the utility electrical grid. As electricity flows through the meter, the meter will run backward and provide excess electricity credit on your property.

Solar panel systems provide an efficient, economic, and eco-friendly way to generate electricity that can power up buildings, houses, and even recreational vehicles (RVs), and marine vehicles. The solar panels for sale nowadays come in different sizes and many of them are designed to be flexible so they could be mounted and used on top of RV roofs. The same goes for portable marine solar panels that can be used either by bulky, high-powered marine vehicles or the small types like boats.

RV and Marine Vehicles – How Many Solar Panels Do You Need?

On average, an RV requires 120 watts of energy. Most of the RV solar panels currently sold contain between 100 and 400 watts of power. So, an RV will require around three 400, ten 200 solar panels or other combination of power output that can meet its 120 watts demand. For marine vehicles like boats, the number of solar panels you will need depends on several factors: size and type of the boat, number and quality of equipment you have, electricity the boat requires, and the number of hours that the boat is exposed to the sun. Small boats may work with just one 100-watt solar panel, while big boats may need more boat solar panels

Therefore, you need to calculate the estimated amount of energy that your RV or marine vehicle needs to determine how many solar panels to install. Prioritize the computation of the estimated amount of energy that your essential appliances will need like your light, television, mini-fridge, and microwave. 

RV Solar Panels, Solar Panels for RV, How Solar Panels Work

More on RV and Marine Solar Systems

The main difference between residential solar panels, RV solar panels, and marine solar panels is the size. The size of a home solar panel is formatted to suit a specific property’s electrical needs and is typically larger compared to RV solar panels, which are designed to generate power that only covers the electrical needs of small devices or a few large kitchen appliances. RV solar panels are on the smaller side because there’s limited space and energy storage capacity in RVs or even in marine vehicles. 

Some of the more common RV solar systems used by RV or marine vehicle owners are roof-mounted solar panels and portable solar panels. Roof-mounted panels are the more practical choice for those who use their RV often. This is because once roof-mounted panels are installed you don’t have to take them down again which makes it convenient since you use them frequently. They are also more durable and don’t require storage space.

Portable solar panels may be more economical for those who don’t take their vehicles out as much. These solar panels are typically less expensive than the roof-mounted types. They don’t require installation and may be moved around as needed. You may place them in areas where they can get the most sunlight possible.

Components and Tools Need for RV Solar Setup

  1. Battery operated drill

These are simple, portable, powerful, and efficient tools that can handle drilling tasks for solar panel installation. Battery-operated drills help make your work easier and also lower the risk of accidental falling during installation. 

  1. Digital multimeter

This is recommendable to use in installing solar panels because a digital multimeter can perform all the tasks that an ammeter, ohmmeter, and voltmeter can do. It can also help maintain and repair solar panels.

  1. Hack saw

Solar panels need to rest on rails and these rails have to be installed in the roof of your RV. A hack saw is a handy tool to use when cutting the rails before installing them or when you have finished installing the panels. 

  1. Conduit bender

A conduit bender is highly useful when you need to make a few odd angles as you install solar panels. You will also need the EMT conduit which is used to protect electric wiring. 

  1. Screwdrivers

Screws are needed to help the whole solar panel stay in place. Therefore, you will need a good set of screwdrivers to help you do the job. Screwdrivers are also useful as you install the wirings.

  1. Tape measure or meter

You will need a tape measure or meter to help you figure out the number of panels that your RV roof can accommodate. It will also help you locate the exact place where you will install the mounts.

  1. Solar panel hanger

This is a relatively new tool that solves the problem of holding and positioning the panels while they are on the rail. The solar panel hanger can sit on the tracks and help you put the panels safely on the rail.

  1. Wire stripper or cutter

Make sure to invest in a good-quality stripper and cutter that will help you with the wiring task, especially if you plan to do the wiring yourself. The proper stripper or cutter can help you finish the job as efficiently as possible.

Solar Panels, How Solar Panels Work

Types of RV Solar Panels

Currently, there are three types of RV solar panels:

  1. Monocrystalline panels

These are solar panels that are made from single crystals of silicon. They are typically considered the best type because of their efficient performance when it comes to energy conversion. They are the most expensive of the three.

  1. Polycrystalline panels 

These are solar panels that come from small and different silicon fragments. The small pieces are melted together to form one piece. They may not be as durable and as expensive as the monocrystalline type but they are quite reliable too.

  1. Amorphous panels

They are known to be the least efficient out of the three types but they are flexible and bendable so it’s easy to install them even in curved spaces. 

Configuring RV Solar Panels

If you’re hoping to install your RV solar panel yourself, you need to employ some safety measures first:

  1. Review the solar kit instruction manual and follow all safety instructions indicated before starting the installation process.
  2. Do not touch electrically charged elements, like terminals, especially when the panel is exposed to light. Avoid installing them if there’s inclement weather.
  3. Carefully cover panels with a cloth to avoid them getting charged with solar power during installation.
  4. Move carefully when you’re working around the panels so you will avoid stepping or sitting on them.

Once you have followed all safety precautions, you may start with the installation process:

  1. Mount the solar panels

The process of mounting the solar panels will depend on the type of panels you bought. Flexible panels are usually mounted with screws but some may also be mounted with adhesive. Sturdy panels must be mounted with screws. Make sure everything fits by laying out the panels and then marking the panel locations the way you want. Secure the panel to the roof of the RV and if you will be using brackets, apply a sealant so it can be water-tight. Screw the panel to the roof and make sure to aim for the frame instead of the panel itself.

  1. Run the wiring

The power cable must run from the solar panels down to the RV to the charge controller. You may do this using the three most common ways. You may use the refrigerator vent so you won’t have to put extra holes in your RV. You may also run the wire beside the plumbing pipe and then put sealant around holes that you make. And the last option is to drill a hole where you need it. Just make sure to use a sealant to cover up holes.

  1. Connect your charge controller

Make sure to read the instruction manual first so you can figure out the recommended wiring procedure because some panel kits indicate for the charge controller to be connected to the battery first while others recommend for the controller to be connected to the solar panel. Using a multimeter, test your wire polarity and mark each wire with an indicator then connect the solar panels and batteries as specified in your solar kit instruction manual.

  1. Install your inverter

This is an optional step if you want to use AC appliances like a laptop or microwave. You will need an inverter to convert the DC from the solar panels to AC. Make sure that the inverter is located away from heat and other damaging elements. As usual, follow the recommended procedure indicated in your instruction manual.

Why Use Solar for Your RV?

The primary advantage of using solar panels as an energy source for your RV or marine vehicles is monetary savings. You will need to invest money to buy solar equipment but once you get it up and running you could get long-term, free electricity for your vehicle. You will save money and avoid falling prey to the constantly rising costs of fuel. Solar panels typically last for 25-30 years so investing in them is a good move. 

Another advantage of using solar panel systems for RVs and marine vehicles is the quietness and smoothness of operation. Solar panels will let you experience peace during your travels which a noisy generator cannot. Also, solar panels can harness and save electricity while you’re away from your vehicle, something that a generator cannot possibly do.

Solar panels are also a clean source of electricity in the sense that they will not leave emissions that are harmful to the environment. So not only will you save money from using solar panels but you will help save the earth from destructive elements too.

Solar energy is the way of the future

Using solar panels as an energy source for your home, RVs, and marine vehicles is a great decision if you wish to save money and help protect the environment at the same time. Invest in the type and brand that suits your needs the most. And don’t hesitate to speak to an expert if you have any questions about the selection, installation, and maintenance of solar panels. The sooner you get one for your house, RV, or marine vehicle, the sooner you can reap the long-term benefits that come with owning one.

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