Solar Tutorial – The Balance of Power


You cannot run an air conditioner directly from a solar panel. You cannot run a fridge directly from a solar panel. You can’t even run a notebook computer directly from a solar panel. Here’s why.

A solar panel is an important component in any portable power system. It is the silent generator. As long as there is daylight, a solar panel will be producing power. Often, a panel is the only way to generate power in remote places. But, solar often lacks the power to ‘run’ many devices directly, and will need to be part of a more comprehensive system.

First things first. And this is important. A 5 Watt solar panel cannot run a 30 watt notebook computer by itself, nor can it run a 25 Watt lamp for an hour in the evening after the sun goes down. And a solar electric panel is certainly not capable of heating your home in winter time. So, what good is solar power you might ask.

Solar chargers are ideal for the small stuff. Battery driven gear like laptops, cameras, mp3 players, GPS receivers, satellite phones, and more. Things like heaters consume a lot of power, and would require far more solar equipment than you would want to carry. A simple rule of thumb would be to ask if you could run the device for any length of time from a car battery (without the car’s motor helping). If not, than perhaps solar is not your best option, and a generator set would be better.

At the top of this article I said that a panel cannot run a laptop computer, but then I just said that it can power one… which is it? Well, it is possible for a 5 Watt panel to power larger devices like a notebook computer for at least a short period of time each day, when it has its power stored in a battery pack over the course of the day, and the battery is then used to power the notebook (the solar charging & powering of your laptop can happen at the same time).

So, if you have a device powered by a battery, or batteries, then there is a good possibility that solar could be used to keep it charged far from home.


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