Driving through most residential neighborhoods nowadays, you might notice more and more houses with large black panels on top. There are even RVs driving around with portable versions of these energy systems. To learn more about these solar panels and how they work, see the details below.
How Does the Sun Produce Energy?
Solar energy has quickly become one of the most common energy systems that homeowners and property managers have turned to in efforts to reduce their energy use. It is currently the most affordable eco-friendly energy alternative, and it’s more accessible in the United States than ever before.
The US Department of Energy reported that, since 2008, solar panel installations have multiplied 35-fold. Presently, there is enough solar energy to power approximately 12 million houses in America. Yet, how exactly is this energy produced?
Similar to most stars, the sun is primarily composed of the elements hydrogen and helium. These exist in a plasma state (a sort of “superheated” matter, separate from solids, liquids, and gases). The sun generates energy when these elements interact with one another in a process called nuclear fusion. This is how it happens:
- The sun’s core exerts high pressure and high temperatures, which cause the elements’ nuclei and electrons to separate.
- The hydrogen nuclei fuse to make one helium atom.
- The energy from the fusion process creates radiant energy, which releases from the sun. This process of releasing this energy from the sun’s core to the surface may take up to 150,000 years!
- Once the energy reaches the sun’s surface, it only takes about 8 minutes to get to Earth. (This is a distance of about 93 million miles, meaning the radiant energy moves at 186,000 miles per second to reach Earth.)
Not all of the energy the sun produces reaches Earth. In fact, only a sliver of this energy makes its way to this planet – the equivalent of about one part in two billion. Still, this is more than enough. According to the National Energy Education Development Project, the sun supplies enough energy in a single hour than the entire US can use in a year.
Humans are not the only ones that use this renewable energy source. Radiant energy is naturally absorbed by the land, oceans, atmosphere, and clouds. People have learned to use specialized equipment to collect and store it, though. Some of these technologies include solar modules and RV solar panels.
Solar modules, more commonly known as “solar panels,” are energy systems that are designed to convert the sun’s radiant energy, or light, into electricity.
Although they are intended to absorb energy from the sun above all else, they can convert a wide variety of light sources into power. This is why they are also known to scientists as “photovoltaics,” which essentially means “light-electricity” in plain English.
Solar modules are made up of several individual solar cells. When arranged together (i.e., in a large panel), they can collaborate and absorb more light, thus producing more energy.
They accomplish this using their two layers of semiconducting material, often made of silicon crystals. Manufacturers modify them through a process called “doping” to enable them to produce an electric current. The materials used for doping include:
- Boron: Typically added to the cell’s bottom layer, this bonds with the silicon crystals to create a positive charge (“p-type”).
- Phosphorous: Usually added to the cell’s top layer, this element helps the silicon produce a negative charge (“n-type”).
The surface between these two layers is called the “P-N junction.” Electrons can move up and down between the two layers, specifically from the n-type to the p-type when the sun’s energy hits the cell. The electric field created between them prevents this, though. Instead, the electrons travel through an external circuit (i.e., wires) and provide electricity.
RV Solar Panels
RV solar panels work just the same as those designed for residential homes and other buildings. These energy systems still require the solar module described above. However, instead of being wired to a house’s electrical system, they will convert the light into direct current (DC) energy and charge the RV batteries.
This way, the power isn’t always used straight away. You can store it in the battery instead and have a reserve at the ready whenever you need it. On the other hand, if you want usable power right away, you will need an alternating current (AC) converter. These turn the sun’s energy into electricity to run all the appliances and lights in your RV.
One of the most significant differences between RV solar panels and other residential and commercial types is portability. Most solar energy systems are heavy and imposing, while those designed for RVs are smaller and produce less power.
RV solar energy systems typically range from 45 watts (good enough to charge your phone or another small device) to 320 watts (ideal for powering the entire RV off-grid). The specs for your solar modules will depend on what you need to power and how often.
Solar energy is the most affordable form of sustainable energy for households and commercial properties, and it is swiftly becoming more accessible worldwide. Whether you want to power your home or business or intend to venture out off-grid, you can rely on the sun’s energy to provide energy day in and day out.