Tech tip: What’s so hot about portable solar chargers? – Ravalli Republic

April 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

Did you know that you could charge your cell phone from the sun? While this might sound a little like something from a futuristic movie—or like something reserved for ultra-environmentalists—portable solar chargers are actually becoming more widely available and efficient. They can offer a convenient (and yes, eco-friendly) power solution for anyone, whether you’re a business traveler, an outdoor enthusiast, or just someone looking for a simple way to keep your tablet, phone, or MP3 player charged and ready.

Imagine this: you’re on a weekend camping trip in the backcountry and you want to be able to listen to music without killing your phone’s battery. Strap a solar charger to the outside of your backpack while you hike, and you’ll be ready to rock out in just a few hours.

There are a number of different models and styles of portable solar chargers on the market. While their designs and components can vary, they all basically work by capturing the sun’s rays with solar panels; then they convert the solar energy into electrical energy that can be used to charge the battery on your phone or other devices. Most standard portable panels are coated in monocrystalline silicone, which achieves about 17-18% efficiency. This means that 17-18 percent of the sunlight that hits the panel will be converted to usable electrical energy. So charging your phone from the sun is going to take longer than plugging it into an outlet will, but most solar chargers can fully juice up a smartphone in about 2-3 hours (in direct sunlight).

Larger solar panels have a larger surface area so they can capture more energy from the sun. Therefore, they can be used to power larger devices, such as a laptop, and can charge batteries more quickly. However, a larger size obviously means less portability. A smaller solar panel, capable of charging devices like a cell phone, MP3 player, or GPS, can weigh as little as 1 pound or less.

Many solar panels have a USB port that you can plug your phone directly into for charging. Depending on the model of the solar panel, it will probably charge best angled upwards in direct sun. In order to get around this potential inconvenience (i.e. a cloudy day), you can get battery packs to store solar power, which can later be used to charge your phone from. Connect the battery pack to the solar panel, charge it up on a sunny day, and then you’ve got power stored for (literally) a rainy day.

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