The sun can be considered the best source of energy anywhere, if it is properly harnessed. It is an inexhaustible, renewable energy source like no other. That is why we have solar-powered devices in use now such as calculators, watches and lights. Solar technology is still far from being the primary source of energy for most of our gadgets today however; it can be used to recharge the batteries of these devices. They are called solar-powered battery chargers.
What are Solar-Powered Battery Chargers?
As the name suggests, these are battery chargers which are powered by solar energy. Practically any modern-day gadget you can think of (laptops, cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, iPods, digital cameras, etc.) can be recharged using these chargers. Nowadays, these have been integrated with other products as well such as cars and backpacks. Moreover, there are different voltage capacities available making it easier to purchase the chargers that will best fit our needs.
How do they work?
These battery chargers consist of solar panels that are composed of photovoltaic (PV) cell blocks which are responsible for producing electricity from the light of the sun. When the photons from sunlight hit the solar panels, they are absorbed by the PV cells. The cells are made up of semiconducting materials such as silicon. Two kinds of silicon can be used namely crystalline and amorphous, the latter of which is more durable, flexible and cost-effective. The absorbed photons are then converted to electrons.
A chemical reaction occurs in batteries which transfers electrons to the electronic circuits of our devices. During this process, residual particles slow down and eventually halt the production of electrons. This discharge cycle is countered through the current produced by the solar panels wherein protons are drawn to the cells of the battery using the electrons’ attraction.
Most solar-powered battery chargers have 12 volts in terms of capacities but there are other voltage capacities such as 24V, 36V and so on. There are also battery chargers as low as 3 volts that can be used to charge a 6 volt NiCad battery from a cell phone. Before buying one, make sure you do considerable research on what you need and don’t be afraid to ask a specialist.
It may be a little complicated to understand but knowing how it works is the first step towards appreciating it.
Why should I use this type of battery charger?
Using solar-powered battery chargers is a great alternative to conventional battery chargers. Here are some reasons why:
It uses a clean, renewable source of energy, the sun.
Save money on non-rechargeable batteries, if you use any
Save electricity usage and its corresponding costs
Minimal, if any, maintenance costs
Readily available alternative source of energy in case electricity is unavailable
If the power supply has been cut off
If you are in a remote location (rugged mountains, isolated islands, etc.)
Whether you are traveling around a lot or camping in the wilderness, there is no better alternative to charge your gadgets than solar-powered battery chargers.
Solar-powered battery chargers are most effective under a bright, sunny day however; they can also be efficient in cold climates. Some are even waterproof.
Some solar battery chargers have an internal battery that is capable of storing energy. Should you need to charge any electronic device and you have no time or opportunity to use the sunlight to gather energy, the stored energy in the battery will be used to charge that device.
Some common types of solar battery chargers
Automotive solar trickle chargers
Specially designed for vehicles, these chargers can be conveniently placed on the dashboard and attached directly to the cigarette lighter plug which in turn, will charge your car battery, albeit slowly.
These chargers usually don’t have a big enough solar panel to completely charge a car battery but it is enough to compensate for the energy consumed by always-on features of the car such as the clock.
Clamshell solar chargers
The solar panels are put inside a folding case for convenience and portability.
It can come with multiple plugs and adaptors which makes it easy to use with different kinds of devices.
Some are designed to directly plug to the device and others are designed to charge batteries separately and easily swap them out.
Folding solar chargers
By using flexible thin-film solar cells, this charger can be rolled up for portability and opened up when in use to allow for greater surface area exposure.
The integration of these breakthrough solar cells with bags of all kinds (backpacks, laptop bags, briefcases, etc.) is pure genius. These can charge the device they are specifically designed to carry making them very convenient for the on-the-go traveller.
Some even have built-in pouches that can charge double A and/or triple A batteries.
Can these solar battery chargers completely replace the chargers we’re using right now? If you ask me, I would have to say no. Our devices currently consume a lot more energy than these chargers can compensate for. Time is gold and most people just don’t have the time to wait for the charging cycle to complete. However, like any breakthrough technology, you have to give it a chance to develop and improve and the best way to do that is to have consumers use it and give their feedback. If there are hybrid cars, then there are also hybrid chargers. Hybrid technology is the answer to bridging the gap between what we’re used to and what we ought to get used to. Even if it has a premium price tag on it, the benefits speak for themselves.
Jessica is a blog editor at Meiji Electric, the premier electrical supplier in the Philippines. She is a hands-on, technology-oriented girl and loves to tinker with the latest gadgets and equipment. She is also uses the best traveling adapters for that on-the-go convenience.