Using solar battery chargers is becoming increasingly common. Customers will often specifically buy them to charge their cell phones, although there are other uses for them. Customers may wonder if solar chargers are cost-effective or be concerned that using solar chargers won't make enough of a difference environmentally to justify their usage. There are many solar chargers on the market today, and their characteristics will vary.
Types of Solar Chargers
National Geographic (NatGeo) indicates that there is a variety of photovoltaic cells used in solar chargers. Solarized Home (SH) has identified three main varieties of solar chargers that can be categorized based on their design, including miniature solar panels that can be folded, solar panels with adjustable sizes that resemble wheels, and compact solar chargers. There is plenty of variety even within those categories, but many solar charger designs can be grouped accordingly. Solar chargers will vary in terms of what specific electronics they can charge, so keep the devices you want to charge in mind as you shop.
Miniature Solar Panels
SH indicates that folding miniature solar panels helps protect the fragile photovoltaic cells. As such, the folding is often fundamental to their design and is one of the characteristics that distinguishes miniature solar panels from other solar chargers. These solar panels are small relative to the full-size solar panels people use to power their homes. However, miniature solar panels are more like relatively small appliances compared to many solar chargers, which are often as tiny and convenient to carry as the cell phones and batteries they charge.
The seven-watt Poweradd Portable Solar Panel available through Amazon has an energy conversion rate of 18 percent and can power a wide range of cell phones and smartphones, GPS devices, ebook readers, and USB-powered devices. Its price is set at 70 dollars, but customers usually purchase it through Amazon at a discounted price.
Solar Chargers With Adjustable Sizes
Solar chargers that can be adjusted are designed to be more efficient when it comes to capturing energy, according to SH. The Solio company has produced a wide range of solar chargers. One of Solio's iconic chargers is the five-watt Solio Classic2, which almost looks like a wheel when it is in the process of charging. Its standard price is 100 dollars and it can charge devices as quickly as most standard chargers.
Its unique design gives it more surface area and allows customers to more easily find the right sunlight angle through what is essentially a makeshift sundial. Customers can charge their smartphones, tablets, water purifiers, headlamps, e-readers, bike lights, USB-powered electronics, and GPS watches using the Solio Classic2.
The wheel shape can be closed, at which point the solar charger becomes as convenient to carry as the typical compact solar charger. Essentially, when the wheel shape is opened, it almost resembles three chargers connected into one piece. Closed, it will look like a stack of three chargers.
Compact Solar Charger
Unlike a miniature solar panel, a compact solar charger will often be outwardly indistinguishable from a more standard electronics charger. While miniature solar panels can be somewhat cumbersome to carry around, people can easily keep compact solar chargers in their purses or pockets.
The Premium Solar Charger from XTG Technology is one of the most affordable solar chargers on the market, with a list price of only 29.99. It was designed with portability in mind, like all compact chargers. As with many small chargers, customers will have to make some sacrifices in terms of energy efficiency, since the Premium Solar Charger itself will charge up to 60 percent at the most on solar power. Customers can charge different USB-powered devices with this Premium Solar Charger, including Mp3 players, cell phones, headsets, and USB battery chargers themselves.
Other Solar Chargers
There are some solar chargers that don't easily fall into SH's established categories. Some solar chargers are very specialized in terms of their functions and what they can charge. While some solar chargers can power a wide range of small devices, others will be primarily used to charge vehicle batteries.
- The 1.5 Watt Solar Battery Charger from Harbor Freight Tools can be used to keep a car battery charged. Customers can position the panel on their windshields, where it will receive the necessary sun exposure.
- The solar chargers from Pulse Tech can keep the batteries of different vehicles charged even when they're being stored outdoors for long periods of time.
Chargers like these demonstrate the fact that some solar chargers have applications for other devices.
Benefits of Solar Chargers
Black Diamond Electric (BDE) recommends solar chargers specifically for charging devices like music players, phones, and GPS devices, in addition to batteries. NatGeo describes solar chargers that are used to power lights, calculators, and computers. As such, solar chargers can be used to keep a wide range of small devices going.
Solio points out that one of the primarily benefits of its products is the fact that they can give customers more freedom of movement when they're using their electronics. Customers can take their electronics almost anywhere and they will have a device that can recharge them at the ready even if they're nowhere near an electrical outlet.
Backup Power Sources
Solar chargers can serve as convenient sources of power during power outages and camping trips. Devices like the Poweradd Portable Solar Panel are often specifically targeted at people that enjoy camping and other outdoor activities. People that live in areas that are prone to power outages could particularly stand to benefit from solar chargers. SH indicates that many modern people heavily rely on their cell phones, so having a means of charging a cell phone in almost any location can be a huge source of relief.
Solar Chargers Versus Solar-Powered Electronics
Some customers may consider getting solar-powered electronics instead of solar chargers so they can power their electronics with solar energy directly. For instance, according to WeWi Telecommunications, their SOL laptop can be fully charged after two hours in the sun using its own solar cells. However, Solio promotes the idea that using solar chargers is better than using electronics that are solar-powered themselves.
Electronics that receive solar energy directly will have to be exposed to sunlight for long periods of time. Solio contends that it's better to rely on solar chargers that were specifically designed to cope with periods of long sun exposure, which may also be a more cost-effective strategy.
Drawbacks of Solar Chargers
While there are plenty of benefits from using solar chargers, consumers should also consider their drawbacks.
Inefficiency in Some Situations
Solar chargers also do not always fully charge all electronics. BDE attributes this problem to the fact that devices like laptops typically have high energy requirements. BDE indicates that trying to run a laptop using just the current solar charger models would be too costly for most users.
Ineffective for Large Devices
Since most solar chargers cannot adequately power devices like laptops, powering even larger devices, such as large household appliances, is out of the question. BDE indicates that many electronic devices are more energy efficient than they used to be, but that trend may not be happening fast enough with some devices.
Limitations Based on Sun Exposure
NatGeo says that the level of sunlight intensity that the solar charger actually receives when it's charging will make all the difference. Sunlight quality is going to vary depending on the season, the local weather, and even on the angle of the photovoltaic cells within the charger. SH also points out that solar chargers will usually need to spend a long time in the sun initially to work.
The Solio Classic2 costs 100 dollars, which is more than some people are willing to spend on a charger. Most of the top-selling standard Amazon cell phone chargers are significantly less expensive. Even the relatively inexpensive compact solar chargers are comparatively costly, and they are not as energy efficient. While customers may be able to save some money on their electric bills by using solar-powered cell phone chargers, some customers may not want to absorb the initial expense.
The Value of Solar Chargers
People cannot power all of their household appliances using solar chargers, but solar chargers are still worthy of consideration. People spend a great deal of time using their cell phones and other small devices, and the energy consumption involved with using cell phones is still significant. A device does not have to be universally effective to be environmentally or financially valuable. Solar chargers that allow people to use somewhat less nonrenewable energy overall can still be worthwhile purchases.