This post is part guest post, part me rambling. Which would you like first? Too bad. You don’t get to choose.
You see, I’ve been thinking solar charger action ever since I read Holding Their Own. The main character had little solar panels to recharge batteries for his night vision equipment, GPS, etc. I figured I could use something that could charge my cellphone while I’m sipping Mai Tais on the beach or juicing up my GPS after the cold sucks the life out of the battery in the Maine North Woods. I thought “bonus cool” would it be to attach the solar charger to my tactical laptop bag. Oooooh – see? It’s tactical laptop porn!
Pictured above, attached to my laptop bag, is Voltaic’s Lightweight Solar Charger. Freshly delivered to my doorstep, it comes with a variety of adapters to charge most any small electronic device. I typically like to give something like this a good field test before mentioning it here, but I haven’t had a chance yet. I’ve only admired it thus far. It’s rugged, waterproof and (this model) can attach to most anything, your tent, bicycle, backpack, etc.
Soon after the Voltaic arrived, I get an email from “RamboMoe” at PreparedForThat.com asking if he can write a guest post for the site. While I get more requests like this than I honor (don’t want this site to be all guest posts), I also remember what it was like trying to get this site off the ground, when I was writing guest posts for other sites. So, “sure” I write to RamboMoe, my Voltaic in hand. “Write about solar chargers.”
– Ranger Man
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Imagine for a moment that you find yourself walking through the wilderness one day, and come to the horrible realization that you’re lost (I know it’s an unlikely scenario for a man or woman of your calibre, but just indulge me here for the sake of the example). You reach for your GPS to find your way back to civilization… but alas, the battery is dead. You reach for your cell phone to call for help… but alas, the battery is dead. You reach for your mp3 player, to spend your last few hours on the earth listening to some tunes… but alas… the battery is dead.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was some way to charge these items even out in the wilderness? If there was some piece of equipment that could do this without needing an electrical outlet, only requiring the power of the sun?
As you’ve probably guessed, the technology I’ve been hyping exists – and it’s called solar charging.
Portable solar chargers are probably exactly as you picture them- solar panels that can charge your electronic devices, and are, well, portable. They offer convenience, as they’re portable and many models can be used to charge different devices. They also offer long-term power availability, as you could spend months in the wilderness away from an electrical outlet and still have a charged cell phone and iPod ready to go.
Solar chargers can be used to charge the batteries used by small electrical devices, or sometimes to power the small devices directly, depending on the make. They can also be used to charge conventional rechargeable batteries (AA, AAA, etc). There are currently models available for cell phones, iPods, car dashboards (to keep the battery topped up), and even flashlights that combine solar and kinetic charging to create a light that never needs to have its batteries replaced.
While they work best in bright conditions, most models are still effective in low-light, cloudy environments. They usually use trickle charging, although some models can fully recharge a battery. One example of a highly-rated model on the market today is the JOOS Orange (created by a company in California called SolarJOOS), which won the Consumer Electronics Association’s Best of Innovations Award for 2010 (I have no affiliation with the company, but it has good reviews across the internet).
Solar chargers work by absorbing solar energy and converting it to direct current (DC). They can be used to charge both lead/acid and nickel/Cadmium batteries, up to 48V and up to 400 Ah capacity. You’ll find various kinds of solar panels on portable solar chargers, from thin film collectors (with 5-8% efficiency), to monocrystalline panels (10-17% efficiency). The thin film collectors, while less efficient, can often be rolled which allows for greater ease of movement and storage.
In the past, the market was flooded with lower-efficiency models that did not live up to expectation. With the cost of solar panels going down, though, high quality models have hit the market in the past few years.
SOLAR CELL PHONE CHARGERS
Solar cell phone chargers use solar panels to charge your cell phone battery. Some phones have built in solar chargers, but in most cases you will need to buy an accessory piece. They can come in various shapes- folding types, rotating types, or straps with a built in battery. The good models can fully charge a phone in under six hours, resulting in 40+ minutes of talk time.
Solar backpacks are backpacks with solar cells on the outside for energy absorption, and a battery on the inside for storage. They are usually designed to power or charge a wide array of devices, from cell phones to cameras to laptops. They usually contain monocrystalline solar panels (a high quality, highly efficient form), a charge controller, and various plugs and chords. They can provide the user with up to 120 watt-hours per day.
Solar backpacks can often be found in the military, disaster relief, and field research, as their value goes up exponentially the more secluded/less developed an area is. A recent example would be the Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System (REPPS), a 62-watt solar panel blanket stored in a backpack used the US army in Afghanistan.
Good luck and stay prepared!
You can read more from RamboMoe at his site preparedforthat.com