Solar chargers are basically mini-solar panels that charge individual electronic devices and rechargeable batteries. These nifty little devices help charge everyday electronics items without draining your home’s power, and your pocketbook. Most solar-powered chargers are not as effective at harnessing the sun’s power as larger solar panels, but they will offer enough juice on sunny days to charge your electronic items in about 10 hours.
How Well Do Solar Chargers Work?
The average solar-powered charger takes between 6 and 10 hours to charge an electronic device, such as a cell phone. Unfortunately, most of these chargers only work in directly sunlight, which makes them ineffective on overcast days. Unlike solar roof panels, smaller chargers do not store extra energy on sunny days to make up for the lack of sun on cloudy days.
Solar-Power for Small Electronics: How Much Does It Cost?
The price-point for solar, when you’re using it for small electronic devices, varies widely. Smaller chargers for batteries and MP3 players can cost between $10 and $60. Usually, as with most products, the more expensive devices perform better, and last longer, than the cheaper options. Larger electronic chargers, such as for cell phones and laptops typically cost between $50 and $300, with laptop chargers being the most expensive. Take care to identify the compatible devices with each charger – you don’t want to end up with a $300.00 charger that doesn’t work with anything you own! Most chargers have a set list of adapters for specific devices and will only be able to charge those devices – and if you try to force an incompatible electric adapter, you could end up burning out your laptop, phone, or whatever you’re trying to charge.
How Long Will a Mini Solar Device Last?
Most solar-powered chargers present about 300 to 400 charges before they “die.” If you plan to use your charger every day for a year, then your charger life will be about one to one and a half years, which isn’t too long.
How Much Energy Will I Save?
Electronic devices do not pull much power. On average, cell phones use between 3 and 4 watts of power per charge, while smaller devices use between 1 and 3 watts. Laptops pull more energy, and can drain between 15 to 30 watts per charge. When you choose a solar charger, make sure the wattage output is at least as much as the amount of energy that your devices use while charging. If you choose a charger with a smaller watt output, it will take forever to charge your devices.
Are They Worth It?
Because of the short lifespan of a solar-powered charger, and the relatively small amount of energy that small electronics use, at this point, most households will not see a difference in energy bills by switching to solar for small electronic devices. While the idea is good in theory, the chargers simply do not provide enough power to make up for the high cost of the unit. As it stands right now, chargers that use solar power are more of a novelty item in the home (although they can be useful in camping and emergency situations) than actual usefulness in energy and money savings in the long-term.
Have you tried a solar-powered charger for your small electronics? How did it work for you?
Thanks for confirming what I suspected about the relatively limited number of charging cycles these solar panel battery packs can accept. I attempted to learn in looking at a number of the fold-out type solar chargers sold for outdoor use if they were rated for anything more than emergency use. It turns out most of them aren’t intended for routine (non-emergency use). This is evidenced by the fact that the manufacturers often recommended they be charged by conventional means (wall socket) before you rely on them to charge a cell phone or a tablet. What’s more, because they can’t store any of the energy they collect, charging is often slow (10+ hours), which becomes even more lengthy the higher capacity the power packs are (2,500mAH+ is not uncommon). Making matters worse, the rechargeable batteries are hardwired in, meaning you can’t replace them when they no longer charge correctly.
Portable solar device manufacturers, most of which appear to sell on a certain “Goliath” Internet retail site, don’t publish what type of battery life one can expect or even the storage and operating temperatures, which is necessary information for outdoor enthusiasts, let alone emergency use. (After all, you can’t choose your weather in an emergency — it could be below zero or 110 degrees in the desert!) Even if all one intends to store this type of device away for emergency use, there’s no telling if one will have conventional electric power in an emergency to quick charge it for use (in an emergency, it won’t have been sitting in the sun for the 10+ hours it needs if the battery “trickle depletes” during storage). What’s more, it appears that a number of these aren’t designed to charge their own battery by sun while powering a device simultaneously. I gather from “reading in between the lines” on seller responses to customer questions that the better way to use these is to buy a power bank and charge the power bank, after which you use the power bank to charge your device as opposed to a direct connection to the solar charger. While I can see the utility of having access to a device like this in the back country (i.e. hiking), for home use it may simply be more reliable to buy an inverter that is powered by the cigarette lighter in one’s car.
Thanks .can you help…. living on a remote island lots of sun normally… no power after a hurricane I need to be able simply to use solar to power iPad iPhone maybe a light … what would do this for me ?
Kennedy Robertson says
Now on my second solar charger from Unotec, the first one failed to charge on day 1 in sunlight. The
2nd one they sent me failed after about a week, it is now in the bin, I will not be buying any more
so called ‘solar chargers’ from anyone!
Thank you so much for your sharing. it is very useful for me. when I am considering to buy the portable solar chargers, I am really worry about whether it works or not . but after reading your post, I made the decision.
Thank you so much. and I am a mom too. my son is 6 years old now.