Having just spent a month (yes, a whole month!) with my family over Christmas (there was at least 11 of us at any given time sleeping and eating there), I have come to appreciate the need for an alternative method to charge my cell phone.

Trying to find a plug that was not already occupied by other cell phones, tablets, computers, and ipods charging was next to impossible.

This predicament led me to the pressing need to investigate an alternate means of charging my cell phone. 

I knew solar charges were a great option, as I was pretty sure I could find a free windowsill somewhere in the house.

However, I did not know much about them or which one was right for my particular situation. So, I researched it, and this article is the result of my findings.

I found this information extremely useful when ultimately picking out my solar charger and I am confident you will too.

How solar chargers function

A solar charger consists of three parts:

  1. A solar panel
  2. A rechargeable battery
  3. A charge controller

Solar Panel

The solar panel is made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells. These cells contain light-sensitive materials that convert sunlight into small amounts of electrical current.

When sunlight shines onto the solar panel, the resulting electricity is sent to the battery, which is regulated by the charge controller. The sunlight can be direct, or indirect.

Rechargeable Battery

A solar charger can recharge the following types of batteries:

  • Lead
  • Lithium-ion
  • NiCad (nickel-cadmium)
  • NiMH (nickel-metal hydride)

The battery stores the electricity generated by the solar panel for later use by any electrical devices that are connected to it.

This stored energy is available to use at any time, including at night.

Charge Controller

A charge controller regulates the amount of voltage delivered from the battery to the device it is connected to.

How to charge the charger

It’s simple, just like Ron Popeil says, ‘Set it and forget it!’

For best results:

  • point the solar panel towards the sun at a 90-degree angle
    • while the charger is capable of charging in partially-cloudy conditions, full sunlight is ideal for a quicker charge
  • wait for your rechargeable battery to become charged

Literally, this is all you have to do to charge your solar charger.

How well do they charge?

How well a solar charger recharges your device depends on the weather.

When recharging your solar battery on a sunny day, with no cloud interruptions, it will recharge much quicker and efficiently than on a cloudy overcast day.

It takes around 3 hours to fully recharge a solar battery (this is dependent on the size of the battery).

This means that on a sunny day, you will be able to recharge your device quicker than on a cloudy day because your battery would have charged quicker. Makes sense, right?

When a solar battery is completely recharged, it will take around 10 hours to fully recharge your cell phone.

how long do solar chargers last? 

Solar chargers generally last around 300-400 charges. So the life expectancy of your charger will depend on how often it is used. 

Benefits

  • portable
  • no need to search for an outlet
  • easy to use
  • energy can be stored and used at a later time
  • minimal maintenance

Limitations

  • dependent on the weather- direct sunlight is best
  • does not charge as fast as electrical outlet
  • chargers capable of fully charging a cell phone are typically more expensive

How to choose the right one for you

There are many different types of solar cell phone charges available to you. Picking the right one for your particular use will ensure you have the best experience as possible.

Home use

Picking a solar charger for home use is not as easy as it sounds. While solar technology keeps getting better and better, the solar panel collects sun rays more efficiently from direct sunlight, not indirectly through a pane of glass.

That being said, there are some solar chargers that are designed to stick in windows, just be aware that they will not charge as fast or be as powerful as most directly charged batteries.

This solar window charger sticks right to the window using suction cups. It’s small and perfect for leaving in the window while your phone charges on the windowsill.

One major drawback of this charger is that at only 1800mAH, it may not be able to charge your phone completely with a fully charged battery.


Another window option is GreenLighting Solar Phone Charger, at 6000 mAH it boasts being able to charge your cell phone up to 1% per minute until it is fully charged.

It uses a lithium-ion battery, and is pretty small, so it won’t obstruct a window view too much.

With one large suction cup, you can leave it in a window at home and use it whenever your phone requires a charge.

 

In the Car

The same issue arises with in-the-car solar charging as at-home solar charging. Solar panels are less efficient when charging a battery from indirect sunlight. 

So again, please keep in mind that when charging your battery through a pane of glass, it will not be as fast as charging it with sunlight directly.

Both solar charges mentioned above will work in the car as well, as they use suction cups to stick to the glass so they are not permanently fixed.

Outdoors

This is where solar chargers shine!

Beautiful, direct sunlight is the solar panels jam. 

For outdoor activities such as hiking, backpacking, walking, jogging, rock climbing, or anything else you might get up to in the great outdoors, there are a few characteristics and features to look for in a solar charger.

  • battery type
  • size
  • weight 
  • durability
  • water resistance
  • ability to charge with an overcast sky

For an awesome comprehensive review of the best portable solar chargers, check out outdoorgearlab.com.

 

Troubleshooting

If your solar charger is not charging your phone to a full charge, here are a couple basic reasons why.

  1. Weather: a cloudy day could result in the rechargeable battery unable to receive a full charge, thereby rendering it unable to fully charge your device
  2. Indirect sunlight: charging through a window pane may result in inefficient charging of the solar battery, similar to a cloudy day
  3. Weak rechargeable battery: the solar battery may not be strong enough to charge your phone fully even when the solar battery itself is fully charged

In order to avoid these common issues:

  • charge your solar battery with direct sunlight as much as possible
  • make sure you buy a solar charger that is strong enough to fully charge your device

Do you use a solar charger? What is your opinion of them? Let me know in the comments below!

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