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Solar Charger Fundamentals

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BasicsSolar chargers are portable and compact devices that use solar energy to charge batteries or produce electricity. Solar power or energy is the energy derived from the sun. Popular devices that can make use of these chargers to power themselves or charge their batteries include: cell phones, flashlights, iPods, iPads, mobile phones and other compact audio devices that are able to utilize solar chargers. Often these chargers are designed for a particular type of product. The efficiency of the unit used is highly dependent on the solar panel used. The sizes of solar panels vary in relation to the output generated by such panel. The smaller the level of output, the smaller the size of the solar panel and vice versa; the lesser the efficiency of a solar panel, the greater the amount of space it will require.

There are 3 major types of solar panels used in chargers.

The amorphous solar panel - also known as the thin film panel, it uses the lowest amount of silicon cells which results in the production of solar panels with the lowest level of efficiency. Efficiency level of the thin film panel is usually 10 percent or below. They are the cheapest panels and the most unreliable.

Thepolycrystalline or multi-crystalline solar panel is the next most efficient panel after the mono-crystalline panel. It is the most preferred choice because it combines a perfect blend of cost effectiveness and level of performance. These days, they are manufactured to resemble the mono-crystalline solar panels in size, level of efficiency and level of heat tolerance. The polycrystalline solar panel is the standard panel acceptable in the UK

The mono crystalline solar panel is the smallest panel with the smallest solar cells. it has the largest level of efficiency and takes up the least space. Their efficiency level can be as high as 19 percent. They are the most expensive and most reliable solar panels available in today's market.

Types of Solar Chargers by Application

Automotive Solar Trickle Chargers - are designed with vehicles in mind, these chargers have small solar panels which are directly hooked to a car cigarette lighter plug. The automotive solar trickle charger charges your car battery slowly, replacing the small losses in battery caused by car features that never go off. Battery renewal is done at the maximum rate of 125m Amps every hour when the sun is at its fullest. These chargers rarely come with solar panels big enough to charge a 12V car battery but they supplement with trickles of energy to the level of energy in the car battery. With this charger, there is no need for you to keep your hood open as they can be comfortably attached to your dashboard, keeping your car securely locked while charging. They also have built in diodes to prevent reversal in current which can drain your battery especially at night. This is useful if you want to run something off your car battery without keeping the engine running.

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Folding Chargers - an outstanding invention in the field of solar energy in recent years, the creation of flexible thin-film solar cells have led to an increased level of their use in the creation of portable chargers. Apart from the fact that they can be unfolded to allow a larger surface area to be exposed to the sun, they can also be easily rolled up to make them portable. They are extremely light weight and are less prone to damages than other chargers. With weight usually below 1 pound, they produce good level of power if they receive adequate exposure to sunlight. They usually come with built in grommets or hooks so as to make them easier to hang. They also come with plugs and adapters and are compatible plenty compact electronic device.

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Clam-shell chargers - clamshell chargers have their solar panels enclosed in folding cases to give protection to their solar cells and to make them easier to carry. They are very common and come in different sizes and voltages depending on the use they are intended for. They can be used with different mobile devices as they have different plugs and adaptors. Some can be plugged directly to electronic devices to charge their batteries while some are designed to charge batteries separately.

Solar Bags and Backpacks - these backpacks and bags are created using flexible thin solar cells. Often, these bags are designed to charge what they are holding. They may charge the devices directly or charge batteries in a built in charging pouch. They are great for charging your devices when you are on the move.

Purchasing Tips

Here some of the factors to look out for when buying solar chargers:

Plug Compatibility - Be sure the charger you buy comes with a power plug that fits the device you wish to use it with.

Charge Time - Most solar chargers produce small amounts of power within short periods due to the presence of just one or two solar cells. The low number or size of solar cells will lead to longer time for charging you device. Exposure of you electronic device to excessive sun can cause damage; if you need a faster way to charge your device, look for chargers with higher number of cells. Of course the tradeoff will be in size. More cells the bigger the charger. To get the chargers with higher number of cells, check for output in watts.

Physical dimensions - The physical dimensions of a solar charger usually determine their efficiency. Size is a good indication of power output.

Environment factors - The purpose and the environment in which the charger will be used is also an important factor to consider. If you plan on using it outdoors or in extreme conditions of hot, cold or humidity make sure the charger you have in mind can handle it.

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