Solar powered hand held gadgets are becoming more common, and everything from cameras to digital music players are becoming available with solar panels for charging. This technology, of course, has its aim as a ‘greener’ alternative to traditional battery and wall charging devices. The questions of whether solar powered gadgets save on electricity costs and make operations more or less efficient, however, are important in evaluating solar powered electronics. Over the long term, using solar chargers for devices and batteries can help you save money, but often things like portability and back up power are what attract people to these devices in the short term. Here is a look at some of the pros and cons of solar chargers for particular electronic devices.
Solar chargers are a great option for charging batteries and for gadgets like phones, GPS devices, and music players. Chargers for these devices are small enough to stash in a purse or backpack to charge these gadgets on the go. These chargers can typically power up these smaller electronic devices like music players within a few hours in full sun, but this can depend on the device and the particular charger. For charging batteries, solar chargers can be a great investment for reusing batteries.
Alkaline batteries tend to die quickly, they are expensive to constantly replace, and disposal is detrimental to the environment. There are a variety of solar chargers for batteries, with the higher end models costing a couple hundred dollars, but charging batteries in less time than cheaper models. Make sure to look for the correct wattage of charger for the particular gadget you intend to charge. For example, 5 watts will be enough to charge a battery but not a larger device like a laptop computer.
The biggest downside to solar powered chargers come with limitations for powering certain devices such as laptops. This is due to the high energy consumption of most laptops. The power consumption of many electronic gadgets is going down, but laptop computers still consume a lot of energy and many solar chargers are simply inefficient for powering such devices. To power a laptop using a portable solar charger, you will likely need a higher wattage panel–15 to 20–along with a back-up battery to plug the laptop into. These necessary panels and cables can easily make the cost of powering your computer with solar energy surge to nearly $500.
In general, for larger gadgets, portable solar powered chargers are expensive and can be time consuming and inefficient relative to ordinary electronic outlet charging. Pocket sized solar chargers for smaller gadgets and batteries, however, are more affordable and widespread in the electronic gadget market. If you have the budget and desire for a solar powered laptop, there are new, efficient chargers in development and some already gracing the market, but you will certainly pay for the technology and may still come up short in the ratio of time spent charging vs usage.