It can be quite easy to mix solar chargers and solar batteries up, but they are actually quite different devices.
What They Are
A solar charger is able to use solar energy to provide a device with electricity or to charge batteries. Generally speaking, these chargers tend to be portable – they can even be found embedded on backpacks and briefcases.
Solar chargers are able to charge lead acid or Ni-Cd battery banks up to 48V and 4000 ah capacity. Generally speaking, solar chargers will use an intelligent charge controller, and these can often be used from a distance.
An array of solar cells needs to be installed in a stationary location, such as the roof of a home or even on the ground. They can then be connected to a battery bank that will store energy for use when the solar panels are either not producing any energy (such as during the night), or a time when they are working at low levels of efficiency.
They can also be used as an addition to mains supply chargers during the day in order to further save energy. Most portable chargers are only able to obtain energy from the sun. However, there are some that can be recharged by the sun or plugged into the wall to regain charge. Here are some examples of solar chargers:
- Small, portable, models that have been designed to charge mobile phone, iPods, and other personal audio equipment
- Fold out models that sit on the dashboard of your car and can be plugged into the 12V lighter socket to keep the battery topped up while the car is not being used
- Flashlights and torches. These are often combined with a secondary charging method like a hand crank
- Public solar chargers in places like parks, squares, and streets. Anyone can use these for free
The Importance of Voltage Regulators
People often forget that voltage regulators are an essential part of any solar charging kit. A solar panel is able to produce a wide range of charging voltages, depending on the intensity of the sunlight. As a result of this, a voltage regulator must be included in the charging circuit so that it does not overcharge at any point, especially when it comes to devices like 12V car batteries.
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Types of Solar Charger
Portable solar chargers tend to be used to charge mobile phones and other small electronic devices while you are on the move. The chargers that you will find on the market tend to use various types of solar panel – from thin film panels (efficiency rates of 7% to 15%) to the more efficient monocrystalline panels (efficiency rates of up to 18%).
You can also have semi-permanent solar charging stations that can be used by the public but are not permanently installed. The most common example of this are the solar charging benches that have been created by Strawberry, a Serbian company with great ambition. These can be found in over 21 countries across the world – including the UK.
There are also some permanently installed public solar chargers. Another ingenious model from Strawberry is the Strawberry Tree, a public solar charger for mobile devices. It has a built-in rechargeable battery that stores energy, so it can function both during the day and at night. These excellent pieces of tech have led other companies to start pushing their products out into the market as well.
There have been some issues with the solar charger industry, however, and the result has been a lack of trust from consumers. A number of companies mass-produced low-efficiency solar chargers that did not meet the expectations of customers. It has been a difficult place for manufacturers to come out of, but they have started to offer better and more efficient chargers in a bid to win back consumer trust.
Some of the solar chargers available also have a battery on board that is charged by the solar panel when it is not being used to charge anything else. This allows the person using it to access the stored solar energy from the battery in order to charge their electronic devices either at night or when they are indoors. It is also possible for some solar chargers to be flexible and rolled up. These are manufactured using thin film PV cells, which is a slim and flexible form of solar cell.
At the moment, foldable solar panels are decreasing in price, to the point where just about anyone can afford one. They can be used while you are at the beach, cycling, hiking, or any outdoor location for when you need to charge your electronic devices. As the technology continues to grow in popularity, we can expect to see new levels of efficiency being reached thanks to continued research and development. Plus, we will also see a rapid expansion into third world countries – hopefully removing the need for a grid system to even need to be installed.
Portable solar power is also being further utilised in developing countries, as a way to power lighting. This makes a great alternative to the kerosene lamps that they usually install, which are responsible for causing respiratory infections as well as lung and throat cancer, eye infections, and cataracts. What solar power does here is allow these rural areas to leap past a grid dependent system and move directly to distributed energy solutions.
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