Solar Chargers And Portable Power

We are all using our personal electronic devices more and more in our everyday life and when we set off on our outdoor adventures we like to know that we are still able to do this. There is, therefore, a greater desire for answers to portable power solutions which will enable us to recharge our devices.

Portable solar panels have become the preferred power source to those taking to the outdoors and as time goes on, so does the efficiency of these charging devices.

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Solar Chargers are now considered to be an essential part of any hunting accessory back and there is a very useful guide reviewing some of the most up to date devices over at Gear Lab.

We asked gun specialists, Palmetto State Armory for their views on solar chargers.

“It goes without saying that if you are off on a hunting trip, that you are now always going to be back in a 24 hour period. Some might be gone for many days so we always advise an alternate way to charge your devices.

We wouldn’t suggest only taking a solar charger, because you might get stuck where there is no sun, or insufficient light, but we would advise using one over a battery pack if the sun is available. Keep batteries for when it can’t be used.”

That all makes perfect sense!

It is important to find the right technology to suit your needs and adventures. We need to be able to recharge our device using power stored in a portable battery, which was received from an initial power source, in short we need a power source to provide energy to charge a battery pack and a portable battery pack to store the energy.

There are a variety of choices to enable you to charge a power storage unit (battery pack).

  • AC power - wall socket, this is the fastest way to charge a power storage unit
  • 12V DC - car charger
  • USB - which can be from a wall, car or computer
  • Solar Panel
  • Kinetic motion
  • Hydrogen fuel cells

To be able to recharge your portable power pack when away from electricity outlets, vehicles or a USB output you will need a battery pack that can be recharged by solar power.

Solar Energy is the most common off-the-grid source of power available. Consideration should be given to using a solar panel to supplement energy if your electronics use is expected to exceed the power available in your portable battery.

Solar energy would be the best option when on long trips when multiple re-charges of your device may be needed.

There are numerous choices when deciding upon a solar charger, such as:-

  • Panels only, either rigid or semi flexible
  • Panels with integrated storage batteries, or
  • Panels with separate storage batteries.

Consideration should be given to the surface area as the larger the solar panel the more sunlight it will collect and the faster it will convert to power stored in a battery. Although easier to pack, a smaller panel will take longer to charge a battery.

A large surface area is also best when there may be cloud cover or low-angled, low intensity light in the winter or even when logistical constraints limit how long it is exposed to the sun.

Charge times can vary from between 4 to 16 hours of sunlight for the same battery, depending on surface area and light conditions.

Solar panels are rated in watts, therefore the higher the number the more electricity is generated during a given time period.

Rigid or semi-flexible solar panels - semi flexible can be folded or rolled up to make them easier to transport. Solar panel attachment options are also available to enable you to securely attach to your backpack, bike, or tent.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells - one of the most recent innovations in portable power devices is to create electricity from hydrogen ( a chemical reaction creates the electricity). This requires the use of a consumable hydrogen cartridge, although the voltage it generates is low the advantage is that it is available at any time.

Power Storage - (Battery Pack) - A solar energy producer is best used to charge up a storage battery rather than the electronic device directly as these power sources usually don’t contain any circuitry to regulate the flow of electricity into your electronic device, which may lead to damage.

Some solar panels do offer a regulated USB output to directly charge small electronic devices. An integrated storage battery will offer an all-in-one convenience of a power generator to create power and a battery to store it to re-charge when needed.

An independent storage battery will offer the flexibility of leaving the generator ie solar panel, at home or at your base camp and take only the battery.

When purchasing a solar panel that comes with a storage battery it is advisable to pay particular attention to the battery specifications.

Portable Battery Packs - The storage capacity will confirm how much charge the battery pack can store for use later before in turn it needs recharging. Compare the storage capacity of a portable battery to that of the battery which is in your device and this will give you an idea of how many recharges are available. This is usually stated in milliAmp hours (mAh) or Amp hours (Ah).

Transferring energy from one battery to another is not 100% electronically efficient, for example a power pack rated at 2000 mAh will not automatically fully charge a 1000 mAh electronic battery twice.

To recharge your electronic device you will need a battery pack with enough storage capacity and enough output voltage to move energy into your device. To find out how much is enough, find out the storage capacity of the battery in your device, for electronics with built in batteries check the technical specs to find the battery capacity, and if your device uses only replaceable AA batteries choose a battery pack that features these.

Power output - It is important that the output of the charger (measured in volts) must be equal to the input battery voltage requirements of your electronic device. If it is lower you may drain your device battery instead of charging it up.

Most portable battery packs can charge small personal electronics such as cell phones and MP3 players, unfortunately there are still few that are able to recharge a laptop battery.

Small electronic devices that can be charged with a USB cable need a 5v output rating and larger devices that require a DC power input such as laptops may need a 12v - 24v output rating.

This can be obtained from the largest portable battery packs.

Battery technology - Portable battery packs vary in not only capacity and output but also in technology, size and weight.

NIMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries are usually rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. A battery pack that uses these is a convenient option for devices that use replaceable batteries such as GPS or camera. Instead of having to recharge your device you can simply swap the batteries.

Lithium-ion and lithium polymers are the most common type of portable battery packs, being of the same technology as the built-in batteries in personal electronics.

Lead acid batteries are large and heavy but provide the greatest power capacity and output.

It is important to ensure the portable battery pack you choose can deliver at the very least the same voltage as your device.

If you are planning a week-end trip a battery pack should be sufficient, but if you are planning a longer trip of perhaps a week then you will probably need a solar charger, not forgetting that for the solar charge to be effective it will require lengthy exposure to direct sunlight.

If your electronic device uses AA batteries then consider a solar charger to boost a spare set of batteries while the others are being used, therefore rotating two sets of batteries. Keep in mind that a battery pack offers a supplement and it is safest not to assume that they will bring your device battery up to full charge.

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