Solar Chargers: the Portable Electronics Revolution

A desktop computer sitting on top of a table

With energy efficiency on everyone’s mind these days, it is no wonder that the consumer electronics industry has spent a considerable amount of time and energy on small appliance solar chargers. These items are not only green, they are very handy and can be used just about anywhere the sun is. This is not a new concept, however, it is just 20 years in the making.

Calculators and Watches

It all started in the mid 1980’s when pocket sized solar calculators and solar powered wrist watches hit the market. With the promise of delivering the same usability without the use of batteries, these products were a popular item to buy. Many calculators still have the small photovoltaic cells in the middle of the calculator to transform the light energy into usable electricity for crunching numbers in class, to doing the prep work on your taxes. These cells were so sensitive, they even operated (although marginally) in well lit rooms.

Watches did not need to be taken to the jewelry store to get the back off anymore for the expensive battery changing service. The time would tick along as long as the sun had ample time to charge the watch.

The issues with both of these technologies is that they wore our and could not be replaced making the product life significantly less than its battery operated counterparts.

The Current Revolution

With the introduction of small, light weight, and compact solar chargers, appliances can be plugged into the portable solar collecting panel, or simply set on an electro conductive mat for charging. This movement has not picked up a lot of steam as of yet because of the initial cost of these products ($100 – $500) but they are becoming slowly more popular. With this type of small appliance charging, this could be an answer to the reducing grid use overall in the United States considering the amount of cell phone, computer, and portable music player use.

This type of technology can only get better with the advancements of thin film photovoltaics that can be used in briefcases, purses, and backpacks, turning typical items into appliance charging items that will change the way we use portable electronics forever.