In line with our interest in emergency kits, we looked at what items should be placed in them, according to agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Among first aid kits and flashlights, FEMA’s emergency preparedness resource, Ready, suggests packing a cell phone with chargers and a backup battery. One type of backup battery is a solar charger, which uses sunlight to charge your electronic devices, a useful feature in emergencies and convenient for camping and hiking.
GO AHEAD Highly rated solar chargers | How to buy a solar charger
Solar chargers are beneficial because they can help repower devices wherever you (and them) are, by harnessing the sun’s energy and converting it into electrical energy to power phones, tablets and other electronics, Sudip explained. K. Mazumder, professor at the University of Illinois Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Chicago. But the amount of power generated by a solar charger is entirely dependent on the amount of sunlight available in your environment. This changes depending on the weather, time of day, location and season.
“A solar cell can’t harness what isn’t there,” Mazumder said. This is one of the reasons tech expert Whitson Gordon previously advised against using solar chargers as the sole power source. To help you find the right solar charger for your needs, we consulted experts on the pros and cons, and how to buy them. We’ve also rounded up highly rated models in a variety of sizes and power capacities.
What are solar chargers?
Solar chargers feature built-in solar cells that resemble the solar panels you would see on the roofs of buildings or houses. Solar cells harness energy from the sun, which is converted into electrical energy, the type of energy needed to power devices like phones, tablets and other electronics, Mazumder said.
While many people refer to all charging devices built with solar cells as “solar chargers”, there is a distinction between solar chargers and solar power banks.
- Solar chargers are designed without batteries — they do not store energy. They should be exposed to sunlight when charging your devices. That means if it’s shaded, the solar chargers can’t charge anything.
- Solar Power Bankson the other hand, store the energy generated in integrated batteries, so that they can recharge the devices even when there is no sun
The best solar chargers
Since we don’t test solar chargers ourselves, we rely on expert advice and our previous reports on how to buy them in order to highlight the best ones. Experts recommended looking at device compatibility, power capacity, and size to determine which model is right for you. Below we highlight highly rated solar chargers in a range of sizes with varying capacities that align with expert advice – keep in mind that output is often measured under ideal conditions, this which, in this case, often translates to lots of sunlight.
Anker 515 Solar Panel
Compatibility: 3 USB-A ports
If you are in a shady area, this solar charger pauses charging and automatically resumes when sunlight returns. You can fold the solar panel and store it in a bag when not in use, and it has a kickstand to angle the solar cells towards sunlight while you charge. The solar panel also comes with a built-in compartment to hold cables or small devices.
BigBlue Solar Charger 3 USB Ports 28W
Compatibility: 3 USB-A ports
BigBlue’s solar charger is very similar to Anker’s model. You can fold it up when not in use and it has four loops designed to help you attach the solar charger to a backpack or tent, for example. When the solar cells lose contact with direct sunlight, the mark indicates that it temporarily stops charging and automatically restarts when it detects sunlight again. Solar panels have an efficiency of 21.5% to 23.5%, depending on the brand.
Goal Zero Nomad 20 Solar Panel
Compatibility: 1 USB-A port
Goal Zero’s solar charger is foldable and comes with an adjustable kickstand that snaps into place at multiple angles, allowing you to change it depending on the direction of the sun. The solar panel has an integrated 8 millimeter charging cable.
X-DRAGON portable solar charger
Compatibility: 2 USB-A ports
Gordon has included this X-DRAGON solar charger in his list of solar powered gadgets. He said “it’s much more affordable than many of its competitors of similar horsepower”. Solar cells have an efficiency of 22-25%, depending on the brand. You can fold the solar charger flat when not in use, or fold it so it has a kickstand that supports it and tilts it towards the sun.
How to buy a solar charger
Because people have different intended uses for their solar chargers, purchasing these products is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You need to think about what best suits your needs and the devices you own, as well as your price range. We have noticed that the price of solar chargers generally increases with their power output and the number of solar panels they have – for example, Goal Zero’s Nomad range prices increase with each increase in power: 5W, 10 W, 20 W, 50 W and 100 W. Here’s what the experts recommend to consider before buying.
Power output and efficiency
Each device is designed with a different size battery – watt hours (Wh) is a way of measuring charge capacity and will give you the best estimate of how much or how many times the charger can charge your device.
Typically, devices that are physically larger with higher power requirements have larger batteries and therefore require more powerful chargers to speed up charging, Mazumder said. Experts told us to compare the power of a solar charger to your device’s charger when shopping.
“If it says ‘works best with a 27W+ charger,’ then look for the 27W+ charger,” Brad Saunders, president of the nonprofit USB-IF, said in our guide. portable chargers. However, Mazumder said lower wattage solar chargers can still power larger devices, but at a slower rate than higher wattage solar chargers.
Typically, Gordon explained, “a typical phone can charge at 5W, but most modern phones pack fast-charging capabilities up to 18W. And if you’re charging two devices at once, you’ll need enough power for both. Gordon also suggested checking a solar panel’s efficiency rating when buying – however, efficiency ratings aren’t always listed. He said the higher the percentage , the more solar power you can convert into charging power, and noted that anything above 20% efficiency is ideal.
Before buying a solar charger, Mazumder said to make sure its ports are compatible with your electronic devices. Many solar chargers are built with USB-A ports, while some may come with an additional USB-C port.
Mazumder said people often buy new models of electronic devices and do so at a faster rate compared to buying solar chargers and other charging accessories. So the port type of your new phone may not match the port of your two-year-old solar charger, forcing you to buy adapters to continue using it in the future.
Size and solar panels
According to Mazumder, the number and size of solar cells on solar chargers impacts the amount of power they can generate.
When there are more solar cells on a charger – or larger cells – they can generate more power. But more and larger solar cells can mean that the physical size of the solar charger increases – you may have to decide if you want to prioritize size or wattage when shopping. If you pack the solar charger in an emergency kit or plan to take it with you camping or hiking, consider the size of the bag you pack it in.
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