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Solar Charger Buyer's Guide at Cabela's

Solar Charger Buyer's Guide

Author: Frank Ross

With so many electronic devices in use by outdoors enthusiasts today, it’s no wonder that batteries have become an issue. It’s hard to imagine how we got along without them before, but hardly any aspect of our lives today is not affected in some way by electronics. From GPS units to Personal Locator Beacons, cell phones, CD players, laptop computers, satellite phones and portable two-way radios - everything needs batteries.

Instead of carrying a box full of spare batteries along, how about recharging the ones you have with a solar power supply? Getting power to remote locations used to require a portable generator, but for many of today’s high-tech tools a simple recharge is all that is needed. Solar powered calculators, that never need batteries, have been around for some time, and they seem to work forever. The concept of getting free power from the sun has always held an attractive appeal for most people, and the fact that the sun produces approximately 1,000 watts of power per square meter of the earth’s surface has kept engineers and scientists working on solutions to capture it economically for the past several decades.

 

Solar panels have been around for a while, but innovations in this technology have made them more usable, easier to transport, and packing a lot more punch than older, more cumbersome models. Without going into a complicated explanation of photovoltaic (PV) cells, these are the little marvels that make solar panels work. These PV cells are made up of a silicon material that absorbs energy and releases electrons. Flowing electrons is what electricity is all about. Each cell produces a very small amount of energy; however, when many small cells are wired together to form a panel, the voltage reaches a flow rate that is usable for many things.

The obvious down side to free solar power lies in the name. Power is only produced when the sun is shinning. Remote applications utilize batteries, which carries the workload at night or during heavily overcast days and solar panels are used to maintain the charge on those batteries.

Stationary applications, such as signs, sensors, and signal transmitters require more rigid and durable designs necessary to withstand prolonged exposure to the elements. Deer and turkey hunters are discovering the advantage of having the batteries of a remote feeder maintained by a small solar charger. With the addition of a charge monitor, the batteries will be properly charged on a daily basis, which prolongs the battery life as well as ensuring proper, unattended operation for many days or weeks. If it weren’t for refilling the feed hopper, or checking nearby game cameras, there would be no need to intrude into an area and add unwanted human scent until hunting season.

Rigid cells work well when you don’t have to pack and transport them, so the next challenge for designers was making units smaller while maintaining, or better yet, increasing their output.

Brunton’s revolutionary SolarRolls™ have made it possible to replenish power sources on even the most remote mountaintops, with only a pound or less weight added to your load. The advantage of having a flexible panel that is easily rolled up and shoved into a backpack makes these devices the biggest no-brainer since Benjamin Franklin flew his kite.

Digital camera charging with a SolarRoll Charger.

SolarRolls are waterproof, and been proven in the field by even the most adventuresome fishermen, hunters, kayakers or Alpine extreme sports enthusiasts. Fortunately, for those of us who only want to maintain a cell phone or video camera, SolarRolls do not disdain the ordinary power seeker.

Panels are available in a variety of output levels, and you need only match your need to the panel. Naturally, since the collective number of cells determines the amount of power produced, price is directly proportionate to power output.

Flexible Solar Panels are also referred to as amorphous because they lack a rigidly defined shape. Important features to look for in a solar cell include reverse flow protection, which prevents your batteries from being drained instead of charged in low, or no light conditions; the ability to link multiple units together for more output, construction of UV impervious materials and waterproof integrity.

In general terms, the following levels of output will suffice for the listed devices, but you should check the manual for your own devices before purchasing a panel to make sure that you have the right one for your individual needs. While some panels are adequate for charging a device such as a cell phone, depending on the brand and model you have, it may be enough power to operate as well as recharge a device. Again, refer to your manual.

  • 14 Watts - (15.4 Volts / 900 mA)
    Ideal for running satellite phones and charging laptops
  • 9 Watts - (15.4 Volts / 600 mA)
    Designed for running cell phones and charging digital and video cameras
  • 4.5 Watts - (15.4 Volts / 300 mA)
    Perfect for charging small electronics like cell phones GPS units and PDA’s

Today, there is no place that is too remote for necessary tools such as the 12-volt Tailgater blender. How far we have come with electronic innovation is impressive, but what I am most excited about is how far we may yet be able to go with technology that harnesses the power of the sun.