What are Solar Battery Chargers?

Our world today relies heavily on electronics & gadgets. Laptops, cell phones, tablets & cameras are a basic necessity today for every working professional. Such devices upgrade their technology every passing day and yet suffer from a major limitation –Batteries. These devices require sufficient battery capacity to keep them in activity. Charging such devices can be troublesome when staying off the grid or travelling long distances. This is where a solar battery charger can be of great help!

What is a Solar Battery Charger

The solar technology works on a very simple principle. When semiconductor material (Example: Silicon), is exposed to sunlight, electricity is produced. One can either use the energy directly at the point of production or store it with the help of batteries to be used during the evening and night when there is no solar energy available. Solar battery chargers are essentially solar panels which provide the energy during the day time to charge the batteries connected to it. The energy available from these solar panels to charge the batteries depends on the area of the solar panels and the available amount of sunlight during the day.

The solar battery chargers come in various capacities based on the capacity of battery used for charging. The capacity of the battery is determined by the power rating of the appliance & the time period for which the appliance is desired to be run. Thus indirectly, the capacity of a solar battery charger is determined by the kind of electrical appliance it plans to run.

Energy efficient lights like LED’s and CFL’s can be run on small batteries for sufficient number of hours every night. Such batteries can then be recharged everyday using a handy solar battery charger by simply placing it under the sun. Such lights can be used as task lights, emergency lights, study lights in case of non-availability of any plug points for charging.

Another potential application of solar battery chargers is in the arena of mobile charging. According to a very recent study in India, more people possessed personal mobile phones than the number of people who had their own bathrooms at home ! But for most of the mobile phone customers in off-grid areas, charging a mobile phone poses a big challenge as they are forced to walk or cycle down to the closest town to charge their phones for a certain price.

A solar battery charger is an ideal solution for such scenarios. An individual could possess his very own charger to solely charge his mobile phone right outside his house under the sun. Some solar chargers can simultaneously charge a mobile phone and a battery for an LED/CFL lighting solution in a few hours of sunlight!

Solar Chargers: Opportunity in Developing Economies

There are at least 51.3 million households in India who do not have access to the grid! Very few products around the globe can boast of a market so huge & yet untapped.

Many manufacturers have already started entering this market by designing affordable & handly solar based solutions with solar battery chargers to capture a large chunk of the market share ( Examples: Barefoot Power, Greenlight Planet, Schneider Electric).

For greater market penetration of solar battery chargers, the initial cost for such systems has to be subsidized or broken down. Already the Govt of India through The Energy & Resource Institute (TERI), has initiated community based solar battery charging stations through the scheme – ‘Lighting a Billion Lives’ (LABL) in the year 2009 which reduces the burdens of initial cost of solar lanterns .

Advantages of solar battery chargers

Some of the key advantages of Solar battery chargers are:

  • These chargers are robust & sturdy. They do not possess any complicated circuits & have an operational life of 20 to 25 years. They require very little maintenance due to their simple design.
  • The chargers are portable and lightweight. They come in handy while travelling as they operate at any location with the help of available sunlight.
  • Solar battery chargers are universal. They can charge any type of rechargeable battery provided the capacity of the charger is larger than the capacity of the battery. Thus the same charger can be used to charge mobile phones, cameras & small lights

Limitations of Solar battery chargers

The current constraint with solar battery chargers are its initial costs compared to conventional battery chargers. Hence solar battery chargers are currently limited to off-grid markets where grid charging is not available.

Charging devices via solar battery chargers are time consuming. It takes at least 3-4 hours of direct sunlight to charge any device completely which is impractical in some cases.

These chargers rely on sunlight. Charging of any device is a challenge during cloudy weather and times of rainfall as the charger can provide only limited amount of power to the batteries resulting in incomplete charging.

Mapping the future

Solar battery chargers are ideal for small devices like cameras and mobile phones. To charge larger batteries, larger solar panels are required. The larger systems are expensive & bulky. But, with conventional energy getting expensive and continous improvement in solar technology, it should be possible to have very efficient and cost effective solar chargers to bring both large and small appliance and machines to life!