At approximately 4pm on Oct 18, my phone died. In our modern age, those words fill people with dread, as they mean your constant connection to the world’s information has been severed without your approval. Fortunately, I was near plenty of other computing devices, so I wasn’t entirely cut off, and I had ample access to power for recharging it. Whew, disaster averted!
Putting aside the argument of whether or not we’re too dependent on this type of technology, having a backup for charging your phone seems like a good idea. In my case, I had a small 6-watt solar panel available that I set up on a table outside. The setup was started at 4:25pm and less than an hour later, at 5:05 pm, I was able to power the phone up. It reported only 16 percent power, but it’s not a bad electricity haul for a partially overcast day and only 40 minutes of charging.
From this short trial, it was evident that one of these panels could be quite useful if normal grid power was unavailable. Another great use case could be mounting one of these to a backpack while hiking in order to keep your communication equipment active during a long trek.
Besides simply knowing that you can revive your phone in an emergency, another way to measure this type of unit’s effectiveness would be to calculate how long it would take to pay for itself and the power you’ll save using it. However, in the case of a phone at least, it would be a long, long time. According tothis on ZDNet, it takes only 84 cents per year to charge an iPhone 6 Plus, which has the biggest battery of the Apple phones. Similarly-sized Samsung phones would cost about the same, with older models costing less. My own very rough estimate of my phone’s power cost was .125 cents per charge, given a yearly cost of 46 cents per 365 days if charged every day.
Since my particular 6-watt panel cost nearly $70 with tax, this would mean a payback of roughly 150 years. If a good return on investment is your goal, perhaps putting your money into a savings account would be a better idea. Although things can always be better, it’s nice to step back once in a while and realize just how good we have it. The power for something that would have been considered a supercomputer 20 years ago can now fit in the palm of your hand and access a seemingly infinite amount of information. Each of these can be powered with roughly two quarters worth of power per year.
So a portable panel is a poor investment money-wise, but could be a good option if the power grid goes out. I did a little more testing at my house in the generally sunny region of Tampa, Florida. Tests are summarized in the following results:
Test 1 10/18/2016
My phone (Android Moto G) died. It was put out around 4:25 pm, with the panel pointed roughly toward the sun. I checked it at 5:05pm and was able to power it up. It was reading at only 16 percent at the time, and soon dropped to 15 percent, reporting a low battery.
Test 2 10/20/2016
I set up the charger on the table at 10:10am; it was collecting power within five minutes. Power initially read at 46 percent. It was placed on roughly the same spot as before, in a semi-shaded area, not really aimed towards the sun.
I checked my phone at 12:10pm. It was very bright at that moment and the charger was hot. The phone was resting under the charger to shield it and was warm. The phone read at 44 percentlower than before, but a two percent drop over two hours seems better than normal. The charging icon showed up immediately. Perhaps the charger did not give sufficient (or any) power to charge the panel during the earlier time, but the phone did start to charge later.
Test 3 10/21/2016
I set my phone on the same table at 12:50pm with a 53 percent charge. The panel was facing up, but it was not aimed toward the sun. I checked my phone at 2:21pm; it read at 72 percent power. It was still sunny out at the time, though a partial cloud cover was seen while checking. I checked again at 2:55pm and the phone read at 79 percent. It was sunny when the final check was made.
Test 4 10/24/2016
Hooked up an iPad 3 to the charger at 11:50am with a five percent charge. The sun was fairly bright, and when plugged in, I noticed that it read at six percent almost immediately after panel attachment, but the iPad didnt show as charging.
When I checked again at 4:52pm, it was in the shade from our house. Power read at 28 percent. The device had charged significantly, but it was definitely not at full power.
As you can see from these tests, charging from your house’s electrical grid is normally the best way to keep your electronics functional. On the other hand, though more costly, a home solar system can produce a much shorter payback period and give you some power backup options. If you just want a backup for your phone or tablet, perhaps one of these small panels would be a good fit!
Jeremy Cook is obsessed with tech and creating DIYs. He likes to test new gadgets, like the solar panel phone charger mentioned here, and gives some great advice on how to use them. To see a selection of Home Depot solar panel options,click here.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.
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