Portable Computer Solar Chargers: How to Choose

You love your laptop. It’s a constant on-the-go-companion for working outside the office, or for keeping up with friends. The problem is that when your battery runs low, there isn’t always have an outlet handy. Luckily, there’s a solar solution to this dilemma: portable computer solar chargers.

A Variety of Solar Charger Styles

Many different options and styles exist for solar laptop chargers. There are solar rolls that spread out like a picnic blanket, or types that open like a briefcase. Portability and the unit’s capacity for collecting the sun’s light are considerations you’ll need to weigh. When buying one, look for how long it takes the unit to charge, what kind of electrical output it gives and for how long. Also, your laptop may be energy-efficient, or it could be an electricity hog. The same charger will work differently on two different laptops. So research your computer’s energy use first.

Portable Computer Solar Charger

CC flickr photo courtesy of AnnieGreenSprings

In terms of compatibility, many portable computer solar chargers out there come with a variety of adapters for your cell phone, mp3 player and laptop, as well as output voltage adapters. Make sure to check before you buy, or else you’ll be taking another trip to the store looking for adapters.

Here are a couple popular options:

  • The Brunton Foldable Solar Array is a 26-Watt charger that employs a thin metallic film to convert sunlight into electricity. It folds out to 21.5” x 37.5” and folds down to about the size of a sheet of copier paper. It can run your laptop with full sunlight. It retails at around $540, but with a little comparison shopping, you can find it for a discount.
  • The Solar Laptop Charger & Portable Power Kit comes with its own battery. Six to eight hours in the sun will charge the battery enough for three hours of use for a 25-watt laptop. It can also run any other 12 Volt or 115 Volt appliance or device. Folded size of the panel is 11″ x 8″ x 0.7″ and the battery is 12.5″ x 9.25″ x 8″. It retails for about $499.
  • QuikerTek’s Apple Juicz is a fold-out charger specifically for Macbooks. It comes in a 27 and 55 Watt model. The 27-Watt model unfolds to 41.5” x 30.5” and will re-charge your battery in 8 to 12 hours. The 55-Watt model unfolds to 59” x 43” and recharges your battery in under six hours. They fold down considerably and weigh about two and four pounds, respectively. It’s expensive, but effective. They retail from about $700 to $1200.

Drawbacks

These chargers are not really practical for full-time (12+ hours a day) use. The lower-power ones mainly provide a trickle charge which will extend your battery life, but will not power your laptop on their own. The higher-power ones can run your computer, but only in full sun with the computer directly connected (since most don’t come with their own battery storage system). So if you’re dreaming of getting your laptop completely off the grid, you’ll need a more substantial solution with a battery. But if your job takes you out in the field, or you camp a lot, this type of charger may be just what you need to extend your battery life.

Many of the above-mentioned products will work very well for digital cameras, mp3 players and PDAs, but smaller, cheaper options exist for those. As we’ve seen, finding a charger that is sure-fire for laptops is certainly more expensive.

The biggest drawback, of course, is that you need the sun to cooperate by providing enough light for your charger to convert into electricity, giving your laptop a consistent flow of energy to run or recharge your battery. When you don’t have sunlight, you can’t generate as much power. These chargers will perform better in full sun. No portable charger, one you could carry in a laptop attache case, can fully replace home AC power, but top manufacturers are working on better chargers. Portable computer solar chargers are a growing market.

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