Charging Wisely

Solar chargers might be worth considering


Making Ripples

If only coffee could charge electronic devices the way it does coffee drinkers. Of course, gadgets need electricity, and depending on the energy source, that’s bad news for the environment and people living with the damage wrought from electricity generation (such as mountaintop removal). However, if your source is renewable, charging becomes change-making!

There are a variety of chargers offered online, and one huge category is solar. Portable solar chargers are used for mobile devices such as phones, tablets, cameras, handheld game consoles, Bluetooth electronics and more. These kinds probably won’t charge laptops; you would need more voltage for that. Most solar chargers double as power banks, not only creating electricity but also storing the energy inside a battery.

There are so many manufacturers of solar chargers (and new ones coming on the market all the time) that this is merely an introduction to considerations buyers might want to have before shopping for a solar charger / battery bank. Before buying, think about power input, battery capacity, form, function, cost and compatibility.

Compatibility is probably the most important, because using the wrong charger may slowly damage your electronics (without even giving obvious signs until it’s too late). Find out what charge ports are available with each power bank or solar charger. Many companies list which brands’ products are compatible. Look at whether the ports are USB-A, USB-C, or micro USB (the latter is common with Android devices).

It’s important to consider the max amount of power that these small solar panels could gain from the sun. If it’s cloudy or humid, this will decrease your max gain, but many other factors can effect input as well, including how you position the device (such as keeping it stationery, tilting it as the sun moves, or hanging it from a backpack).

Consider how many milliamp-hours (mAh) the charger has. The higher the number, the more capacity the batteries have. The standard smartphone has a battery that’s about 2,500mAh, so the batteries should be able to handle that – preferably, you could get more than one full charge out of the unit. Unfortunately, the power you can reasonably expect to get from a bank is 80 percent of its rated capacity.

Naturally, you’ll want to know the form factor of any charger. How big is it? Is it easy to carry or heavy? Is it more like a brick, or a series of fold-out solar panels? Some chargers have four or more panels. Read reviews to see if other customers have found the product durable. Many solar chargers are dust proof, waterproof, and resistant to shocks from drops. My own charger fell off a balcony years ago, and I recommend not dropping these fragile products or they will meet a similar fate as mine!

You can buy a fairly good phone charger for $25 online. If you’re serious and need a lot of power for larger appliances, the price can go as high as $2,000. Alternatively, your cell phone provider may sell or know about top solar powered cell phone chargers that are compatible with your current phone. If they don’t, asking them about it may encourage them to research options. CREDO Mobile once made accessories like the Solio solar phone charger available, but as of this writing, customer support explained that it is no longer available.

Solar panels and their itty bitty kin, chargers, are not necessarily eco-friendly. It’s a trade-off to buy a product manufactured unsustainably in order to sustainably charge devices. If the product lasts a long time, it could be worth it to use less electricity from non-renewable sources. The choice is yours. Even if you don’t plan on using an alternative charging method for your devices, you can still help the environment by simply using them less often. The less you need to charge, the more energy you can save!

Amanda Bancroft is a writer, artist, and naturalist living in an off-grid tiny house on Kessler Mountain. She and her husband Ryan blog about their adventures and offer tips to those wanting to make a difference at

Categories: Making Ripples