You often hear about home solar and megawatt solar projects, but micro solar devices are also important energy sources for both the developing world and for consumers in our own industrial world.
Micro solar, sometimes referred to as “pico solar,” are portable solar chargers that typically consist of a small photovoltaic panel, some type of battery, and a USB connection. Mobile devices, such as phones, tablets, lights, and laptops can juice up from either the micro solar’s battery pack or directly via the solar panel.
The benefit of a small solar powered charger is also a challenge, since most micro solar products have low-power solar panels that charge its batteries or external electronics very slowly. The good news is that more powerful micro solar products are coming into the market.
The latest example is Harold Tan’s recent—and successful—Kickstarter campaign for the SunJack solar charger with battery pack. These compact 14 Watt and 20 Watt mobile solar chargers are designed to be the most portable solar charger ever produced.
In fact, the SunJack can power 8 iPhones or 1.4 iPads with only 5 hours of sunlight, whereas similar portable solar chargers can charge only one iPhone in nearly twice the amount of time, or even longer.
In the industrialized world, micro solar has many uses, from the campers and off-grid recreationalists, to the beach family that wants to keep all of their USB-based mp3 players, tablets, and mobile phones powered on throughout the day.
On the more serious side, portable micro solar is increasingly the latest addition to home or car emergency kits.
Whether it’s Super Storm Sandy or the recent harsh snow and rainstorms that have temporarily knocked out parts of the U.S. grid, a powered cell phone is today’s lifeline to an ambulance, rescue services, or it can be the main point of contact for distant friends and family. Cell phones are also the most common conduit for news and evacuation information. Quite simply, when the grid goes down, micro-solar with some type of battery storage is the best answer for consistent charging of mobile devices during emergencies and utility outages.
Beyond our industrial world, people in rural communities often burn candles, wood or kerosene for lighting. Not only is this method expensive, flammable, and toxic, the villagers must travel long distances to either collect or buy these fuel sources, wasting time and money. Micro solar allows these rural residents to power their cell phones and lighting from solar instead of dirty and expensive fossil fuel sources and generators.
Case in point is Papua New Guinea, where rural village people commonly burn kindling indoors for lighting. As a result, many of these Papuans are dying from pleurisy and pneumonia due to this type of ancient but deadly lighting method.
Micro solar battery solutions such as a SunJack with an LED light can not only provide shareable non-toxic indoor lighting for these villagers, but also help young children to continue their educational studies at night.
Solar powered lanterns also benefit adults, who often work or do household chores by the same indoor kindling or kerosene light. Of course, with free onsite power from the sun, solar powered lights also save villagers the cost and time of constantly having to buy or find fuel for lighting.
Micro solar applications are really just at their infancy. As Google Glass and other wearable electronics become more prevalent and developing countries use more electricity, micro solar chargers will become a common energy source for families and individuals around the world.