Modern life, increasingly, involves portable technology. Whether it’s laptops, cell-phones, MP3 players, handheld games or all of the above, all that tech requires juice to keep it running, creating an ever-increasing carbon footprint.
One way to nip this vicious cycle in the bud is to use an off-grid charger–i.e., one that does not need to get plugged in to produce juice for your portables. As the market for such “advanced charging technologies” has grown over the years (it’s estimated this year to total $1.5, and to reach a whopping $34 billion by 2015), solar chargers have proven some of the most popular.
Solar chargers make use of a photovoltaic solar panel–often thin-film–to harness the sun’s energy and turn it into electricity, acting as a portable primary or back-up charger for a variety of portable devices, via a large number of adaptor “tips,” typically included in the price of purchase. As an added bonus, these chargers (like most off-grid chargers) are nearly universal, knocking out the e-waste associated with a number of different, product-specific wall adaptors.
Solar chargers come in all different forms and formats–from those that fit in a purse for ease of transport to those that roll out into mats for maximum surface area. Some are waterproof; some are not (a factor to consider when using a solar charger for camping, back-packing, or river trips). They also vary in charge time versus electrical output and performance in indirect sun (important for using solar chargers in less-than-sunny climates). There are also a whole class of solar chargers built directly into bags, whether laptop bags, backpacks, or bike panniers.
According to Kriss Bergethon, president of Solar Sphere, an online solar store that carries solar panels, solar chargers and solar kits for a variety of applications, there are now literally hundreds of different solar chargers available, up from a few models just a couple of years ago. He attributes the boom to increased efficiences, which means that today’s solar chargers are lighter and more compact–leading more manufacturers to create solar chargers, and more consumers to adopt the technology.