Power Bank Solar Charger Instructions, Tips, and Troubleshooting
If your power bank solar charger did not come with instructions, or you simply misplaced them, then you’ve come to the right place. Although they are designed to be relatively simple devices, new electronics with inputs, outputs, lights, noises, and more can be a bit overwhelming without the proper guidance.
What to Expect From This Guide
This guide is designed to provide instructions, tips, and troubleshooting for small, handheld solar charging devices.
At Shop Solar Kits, we completely understand the value of having a little extra power on the go and are passionate about electricity independence with free solar energy. For a look at the possibilities of larger solar chargers, please read our best solar battery bank guide.
Although there are hundreds of brands and thousands of models of power bank solar chargers on the market today, we’ve assembled this information to serve as a comprehensive resource for simple instructions and frequently asked questions.
Below, we will outline the features and specs of typical solar chargers, showcase practical uses, provide operating instructions, and offer plenty of purchasing tips and tricks for picking the right product.
Features and Specs of a Power Bank Solar Charger
Although solar energy generation and storage may seem complicated, portable power banks are actually very simple products. As they are meant to be laid out in the sun, they are also typically very durable, weather-resistant, and long-lasting. Of course, the actual product lifespan will always depend on both the quality of the product and the frequency of use.
Almost all power bank solar chargers come with the following:
- An onboard solar panel
- Built-in battery storage
- Input port for AC, DC, or USB charging
- One or more outputs (typically USB)
- And a hard, durable outer casing
How much battery does a solar charger have?
The majority of small solar chargers have a battery bank between 8,000 mAh and 14,000 mAh. For modern smartphones, this is roughly enough electricity to charge a cell phone 3 to 5 times, with varied amounts of battery capacity.
Depending on the manufacturer, the battery of a solar charger will be rated in either amp-hours or watt-hours. In most instances, products will be advertised with their approximate runtime for normal electrical uses.
Besides finding the battery capacity of a potential solar charger, it is also important to look for the product’s expected lifetime. This may be expressed as “life cycles” on a product spec sheet, which refers to how many times the bank can be charged and discharged effectively. Of course, checking online reviews is a great way to see whether or not a solar charger is likely to live out its expected lifespan.
Best Uses for Solar Power Bank Chargers
By using a solar charger, you are unlocking access to electricity anywhere you go, at no additional cost to you or the environment. With the free and abundant energy of the sun, it is possible to charge your phones and other devices anywhere the sun shines.
Most commonly, solar power bank chargers are used for:
- Travel of all kinds
- Camping trips and off-grid adventures
- Sports games, tailgates, and parties
- Emergency preparedness
- RVs, vans, campers, skoolies, and other mobile homes
If you really think about it, an extra few phone charges in your or backpack is always a handy thing to have around both for yourself and those around you. In larger solar-powered generators, it is even possible to charge many devices at one time. For instance, in our Ego battery review. we showcase a solar charging generator with 4 USB outlets and 3 AC (wall) plugs.
How to Use a Power Bank Solar Charger
Aptly named, a power bank solar charger is used to charge devices with solar power. Technically, however, the power bank charges its own battery capacity and then discharges the energy to your phone. With this, these devices should actually be called “solar chargers and dischargers.”
Although that name is not very catchy, it truly shows how easy it is to use a power bank solar charger. In this sense, the process of using a solar power bank can be broken down into two simple steps:
#1: Charge the battery
#2: And discharge the power
Yes, it really is that easy. Some call it magic, others call it science. And actually, the science behind a small solar power charger is very simple to understand.
How Stored Solar Power Works
In between steps one and two, you are free to keep your power stored away for as long as you’d like. However, it is important to know that a battery will start to slowly lose its charge as it approaches its rated shelf life.
For small chargers, we recommend recharging your bank every 2-3 months if you always want to have a bit of extra power on hand. Some premium devices have rated shelf lives of up to 1 year, which makes them some of the easiest to use devices for reliable access to small amounts of power.
Of course, you should always remember to “top off” your battery if you are able to before using your charger. Even a few weeks without use can cause an idle battery to slowly lose its charge, which would not be a pleasant surprise when attempting to use it in a real-life situation.
Charging Your Solar Power Bank
For most small solar power banks, there is more than one way to charge the internal battery. Charging time will vary depending on both the electricity source and the amount of electrical input. Below, we will outline some of the most common methods used to power up a small solar battery bank.
Charging a Power Bank with Solar Power
As the name obviously implies, power bank solar chargers can be charged with solar power. Today, many small and handheld products have the solar panel directly mounted onto the device for a small, all-in-one solar generator.
For instance, you may have heard of the Patriot Power Cell. which is a popular all-in-one solar phone charger. Although we would not personally recommend this product, there are many similar devices that incorporate a solar panel directly on top of the battery.
Alternatively, some power banks can be charged with independent solar panels hooked up to the battery reserve. Although this is not very practical for small solar chargers, if you are looking for a large solar battery bank, then high-efficiency PV solar panels are an absolute must.
For instance, if you are charging an ego battery with the help of a small solar generator, then you will need to purchase solar panels separately. Although this is not as convenient, small all-in-one solar chargers are generally very limited by small or inefficient solar panels.
Using Other Electricity to Charge Your Power Bank
Alternatively, most power bank solar devices can be recharged with other sources of electricity. Most commonly, this is accomplished with a USB or USB-C port and cord. Occasionally, it may also be possible to charge a solar power bank with AC (wall outlet) or DC (carport) electricity using the right-sized device and equipment.
If you are considering a small solar charger that cannot be recharged with alternative electricity, then we highly recommend you reconsider. Whenever you are packing for your next trip, it will be incredibly convenient to simply plug in your solar charger to the wall or a USB outlet to ensure you will be able to bring some extra electricity along for the ride.
Discharging Your Solar Battery (Using the Power)
Of course, once our solar power bank is fully charged, then you will be able to use the power to charge your devices. Most commonly, power bank solar chargers are designed specifically to charge your phone, camera, drone, or other USB-powered devices.
With higher capacity models, it may be possible to charge larger devices or even provide continuous electricity for appliances, electronics, and more.
How to Charge a Phone with a Power Bank
We will be the first to say that charging a phone with a solar power bank is not rocket science, and can typically be figured out in a matter of seconds. Once you are sure that your battery bank has been charged (usually indicated by a series of lights), then you can simply plug your phone directly into the device’s USB outlets.
If your phone does not have the same outlet type that your charger provides, then you will need to purchase an adapter. Although this is still an effective solution, we encourage you to take a bit of time to find a power bank that directly matches your electrical needs, if possible.
Simply insert the right cord, and wallah, your phone should begin to charge. If your device is not indicating a charge is present, then you must ensure everything is connected properly and that the bank still has battery life remaining to discharge.
Powering Other Devices with a Solar Charger
Secondly, solar chargers with enough battery onboard are also fully capable of charging many other small electronics besides personal cell phones. For tablets, computers, cameras, drones, handheld video games, and more, solar chargers can help provide you with the extra battery life you need for staying online.
Using a high-powered solar charger, devices with AC and DC ports (in addition to the USB plug-ins), make it possible to energize any household item with portable solar power. Although running time will be limited by the size of the battery, chargers with enough power can help run CPAP machines and other medical devices with silent, clean electricity.
Before you plug anything other than a phone into a solar charger, be sure to identify your devices charging capacity. If the wattage or amperage of your large electronic item exceeds the continuous capacity of your solar charger, it can lead to permanent system damage.
The performance of a power bank solar charger will depend on a number of factors to ultimately determine how effective it is for both charging and discharging. These variables can be divided into product and usage factors, some of which can be improved with the proper adjustments.
If your solar charger seems to be underperforming, it may be because of one of the following common issues:
- Panels are not in direct sunlight (required for efficient charging)
- The charger is or has been, in temperatures outside of the recommended operating range
- The solar panel is covered in dust or has been scratched
- The device has overheated while charging on a metal (or other heat-capturing) surface
- Or the charger has been used beyond recommended discharge power capacity
To test your solar charger, simply stick it out in the sun for a few hours and let it do its thing. Whenever it comes time to check the charge, be careful when picking up your power bank as it may be very hot to the touch after hours in the sun. Once safe to use, simply plug in your electronics and begin to power your life with solar energy.
Power Bank Solar Charger Purchasing Tips and Tricks
To close things out, we’d like to take a moment to outline three of the most important tips and tricks to keep in mind when shopping for a power bank solar charger. With a high-quality product, hopefully, you will never have to seek out additional instructions on how to properly operate your device.
Always Get A Little Extra Battery
First and foremost, a little extra power never hurts. Unless you’re planning an ultralight backpacking trip, you will barely notice a difference between a 7 oz or a 2 pound (32 oz) solar charger. In fact, a heavier unit may even be the sign of a higher quality item, with both internal and external premium components.
When you are using your device, you will be thankful to pack a little extra power for both ordinary and emergency use. Imagine yourself on your next vacation, charging your phone with solar energy. We are sure that your friends and family will find a way to ask whether or not they could use a bit of power as well.
Beware of Fake Solar Chargers
Second, be on the lookout for fake solar chargers when shopping around for the right bargain item. Because many solar chargers can also be powered with USB electricity, there have been many products created with fake solar panels by shady companies.
The best way to evade a fake solar charger is by properly checking the manufacturers’ product reviews. If you are unable to find any information whatsoever online about a solar charger manufacturer, then that is a red flag indicating a possible decoy panel.
If you have a gut feeling that your power bank solar charger includes a fake panel, closely inspect the unit to see if it’s the real deal. Look to ensure that the solar cells are aligned and the electrical components seem to be working properly. After hours of unsuccessful charging, it also may be possible that a part may have malfunctioned. This brings us to our last tip.
Pay Close Attention to Warranties, Terms, and Conditions
Last but not least, it is important to always pay close attention to power bank solar charger warranties, terms, and conditions before making a purchase. If you’re currently searching for instructions on how to find your product’s warranty, then unfortunately it may be too late.
In general, solar chargers are designed to be affordable which means some low-priced items may come in cheaper quality builds. Although you do not need a multi-year warranty to ensure your cell phone has a bit of extra battery, we strongly suggest staying away from solar chargers with no or minimal warranty information.
With the wide array of products on the market today, power bank solar charger instructions will always vary between models. However, we hope that this resource has provided answers to some of the most commonly sought-after information regarding these handy devices.
To continue your green energy decisions, we recommend that you seek out the exact end-of-life instructions for your specific solar charger to verify whether or not it can be recycled. Hopefully, however, you will not need to think about recycling your high-quality battery bank for a very long time.
If you’re looking to learn more about how to store larger loads of renewable energy, feel free to check out our solar bank instructions for generators and DIY systems. Using the same technology that powers small solar chargers, large power banks, or “power walls” can electrify an entire home with endless solar energy.
Best Solar Battery Charger/Energy Banks in 2023
Solar power is on the rise, and so are solar power banks. These new power banks hold a lot of juice and have the added benefit of not having to rely on the grid to power up your devices. While a regular power bank can recharge your smartphone 3-5 times, you can freely add one more charge cycle to that if your power bank has its mini solar panel. A great way to rely a little less on the grid, you will be thrilled with just how many solar power bank models there are.
There are two ways to understand solar power banks as opposed to other power banks. You can see them as solar chargers that can also store clean energy, or you can see them as power banks with an added solar charger. Whichever way you choose, make sure that going solar is no mistake, even in the micro-form.
A portable solar power bank is the best way to ensure you have backup power in your Long road trips, long-haul flights and the recent blackout in the state of Texas are all there to remind us that we are just too dependent on the grid. A solar charger power bank can change that, as you always get that little bit of extra juice to push you through the long day.
How Does a Solar Power Bank Work?
A solar power bank is a simple device. It consists of a solar panel, or more solar panels, and a power bank in which the power charger stores clean energy. In tandem, the two enable you a worry-free trip for as long as there is enough sun.
The solar panel installed in your solar power bank is not a match for your regular plugin wall charger. It is rather a complementary device that can extend your battery by a few hours. If you live in a sunny area or travel to one, then leaving your solar power charger in the sun all day should be enough to keep one device going for days with no need for the grid.
On the other side of the spectrum, or rather the device is the power pack. A power pack is a fancy name for a pack of batteries. Large capacity batteries are connected in series and used to recharge whatever device you attach to them. You would usually use a power outlet to charge your power banks, but you can also use solar energy in a solar power bank.
When you plug your iPad or iPhone into the power pack, the battery power charges your devices. Solar power banks come in various capacities and designs and choosing the right one can be a hassle. You can choose between models with 10,000 and 25,000mAh, enough to refill your device up to 6 times! Since everyone’s needs are different, there is no perfect power bank.
Another very prominent kind of solar power bank can be seen in town greens and city bus stops: public solar chargers. These amazing devices use solar power to charge batteries during the day, and you can use them whenever you want to charge your phone. Other solar power banks are more portable, but public chargers have a greater power output.
What are the Types of Solar Energy Chargers?
What kind of solar power bank you may use depends on how much battery power you need to begin with. There are small power banks that can power a single device once or twice, there is a type of portable solar power bank that can charge two devices, or even more, simultaneously, and finally, there are public solar power chargers that can power dozens of devices all at the same time.
Small, Portable Models
Small, portable models of solar chargers come in various shapes, sizes, and capacities, both to store energy and produce solar energy. They start small, with the tiniest of the having a 3,000mAh capacity. We do not recommend them. They simply do not store enough solar juice to keep you running for a long time. They are good for a single charge cycle only.
On the other hand, a 10,000mAh model of a solar phone charger would be enough to power a single phone 3-4 times over. This increased power capacity also means a bulkier model, but they are not much bigger than some cell phones. A solar phone charger of this size could also power two devices via two USB ports. Since there is more power to use, they also come in with a built-in flashlight.
The integrated flashlight also comes in bigger models. Do not worry. This LED flashlight does not suck out too much power out of your solar bank; you can even use them as a night light when camping. The LED flashlight comes in handy when going through the back of your car, looking for small items or exploring a cool cave somewhere in the mountains of Italy.
All these solar power bank models come with an integrated solar panel. The solar panel is enough to top up your device when it is not used much, but these small but efficient solar panels cannot keep your phone alive if you are a heavy phone user.
Fold-out models of solar panel battery packs also come in a variety of capacities and designs. While it may be true that they are less resilient than their monoblock, mono solar panel counterparts, they offer you way more battery power and are much faster to recharge. A five-day charge time on some devices is easily one day on these foldable solar power banks.
There are smaller capacity solar power banks, as well as bigger capacity solar charging devices. Some of these models also enable wireless charging and charging via USB ports. While the best solar chargers are difficult to find, the best solar power bank must belong to this group.
Fold-out models have up to four solar panels and much better solar charging capability than their smaller counterparts. A few hours of direct sunlight a day is enough to keep them full and ready to use. Just plug in your micro USB cable and enjoy an evening of music while far away from the grid.
These models come in capacities of up to 25,000mAh. This is enough to power your cell phone up to 10 times over, depending on your phone’s battery capacity. Your phone’s very high battery capacity reduces the charge cycles you can get out of your battery bank, but the long battery life means you do not need to charge as many times.
Some people may get sceptical and say that fold-out solar chargers are not as durable as some other chargers, but there are models today that are even dustproof. Rest assured that no producer will put out a device with solar capabilities that you will end up charging through your wall outlet exclusively.
Public chargers are a whole different level of a solar charger. While they may not be as portable as the models outlined above, their many USB ports, being able to charge multiple devices all at the same time and a high solar capability (thanks to large size solar panels on top) are more than enough to justify the expense that many cities paid to have them installed.
Public solar chargers are usually placed in very sunny locations throughout the city and offer all the benefits of solar charging and some extra shade that you can rest in while using a USB port to charge your phone. Portable solar chargers cannot compete with these solar giants in their solar charging capacity and solar power they can produce. Think of them as a city parasol with a solar charging feature.
However, most public chargers simply lack a wireless charger. The technology is new and a little bit expensive, but as long as you have a micro USB cable with you, no need to worry. You can even find them on your camping trips, as they are a great way to keep the charging device you need so much while enjoying outdoor activities.
Solar Power Banks vs Solar Chargers
There is a difference between solar power banks and solar chargers that may confuse some people. A solar power bank is a device with a charging capability, which can also STORE some of the energy produced in its solar power bank. You can then use this stored energy when you need to have your devices powered. Most people say that these are the best solar power banks.
On the other hand, solar chargers do not have any batteries to store energy in. In this regard, they are different from a battery bank, as you only use solar panels to charge your device. A solar charger may be less versatile than an actual power bank but is still useful in emergencies. A micro USB or another kind of USB output is used to charge your electronic devices, and they do not have the option of fast charging.
Their solar panels are simply not big enough to provide a lot of power, and so, this kind of portable charger is best used on a small battery capacity cell phone that you only use here and there. Relying on a solar charger to juice up a larger cell phone may be in vain. They are the best solar power charger for outdoor use, for as long as there are enough sun’s rays and for a long time.
Factors to Consider before Buying
Before deciding to buy a portable solar charger, it may be useful to consider several factors. Your Smart devices need you to make a Smart decision and choose one of the best solar chargers, with more than one micro USB port and maybe even a wireless charger included.
Charging Time Using Solar Power
The charging time of even the best solar chargers is long. Even the best solar power bank still has to spend a considerable time in direct sunlight just to get a little bit of juice. Powering small devices with a single solar panel charger is not difficult, but the charging speed drops significantly for larger devices. Quick charging is also not available on these devices.
On the other hand, getting a multi solar panel solar charger or a fold-out model would mean this device can produce a high solar power capacity. The charging speed is much faster, and many of these more expensive models are water-resistant. All this makes them perfect for outdoor activities, and a large charging capacity means that you will be able to keep your electronic devices alive for a longer time.
Battery capacity is of paramount importance in any solar power bank. A high capacity solar power bank would mean that you can use this device as a portable charger for a longer time. You would get a fast charging feature over a 2.1A USB output (enough to charge a tablet) and wireless charging with premium models.
Size and Weight
The size and the weight of your power bank can also determine which model is perfect for you. While some users enjoy the high capacity of a larger device, not everybody can carry a pound of battery power around for outdoor use. Some people prefer a smaller sized power bank and a single micro USB cable, and they are good to go.
Durability And Resistance To Weather
Many express concern about solar chargers ability to withstand weather conditions. They can be harsh sometimes. But many manufacturers have thought about this and have made their solar charging solutions resistant to weather and smaller water spillage. However, with fold-out models, a little bit of caution goes a long way since these devices have many moving parts that may get damaged.
Benefits of Using a Solar Powered Battery Charger
There are many benefits to using a solar charger to power your multiple devices. First of all, it is a green solution for everyday small capacity device charging. They cannot power your laptop (yet), but your cell phone, tablet and iWatch could easily benefit from these devices.
Secondly, you will be less reliant on the grid, and although a single USB output is not much if you get lost while on a camping trip, that USB output can help you find help when you need it. Even the simplest solar power bank has a fast charging option, and this may prove beneficial after your portable solar charger, and you cannot find an outlet to power your devices.
Taking Care of Your Solar Power Banks
Keeping your solar charger up and running for a long time should not be too much work. Keeping it dry most of the time and in a dark place when it is not charging will do the trick. Your solar power bank will easily last you a decade and even save you some money since there will be no surprise trips to a nearby bar for a round of beers when you need a good power bank.
Keep It Cool Well Ventilated
Keeping your solar power bank cool may seem counterintuitive, but moving it away from the sun can prolong its life when it is not charging. It can also help prolong the life of the flashlight if there is one that is integrated. Your solar power bank will thank you for years to come.
Always Charge Until Full (Avoid Draining up to 0%)
Draining your power bank to 0% can be dangerous, as some batteries simply cannot receive any more charge after they’ve been completely drained. So, whenever possible, save some energy in it and pretend like it’s not there.
When charging your solar power bank, be it on an outlet or using solar power, try as often as you can to charge it to 100%. Not doing this can significantly reduce your solar power bank life and charging speed. In some older models, you can even say ‘Bye, bye’ to your fast charging feature.
Utilize Solar Charger
Using the solar charger is probably the best way to recharge your power bank. This way, your battery gets small but constant amounts of energy. This will prolong the life of your power bank, although you may have to deal with a reduced capacity and charging speed. Taking just basic care of your portable charger will result in many years of loyal service.
Water-Resistant vs Waterproof
As any power bank is designed for outdoor use, it is no surprise that some producers are willing to go the extra mile and offer water-resistant and waterproof models. While water-resistant chargers can take a few splashes and humid conditions, go for waterproof models to ensure your power bank can withstand being submerged in the water.
They usually come equipped with special rubber casing and lids for USB ports. They offer a high solar charging capacity and a high charging speed. Models of up to 30,000mAh are available on Amazon. Some reviews show that people have experimented with water repellent sprays, but we do not recommend this, at least not over solar panels.
Best Solar Power Banks in 2021
Rleron has put out a solar power bank with a 25,000mAh capacity with a single solar panel. This great device features a high charging speed, several USB ports, but unfortunately, the single solar panel can only top up the existing capacity. It starts from 19.99 on Amazon.
Best for Camping
The BigBlue solar charger is not a power bank, but it is rather a four-piece solar panel with 28W of solar capacity. It cannot store power but can provide a high charging speed for your existing power bank. While it demands high solar exposure, it is a great solution for out in the wild. It starts at around 62.00.
The Hiluckey 25,000mAh Power Bank is the best fold-out model on the market right now. This portable device can charge your phone 8-10 times, and a high charging speed USB port, with 2.1A of power, can also run a tablet for several charge cycles. It starts at 46.99 on Amazon.
Although the Licorne 30,000mAh device has a single solar panel, the high capacity and changing speed are why we decided to give it the best overall place. It also has a wireless charging function so that you can enjoy high charging speed on any device. The low price of 34.84 on Amazon is also a big plus.
Best for Laptops
The Jackery Explorer 240 is sold on Amazon for as little as 199.99. This power pack can charge your laptop up to two times and your phone dozens of times. It does not come with a solar charger, but you have to buy one separately. There is also the Explorer 500 model, which comes with its solar panel for around 499.99.
How do I choose a portable power bank?
To choose the best portable power bank, you should consider your energy needs. You should think about your budget, power bank capacity, charging speed, the number of USB ports you may need and the type of USB output you want (1A or 2.1A). The lower the number, the longer the charging time with the type of USV output and current it uses. Buying a portable charger is a great investment that will last you many years, so avoid impulse shopping.
Does solar power bank really work?
Yes, solar power banks really work. A good solar charger, especially a fold-out model, could keep your device powered up for a very long time, and solar charging is something you can take anywhere with you. The best solar power banks of today have a multitude of USB ports and could easily power multiple devices all at the same time. One USB output simply does not do it anymore.
Is there a solar powered phone?
Although there were attempts to make a solar-powered phone, the current solar panel technology simply does not produce enough power to power a phone. Also, it could take several days just to run one charging cycle. Unsurprisingly enough, Samsung was the first to introduce the idea of solar charging in a phone, with their Solar Guru, or Guru E1107.
Can you charge a laptop with solar power?
Using rooftop solar could charge your laptop, but among the portable solutions, even the best solar chargers, unfortunately, could not. Laptop batteries are high capacity batteries that need a certain charging speed just to keep the device up and running. Solar charging, for now, is not efficient enough to make a power bank that could power your laptop.
A solar charger is a device that is here to stay. The very idea of solar charging is tempting, as you could use it anywhere: on a camping trip, in your office or even in your home. Solar charging speed and small capacity currently limit the technology, but this is set to change with more efficient solar solutions. The charging speed and solar efficiency are expected to rise, and having the luxury of not seeking an outlet whenever in a building is a dream we hope comes true.
DIY Solar USB Charger: 7 Steps (w/ Photos)
Just so you know, this page contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on one, at no extra cost to you I may earn a small commission.
I recently made a DIY solar USB charger that, in my opinion, is WAY better than most of the other designs out there.
It’s portable. It looks good. And it can charge your phone and USB devices faster than the mere trickle put out by most other homemade solar chargers.
That’s right — it’s a DIY solar charger that you’ll actually use.
It’s affordable and easy to make.
- 2 3W 9V solar panels
- 22 gauge stranded wire
- 5V DC/DC buck converter
- E6000 craft glue (a hot glue gun is pictured, but this is what I ended up using)
- Reusable grocery bag
- Heat shrink tubing (optional)
- 4 1/4″ eyelets (optional)
- Wire strippers
- Soldering iron
- Safety glasses
- Heat gun (optional)
- 1/4″ eyelet tools (optional)
- Hammer (optional)
Step 1: Prep the Fabric
For this design, I upcycled an old reusable grocery bag to cut a strip of fabric to which I attached the panels. It protects them and allows them to fold up for easy storage.
Place the panels, eyelets (if using), and DC/DC buck converter on the reusable grocery bag in your desired layout.
Tip: I recommend giving yourself 1″ or more of space between your solar panels so they can fold easily. I also gave myself more length than necessary so I could fold the fabric over the buck converter, as you’ll see in Step 6.
Cut the fabric to your desired dimensions with scissors. (Mine ended up being about 14″ long by 8.25″ wide.)
Step 2: Wire the Solar Panels in Parallel
Cut a length of wire to connect the panels’ positive terminals. Give yourself some slack in the wire so it isn’t pulled taut when the panels are folded.
Note: Because my panels have two pairs of terminals on back, before wiring I used a multimeter to check their voltages. It turned out the terminals that output 9 volts are the two “top” terminals — not the terminals with the “” and “-” signs. Strange.
Strip and solder the wire from positive terminal to positive terminal. (I decided to orient my panels in opposite directions to lessen the stress on the wire when the panels are folded.)
Tip: Keep your solder joints as flush as possible with your solar panels. This helps later on when gluing them to the fabric.
Cut a length of wire to connect the panels’ negative terminals. Once again, give yourself some slack.
Strip and solder the wire from negative terminal to negative terminal.
Step 3: Solder the Leads to the Panels
Cut a length of wire for the panels’ positive lead. It will connect one of the panels’ positive terminal to the buck converter’s positive terminal. Make sure it can reach where you want to place the converter. Don’t forget some slack!
Strip and solder the positive lead to one of the panels’ positive terminal.
Cut a length of wire for the panels’ negative lead.
Strip and solder the negative lead to one of the panels’ negative terminal.
Now let’s test the panels’ voltage and amperage outputs with a multimeter to make sure we wired everything correctly! Connect the meter’s positive probe to the positive lead and its negative probe to the negative lead.
What outputs should we expect?
Well, here are the specs for the panels I used:
Wiring solar panels in parallel adds the current (amps) together while keeping the voltage (volts) the same.
Thus, for volts, you should see a number around 9V DC.
For amps, you should see a number around 666mA (333mA 2). But in real world conditions, expect solar panels to output a little less than their stated current.
Tip: You’ll likely have to switch the red probe to your multimeter’s other port in order to measure this amount of current.
Step 4: Solder the Buck Converter to the Leads
Locate the positive and negative terminals on the buck converter.
Solder the positive lead to the converter’s positive terminal and the negative lead to its negative terminal.
Now you should have a working solar charger!
Time to check that it’s working.
First, make sure the buck converter is connected properly and working by shining some light on the panels. Its LED should light up.
The LED is on. Looks like it’s working.
Next, test your charger by placing it outside in direct sunlight and plugging in your phone or USB device. Your device should start charging.
My Kindle’s charging light turns on when I plug it in — my charger is working!
I tested my charger’s output with a USB meter to confirm that the charger was indeed outputting a decent current at 5V.
It’s outputting 460 mA (about 0.5 A) at 5V. That’s about 2.5W, or half the rate of a standard 5W phone charger. (During real-world use it regularly got up to 3W.)
According to our solar charging calculator, it will take about 5.7 peak sun hours to fully charge my iPhone XR.
Definitely not the fastest solar charger, but it’ll top off my battery in a pinch.
Optional: Shrink wrap the buck converter using heat shrink tubing and a heat gun. I did this to for aesthetics and to protect the circuit board a bit. It covers up the converter’s LED, but that wasn’t a big deal to me.
Step 5: Glue the Charger to the Fabric
Grab your glue and the strip of fabric you cut back in Step 1. Glue the panels and buck converter to the fabric in your desired layout.
Tip: The glue I used bled through the fabric a bit, so you may want to put a piece of newspaper down first.
Wait for the glue to set. Once it has, touch up any spots you missed, if needed.
Step 6: Install the Eyelets (Optional)
Because I’ll be using my charger while hiking and biking, I wanted to install eyelets so I can strap it to my backpack and bike. If you don’t need to attach your charger to anything, you can skip this step.
First, let’s install the two eyelets at the “bottom” — the side opposite the buck converter.
Cut a circle in the fabric using the eyelet as a guide. Feed the eyelet bottom through the hole.
Tip: Since I used such small eyelets I just cut a small X with my scissors. You could also create a hole by poking a nail through.
Place the eyelet base tool underneath the eyelet bottom. Place the eyelet top on top of the fabric.
Place the eyelet punch tool over the eyelet top. Hammer the punch tool to install the eyelet.
Repeat these steps to install the second bottom eyelet.
Now it’s time for the top eyelets — the ones on the same side as the buck converter.
To protect the converter, I decided to fold the extra fabric over it and cut a hole for its USB port. (If you don’t want to do that, just install the top eyelets like you did the bottom ones.)
Then I installed the top eyelets through both layers of fabric, glued the flaps together, and glued the USB port to the fabric.
Note: Don’t cover up any of the solar panel!
Wait for the glue to set, and you’re DONE!
Step 7: Test Your DIY Solar Charger
Now that you’ve made your own solar-powered charger, it’s time to charge something with it!
Place it outside in direct sunlight. Plug in your phone or other USB device. Then sit back and relax as you take advantage of all that free solar energy.
When you’re done charging, fold the charger shut for easy storage.
This charger doesn’t have a built-in battery. Adding a battery makes a homemade solar phone charger more complex.
You can easily pair your charger with your battery pack of choice (I use the Anker PowerCore 10000). Charge your battery pack during the day, then use it to charge your phone or USB device at night.
DIY Solar Charger Projects
Solar Electric Bike Charger
Learn how to solar charge your ebike battery for what may be the most eco-friendly transportation method there is. I even show you how I mounted my solar charger to my ebike to make a full-on solar bike.
Solar Info: The Down Low on Everything Up High
Rain or shine we get a huge number of calls about solar power each day. We’ll attempt to answer the questions asked most often so we can save you a phone call.
Before we get started, you should know that solar power is not the cure-all for replacing spent energy. For example, some people are trying to recharge batteries for a trolling motor, boat, RV, house, electric scooter, backwoods cabin, etc., and they want it done in very short time, usually in just a few days. Assume you take a discharged 100-amp hour battery and charge it with a 30-watt solar panel under ideal summertime light conditions. After a full week, the battery will be just about fully charged. Using this example, you can see that it will take at least 100 watts of solar power to recharge a 100-amp hour battery in a few days.
Also, keep in mind that it takes direct sunshine on the surface of the panel to produce the maximum-rated power of a solar panel. Conditions such as an overcast sky, shadows, improper mounting angle, equatorial direction or short winter days will reduce the actual solar panel output to below the rated values.
Most solar chargers are designed for 12 VDC, but we do have limited availability on a 24-volt panel. Typically, when 24 volts or greater is needed, solar panels may be wired in series, or we can special order solar panels that are made to deliver more DC Volts such as 24V, 36V, 48V etc.
Anytime you use a panel that is over 5 watts rated output, we recommend using a solar charge controller. Actually, a charge controller is a good idea in a majority of applications, as it can provide several benefits such as preventing overcharge, improving charge quality, and preventing battery discharge in low or no-light conditions. Some solar panels are made with blocking diodes pre-installed that prevent battery discharge during low or no-light conditions. In most cases where a 6-watt or larger solar panel is installed, the use of a charger controller is highly recommended. In a nutshell, a solar charge controller acts like an on and off switch, allowing power to pass when the battery needs it and cutting it off when the battery is fully charged. Something to be aware of when selecting a controller is that they are typically rated in amps, while photovoltaic panels are typically rated in watts. That means a solar charge controller such as the Morning Star SS6L, 6-amp controller will work with nearly every panel we sell, right up to about 70 watts.
POWER RATING WATTS AND AMPS
Solar panel manufacturers rate solar output in watts. As a rule of thumb, a rating of 15 watts delivers about 3,600 coulombs (1 AH) per hour of direct sunlight. As an example, the Pulse Tech SP-7 panel can output.33AH per hour of direct sunlight. This is a very popular panel for maintaining single and dual batteries for stand-by and storage applications.
HOW DO I FIGURE SOLAR PANEL SIZE
The first thing to remember about solar power is that it is all a matter of numbers. The power you require vs. the power the panel can put out. Before you can even get started when purchasing a panel, you need to know how many amp hours or watts you’ll need to produce in a set period of time. This figure could be measured in hours or days. Since there are 24 hours in a day, we suggest you use that as a baseline. First, determine your total electrical consumption in that time period. Then figure the amount of direct sunlight the solar panel will receive in that time period and come up with a total amount of watt hours needed. You should always err on the side of caution and over-estimate your power needs. Typically we see an average of 4 hours of usable sunlight in the winter, and 6 hours of usable sunlight in summer. Granted, there are exceptions to these averages, but erring on the side of caution creates a more reliable solar system. These averages also help compensate for variables like shade, clouds, panel angle, etc. Once you have a good handle on your power requirements, I suggest you go to our Solar Calculator.
Solar panel ratings are calculated in bright direct sunlight. Conditions such as indirect sunlight, overcast and partial shade conditions will decrease the output. We always recommend over-sizing the size of your solar array, as these conditions occur often. Also, remember that the length of daylight in summer vs. winter can make an impact.
One of the biggest errors commonly seen is when a solar array is designed in summer using summer daylight hours, but then it’s also used in the winter. The first complaint is often related to the batteries no longer holding up under load. This is a gradual process that begins when you lose daylight hours, and you start taking the battery pack beyond a 50% depth of discharge. When this happens, the batteries start to sulfate at a much quicker rate, and begin to no longer hold under load. As you can imagine, this is an expensive mistake! The solution generally involves more panels and new batteries with a higher Amp/Hr reserve. Therefore, we advise our customers to be conservative when accounting for daylight hours. Also, if you plan to utilize a solar array year-round, then you need to factor in your daily solar input for winter.
OPERATING A DEVICE DIRECTLY FROM A SOLAR PANEL BATTERY CHARGER
We carry several foldable/portable solar panels for backpacking that come with a female cigarette lighter adapter. This adapter allows you to power 12v accessories that commonly use a 12v DC plug. In order to connect directly to a panel, the device cannot be sensitive to voltage variation—otherwise they may shut down. To solve this problem, it’s best to use a small battery as a storage vessel for energy that will provide constant source of stable, reliable power. To do this, we recommend using a solar charge controller, Y-connector with a battery inline on one leg, and the female cigarette socket on the other leg.
ARE SOLAR PANELS WEATHER PROOF
Nearly all solar panels are designed for outdoor installation, as this is where they will receive the best, most direct exposure to sunlight. Remember that anything less than that will cause the panel to produce less than its full-rated power.
DO I HAVE TO MAINTAIN SOLAR PANELS
A periodic inspection to remove dirt, debris and check electrical connections is all that is needed. Keeping the panel clear of snow and debris will allow for better results.
HOW LONG DO SOLAR PANELS LAST
Performance from a solar panel will vary, but in most cases guaranteed power output life expectancy is between 3 and 25 years. This guaranteed life expectancy rating is usually 80% of the published rating of the solar panel. Of course, this will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and as always, you typically get what you pay for. Watch out for those cheap panels made in Paki-china-nam-istan.
USE OF A POWER INVERTER
Many folks use a DC to AC power inverter to convert 12 VDC to 110 VAC. Since they change power from one form to another, inverters are power-gobbling monsters and should be avoided when possible. If you have a choice of a 12-volt, DC-powered device or 110-volt AC device, go with the 12-volt DC device. There are DC devices on the market that either step down or step up DC power, and these also use significantly more power.
DC to AC via an Inverter Formula Examples
This “rule of thumb” is intended as a general guide for estimating the DC amps required operating a DC to AC power inverter. Since the calculations yield approximate values, an appropriate safety factor should be considered when designing and specifying system components, such as wire, size and length. This basically means “oversize your system.”
12-Volt DC Systems
Formula: 12-volt inverters require approximately ten 10 amps DC input for each 100 watts output power used to operate an AC load.
Example: How many DC amps will a 12-volt inverter require to operate three 500-watt quartz lights, or a 1500-watt electric heater?
- 1) Total watts = 1500
- 2) 1500 watts/100 (from formula) = 15
- 3) 15 X 10 amps (from formula) = 150 amps.
This is the DC current the inverter will use to operate the 1500-watt load. Note: If these 150 amps are drawn from the battery for one hour, 150 amp hours of battery power will be used.
To support 150 amp hours of battery power, 300 amps of battery capacity should be used for maximum battery life and performance.
24-Volt DC Systems
Formula: 24-volt inverters require approximately 5 amps DC input for each 100 watts output power used to operate an AC load.
Example: How many DC amps will a 24-volt inverter require to operate three 500-watt quartz lights, or a 1500-watt electric heater?
- 1) Total watts = 1500
- 2) 1500 watts/100 (from formula) = 15
- 3) 15 X 5 amps (from formula) = 75 amps.
This is the DC current the inverter will use to operate the 1500-watt load. Note: If these 75 amps are drawn from the battery for one hour, 75 amp hours of battery power will be used.
To support 75 amp hours of battery power, 150 amps of battery capacity should be used for maximum battery life and performance.
Ready to harness the power of the sun? Shop for a solar charger and accessories.
Whether you need a solar battery charger for boat, solar trickle charger for car battery, or a solar ac charger, we have the right chargers for any application.