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Efficiency

A recent Wired article reviewed four solar chargers, which included the JOOS Orange and the Solio BOLT.  One of the criticisms of the BOLT was that the smaller set of solar panels couldn’t compete well against the other products which featured larger solar panels.  Common sense would indicate that larger panels would be able to generate more energy.  Seems straightforward, right?  More panels = more power.  Well, yes — to a point.  However, the devilish details tend to make the facts a little fuzzy around the edges, which makes apple-to-apple comparisons difficult.

From what I’ve been told, the JOOS Orange has some of the best solar panels out there — it’s not just the size, but the quality and efficiency of the panels which allow them to generate so much power.  From my own experience, the larger panels and battery of the JOOS Orange have been distinct advantages over its competition.  Rarely have I been able to fully drain the JOOS Orange’s battery when charging up my devices.

WIRED’s article mentions that it took 9 hours to fill up the BOLT’S 7.4 Wh battery.  Now, what if the BOLT’s solar panels were so efficient that they could fully charge the battery in 2 hours, instead of 9?  Perhaps it is time to jump into the Delorean and set the course for the future.

What will solar chargers be like in 5, 10, or 20 years in the future?  If the nascent consumer solar charger market can make similar strides that computers have performed, then there is the possibility that solar chargers will be a common household appliance.  For that to occur, we’ll need to see great leaps in improvement in the efficiency of three areas: solar, batteries, and energy.

Solar Efficiency

The most obvious of the three areas.  Most solar panels are only 10 – 15% efficient in converting solar energy into electricity.  Being able to generate more power with the same surface area is a key goal.  But even the most efficient of today’s solar panels only reach around 20%, a far cry from the level that we’d like to achieve.  Ideally, a solar charger would be able to collect and store more energy than a person could reasonably use.

Battery Efficiency

The battery industry has tremendous potential and hurtles to meet current and future demands at both the consumer and industrial level.

Two decades ago, the word “battery” would have elicited thoughts of Energizer or Duracell.  The need for powerful and efficient batteries has become ever more necessary in a world filled with mobile devices (laptops, phones, tablets, etc.).  The third generation iPad increased its battery size to 42.5 Wh (versus the iPad 2’s 25Wh battery) to maintain up to a 10 hour charge while being able to power the higher resolution display and LTE networking.  The latest mobile phones struggle to go through a full day without draining their batteries.  The need for solar chargers to contain more efficient batteries is no less.

Energy Efficiency

Long before one should venture into the costly realm of installing a solar array for their house, one can perform other measures to reduce the amount of electricity they consume by using more energy efficient appliances, disconnecting machines from the wall when not in use, and just using less in general.

The aforementioned iPad increased its battery storage to be able to support the new features.  Phones such as the EVO 4G bleed through its battery due to its many antennae (WiMAX, 3G, WiFi) searching for signals.  A compromise between both software and hardware is needed to improve the overall performance and efficiency of mobile devices.  With less power used should lead to needing to charge the phone fewer times, which lengthens the life of the battery, in addition to improving the user experience with fewer charges.

To be able to meet the demand of charging up several mobile devices, I make use of four solar chargers (JOOS Orange, Solio BOLT, Solio Classic-i, Changers).  Still, this is only a small step towards a brighter and more energy efficient future.

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Categories: Bolt, JOOS Orange, Solar, Solio
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