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Smart, Affordable, Reliable Solar Unit - INDISPENSABLE Auxiliary Power During Emergencies, BackCountry Treks, Etc.
on January 6, 2012
Hands down, no emergency supply kit should be without a solar charger: to re-charge digital communication devices, re-chargeable NiMh batteries, portable GPS units, even car engine batteries.
For me, the PowerFilm solar panel chargers more than fit the bill. Plus, PowerFilm is a U.S.A. company, and manufactures its solar panel chargers in the U.S.
What follows is a preliminary review, which I'll update with photos and more details in the coming months.
But, thus far, my use of the 5-watt PowerFilm (PF) foldable solar-panel charger has been so good, that I don't want to hold up information that may be useful to other people.
Test Frequency: so far, I've separately tested two 5-watt units, two times each.
Test Conditions: indoors, under mild sunlight through a lofty skylight, during peak sunlight hours in my region (11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.).
Battery Results: using a GoalZero AA/AAA battery re-charger (which connects to a PF unit, and is sold separately), each of my 5-watt PF units fully re-charged four of my (Eneloop) NiMH AA batteries in approximately 4.5 hours. To me, that's impressive. (I used a battery meter to measure and confirm the results, itself an indispensable device.)
Cell Phone Results: an Android 2.0 Motorola cell phone was successfully re-juiced with the 5-watt PF panel (with a separate cell phone adapter* connected to it). I didn't record the re-charge time, though, and will do so when I test the unit on an iPhone as well. Unless mistaken, I recall it taking about 4.5 hours as well, maybe less. *I use the "Philips DLM2264/17 PowerPack AC and DC Adapter for iPod/iPhone," model DLM2264/17; there are other adapters out there, this is just one.
Considering that even clear window glass (including untinted auto windows) can partially diminish the intensity of sunlight, I found that the PF units performed well under the above, indoor conditions. These units got the job done. (The GoalZero battery re-charger units are sometimes inconsistent, though.)
Caveat: under the above indoor conditions, I did have to move the solar panels several times, to keep them in line with the sun. But, if AC power is ever not an option, I'll be grateful to have any alternative power source. So, I have no complaints.
Under more optimal conditions (outside in direct sun, at a camp site, strapped to a backpack or bike rack, or through a larger window or on a dashboard on a sunny day), I would expect that this task would be leave-it-and-go convenient, and that re-charge times would be significantly faster. This is why I'll be conducting repeated, comparative tests in both stronger indoor and outdoor sunlight in my region's spring and summer seasons ahead.
Overcast Days: the PF solar panels are said to work, albeit at a much slower re-charge rate, even on overcast days. I've yet to test that claim, but will do so.
Daisy Chain: for higher watt output, I'll be connecting my PF solar panel units together, with a PF daisy chain, to see how much faster the re-charge times might be. (One of my PF panels is a 7.5-watt version, which was/is specially manufactured for, and sold via, Boy Scouts of America. The 5-watt unit has six rectangular panels; the 7.5-watt unit has 8.)
Other Solar Panel Chargers: I spent months researching various solar panels available. Most were priced beyond my budget, were too bulky for my portability needs, and/or had too few or sketchy user reviews. This is not to cast those other panel chargers in a negative light, because I've tried none of them myself. It's just that, based on my research, the PF units seemed a more reliable, affordable risk for me.
Affordability: Like most everything else these days, the price of PF panel chargers has gone up in the last year, at least on Amazon.com. My first purchase of a 5-watt unit, via Amazon.com, was less than the current price listed. My subsequent purchases of PF items were all at sale prices - some at deep, deep discounts (as much as 70% off). So, keep an eye out. Hopefully, you'll find some good deals.
Conclusion: for price, compactness, lightness of weight, and reliability (so far), I could not be more pleased with the performance of the PF units. In fact, I'm thrilled.
In addition, someone I know uses the 5-watt PF unit in his car, leaving it on the dashboard during peak sunlight hours, to re-charge his cell phone and NiMh batteries. He is also very pleased with the results. (He uses the "BESTEK 75w DC AC Power Inverter...," model MRI711C-3.)
The PowerFilm Company: I've spoken directly with some of the PF staff. Each has been very helpful, polite, courteous, friendly, and well-informed. The company seems to be in this market for the best of reasons and principles: developers, engineers, and entrepreneurs who are designing and manufacturing an affordable, reliable, natural-energy efficient, applied technology that is eminently practical. Apparently, the company doesn't have a lot of frills, and a bare-bones-to-non-existent marketing budget. So I'm happy to help them spread the word.
Because, who knows, these devices could help get you out of a serious jam. At the least, they reduce your carbon footprint, and will make your life and work a lot easier and less disruptive during an electrical power outage. When most everyone else will be scrambling around without auxiliary power (to communicate by phone, to re-charge batteries for radios, flashlights, etc.), you'll be set.
Non-Affiliation: in no way am I associated with the PF company. I get no kickbacks for my review. I'm an individual customer who has paid, in full, for every one of my PF items. But, when a company and its people do such a standout, conscientious job to provide smart and much-needed products for ordinary folks, I'm sincerely grateful, and readily volunteer a good word.
a) Be sure to do your homework before laying on unreasonable expectations of any solar panel recharger. For example, how much current does your particular device (cell phone, etc.) minimally need to re-charge? Will it need more than 5 watts? Because the more wattage needed, the bigger/heavier the solar panel typically will have to be. Or, you might have to daisy-chain two panel chargers or more to get the job done.
b) Various cell phones and other small digital devices require different adapters to connect to the PF solar panel chargers. Identify the right one(s) for your needs, check user reviews and, if need be, contact the manufacturer (whichever brand you're leaning toward) for assistance. This technology is still in a relatively early phase, and solar panels are still expensive, making it tough for developers to price down. In other words, don't expect these puppies to fly you to the moon and back. It's advisable to learn about the power needs of devices you use and depend on daily, so that when the convenience of AC power is not available, you can be as self-sufficient as your knowledge, know-how, and auxiliary tools and resources make possible.
c) Try out any solar panel charger as soon as you receive it, to make sure it has no defects and works for your needs.
Hope this helps folks decide which solar-panel chargers are best suited for their purposes and budgets.