Good Electrons encourages you to get out of the urban bubble we live in and explore. Taking a break from your computer (and all the work that goes along with it) can do wonders for your carpel tunnel and will make things more productive when you do get back to work. Unfortunately for many of us, the idea of taking time away from work to go outdoors just isn't viable – there is just too much too do!
This is a a shame because it nowadays it is easy to be connected to the office while sitting under a niceshady tree, or on the bow of your yacht. Almost every business function is available over the internet and all the leading cellular providers are offering mobile internet solutions to keep you connected. The only really tricky part about doing business from out in nature is keeping all your electronic devices powered up. Fortunately, when we're out playing, we are literally being bombarded with solar energy all day long. All you need to do is capture all that energy!
Today's marketplace offers many choices of portable solar chargers which will provide ample power from the sun for almost any thing you can imagine. When looking for a solar powered charging solution for your mobile office you need to ask yourself a few questions: What parts of my mobile office do I have to plug in? Do these devices have batteries, or do they require a constant power source? Am I using these devices during the day, at night, or both?
If you only have to worry about charging a phone, camera or mp3 player (or another small electronic device with internal batteries), there are lots of solar chargers that can get the job done fairly inexpensively, with the average price being around $20 for something like the Tuff-Luv "Sun-Pod" Solar power charger which is available for Apple iPod & iPhone devices.
Some solar panels will provide a direct connection with enough juice to run your mobile device without batteries. With these, you plug your device directly into the solar panel via a compatible cord and - voila! - you're device is powered by the sun. Panels, such as the Brunton Foldable Solar Array are available in several different sizes depending upon how much power you need (and where you're gonna use them). Brunton's panels even allow up to three panels to be used together to increase the amount of power available.
Some solar systems are capable of utilizing only direct sunlight, while others are able to convert ambient light and even indoor artificial light into useable energy. Obviously, direct sunlight and correct angling are always going to give you the most power and the fastest charging. It's not uncommon to get two iPod charges or more out of a single 5-8 hours of sunlight, so if you rotate devices carefully, and minimize power consumption, you can charge several devices with a small investment in solar panels. Be alert as to the compatibility of the charger you're looking at, especially if you have an iPhone 3gs, as many models will claim to work with most products, but not actually charge an iPhone.
Those who need to use their devices at night or are looking to setup a more permanent 'base camp' will need to have a way to store their power, and perhaps even turn it into current compatible with your home electronic gadgets. Duracell makes a portable power pack that can store power for night time use and has a built in power inverter and 120v outlets to make connecting your 'home appliances' easy. These portable power packs can even jump your dead car battery! The Duracell power pack will charge from a 12v source (like a solar panel, or a car cigarette lighter) as well as a 120v source like a home electrical outlet.
If you are looking for a portable power pack make sure to find out how many charges the battery can take and how hard it is to get replacement batteries. Some portable power packs only last a year (or around 50 charges), while others can take upwards of 500 charges. This is something to consider when weighing cost vs useability for the long haul.
When purchasing a solar power solution it is probably best to take your mobile device in to the store (or consult with an Electron) to verify that it is compatible with your desired solar power solution before you buy it. If you purchase online, verify your solar product and batteries return policy before you buy it, and test your device as soon as you get it home. It's not unheard of to receive a dud when you order your charger. Some batteries lose their ability to charge if they've been sitting unused for a year (in a warehouse before being purchased) so by the time they get to you, they just don't work. Avoid buying from a company that doesn't guarantee their product, and make sure you've fully tested your portable power pack before expecting it to work out in the field, or in an emergency.
Most batteries and solar power systems are compatible with a multiple solar arrays, so you can upgrade to more power if you need to in the future. The Brunton Solar Array is also available in smaller sizes, a 6 and a 12 watt that cost less than half the price of the 26W. If you invest in a nice solar system and go for a cheaper battery because you only have a phone and an mp3 player to charge, you can always upgrade the battery later when you decide it's time to take your laptop (or other 'home-ish' appliance) on the road with you.
As is always the case with technology, improvements are being made at incredible rates, especially in the world of solar arrays. This year's top-of-the-line model will undoubtedly be next year's mid-range or even economy line – something to consider if you don't mind waiting a little while for prices to drop. We bought a plug-in AA/AAA battery charger during the holidays that took 8 hours to recharge a set. Last week, we bought the new version for the same price, and it charges the same number of batteries in 15 minutes.
We know this is a lot of information, so here it is in list form to help get you organized:
What kind of devices do you take with you when you leave civilization behind, and how much power do they draw?
Where are you taking them and what kind of charger setup do you require? Car camping? Hiking? Kayaking? Does it need to be lightweight, weatherproof, or durable?
Do you need a portable power pack or are you just charging straight from the array to your device?
How much do you want to spend? Is the inexpensive model a bargain if you have to buy it again next year?
Does the product come with a warranty? Is there a good chance that the company will be around next year?
By the time you're done filling out this list, you should have it pretty well narrowed down. At that point, find a reputable retailer and harness the power of the sun for yourself. Get out, have fun, and enjoy! We'll see you out there!