Solar power banks are one possible way to keep all our portable electronics going as we are on the go. Phones, tablets, wireless headphones, computers. The list of battery-powered devices we often have with us seems to keep growing.
All those batteries need power. Unfortunately, it isn't always possible to find a suitable plug point, if, for example, you are out on a hike. While traditional power banks have been a popular and effective way to top up your gadgets, solar power banks offer the potential of doing the same job, with the advantage of costing nothing, and being more environmentally friendly.
But how well do they work? Are they really worth it? Let's take a look.
How Do Solar Power Banks Work?
We'll quickly explain exactly what you get with a solar power bank. And as you'd expect, they have a lot in common with a traditional power bank.
A traditional power bank is plugged into a power supply. The battery in the power bank is charged, and it then stores that power until you plug a device into the power bank.
A solar power bank works in the same way, except this time, you don't need to charge it via a mains supply. It has photovoltaic cells that enable it to charge it up using the sun. So if you leave it out in sunlight, then it will charge the in-built battery, ready to then charge your devices as needed. Some have a single solar panel, while others fold out to provide a larger surface area.
There is a distinction between a solar power bank and a solar charger. While both use the sun to charge your devices, a solar charger needs to be in direct sunlight while charging. A solar power bank on the other hand, stores the charge, so it can still be used even when the sun isn't shining.
So now that we know the general principles, what are the pros and cons of using a solar power bank?
Pros and Cons of Solar Power Banks
A solar power bank certainly sounds great in principle. Like a regular power bank, but can be powered by the sun, for free. Ideal for going out and about. But it isn't necessarily as straightforward as it might first appear.
Convenience. Most obviously, as we've already suggested, you can charge your power bank using the sun. If you are miles away from civilisation, you won't worry about finding a power outlet to charge your devices or your power bank. And because it stores power, you can use it even when the sun isn't shining.
Free Energy. Once you've paid for the power bank itself, then, in theory, you won't need to pay for energy to charge it in future. Solar energy is basically free. As long as you have enough sunshine, you can charge your devices without it costing you anything. And at a time of rising energy prices, that's no bad thing.
Durability. A solar power bank is generally made with the expectation that it's going to be used in the great outdoors, for obvious reasons. As a result, they are often made to be rugged and durable, with many offering water resistance and dust proofing, as well as drop protection.
Environmental Impact. Solar power is clean, renewable energy. The only environmental impact is in the construction of the device itself. But you won't then be compounding that by using additional energy, potentially generated by fossil fuels, to charge your power bank. So if environmental concerns are a factor for you, this could be a significant benefit.
So far, so good. But there are some potential drawbacks as well.
Practicality. While the principle of solar charging is great, let's be realistic for a moment. There are plenty of parts of the world where the skies are often cloudy, and the days are short. This will have an impact on how effectively your solar power bank can charge itself. You may find it takes far longer than a conventional, mains-operated power bank.
Of course, this won't apply to everyone. If you are planning on using it somewhere that has plenty of sunshine, this will be less of a concern. And some solar power banks can also be mains charged, to give you maximum flexibility.
Cost. While solar energy is free, the amount of money you'll actually save on charging your power bank isn't likely to make you a millionaire. And consider as well, how often you are likely to use it. If you use it very occasionally as an emergency option, then the energy savings you might make will be even less significant.
Size. The size of a power bank is often directly linked to how much charge it can hold. And a solar power bank is no exception. Add to that the space needed for the solar panels, and potentially they will be bulkier because they are designed for outdoor use. So they can take up more space, and weigh more, than an equivalent standard power bank.
Are Solar Power Banks Worth It?
There are plenty of good reasons to recommend a solar power bank. But they aren't perfect, and may not be suitable for everyone. It's up to you to weigh up the pros and cons, and decide whether or not one of these will fit your needs and lifestyle.
In the right circumstances though, they could be a great addition for someone who wants to make sure they can charge their devices while on the go.