Using a solar powered phone charger

Last updated Wednesday 30 April 2008

Topping up can be light work

Want to recharge your batteries without draining the mains? Solar chargers offer a possible solution.

Solar phone chargers look a great bet for the eco-friendly gadget lover. Handy for recharging on the go, they come in funky colours and will boost your eco street cred. But unless you use it to charge up all your friends' phones too, the CO2 it saves will struggle to compensate for the emissions produced to manufacture it.

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Photo: Using a solar powered phone charger

Saves about 1.5kg of CO2 a year

241 Bloomers are doing this

CO2 reduction 1 out of 5

Cheapness 5 out of 5

Popularity 3 out of 5

Cost 25 - 250

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How does it work?

Charging your phone with a solar charger uses energy from the sun, and stores it in a small battery, so you don't have to plug your normal charger into a socket.

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • Electricity wasted from mobile phones left on standby is enough to power 33,000 homes for a year

Sadly it probably won't make a CO2 saving, unless you and all your friends share a single charger and use it constantly.

Over its lifetime (its battery lasts about two years) a typical solar charger might save you around 32p in energy and 1.5kg of CO2 - approximately the same amount of CO2 as giving up prawns. It's unlikely that will compensate for the energy used to make it in the first place. Rooftop solar panels save the CO2 emissions caused by their manufacture in about eight years because they soak up every hour of daylight, but a solar charger spends most of its life in the shade.

It would be different if solar chargers were manufactured instead of, rather than as well as, conventional chargers because then they wouldn't be adding to the sum total of embodied emissions. As it is, you can probably save more CO2 by not leaving your phone on charge overnight.

Best if:

  • You're 'off the grid' - i.e. you can't plug your charger into an electrical socket
  • Most suitable for polar explorers, mountain climbers and nomads

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What's the debate?

Although they don't offer real savings in themselves, in the long term solar chargers could raise the profile of renewable technology and stimulate demand for solar panels and other products that genuinely make a difference.

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Tilly, London 2009-07-08

Thanks for the tip about the solargadgestore. I just found it - what a revelation.

zuka, harrogate 2009-05-05

Everyone should own a solar or wind up charger! Clean energy is the way forward. has some eco products that you might not even realise exist. I certainly discovered some cool things..

Baz, Shrewsbury 2009-02-08

I brought a 10 12-volt solar charger from Maplin, it works fine even on cloudy days, provided it is pointed towards the sun. I use it to keep the car battery charged when I am away and to re charge the small 12v sealed lead acid batteries.
I suppose a couple of these chargers could be used to keep a car battery charged that could be used to supply outside lighting, use LED's and the battery would last well.

Anna Din, Manchester 2009-01-14

We have a battery solar charger which works well in the car, so I asked for a phone charger for Christmas - however on a grey day in the kitchen window it isn't charging my phone - more luck in spring hopefully!

Dan 2009-01-13

Whilst you may not save much energy using a solar charger, at least it demonstrates that you are taking steps to use renewable energy, and may continue to look for other methods. A good place to pick up tips (non-commercial link) on how to go green is:

<a href="">Tree Hugger</a>

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Eco-friendly, or environmentally friendly, is a term applied to goods, services, processes or people deemed to do minimal harm to the environment. The term is shorthand for 'ecologically friendly', ecology being the study of the relationships between living organisms and their environment.
Embodied energy
Embodied energy - sometimes referred to as 'embedded energy' - is the energy used (and therefore the CO2 emissions) in manufacturing, packaging and transporting a product, material or service. So when calculating the CO2 savings from a new energy-efficient product such as a boiler or washing machine, its embodied energy needs to be taken into account. Usually the energy saved in use will quickly compensate for the embodied energy, but in some cases - such as small urban wind turbines - it may be that a product will use more energy in its manufacture than it will save across its lifetime.
Emissions are the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) produced by energy use, usually calculated and stated as an annual tally: also referred to as your carbon footprint. Your personal emissions can be direct - such as the gas you personally use to heat your home or the petrol you burn to power your car - or indirect - meaning the energy use that has gone into the products or services you buy. The latter, such as the emissions caused by the manufacture of your new TV, or the packaging your food comes in, are also referred to as embodied emissions.
Kilowatt-hours (kWh)
A kilowatt-hour is an amount of energy equivalent to a power of one kilowatt (a thousand watts) running for one hour. The unit is commonly used on electricity meters. If you know how many kilowatt-hours of energy your household uses, you can translate this into kilograms of CO2 emitted by multiplying it by 0.527. A megawatt hour (MWh) is an amount of energy equivalent to the power of one megawatt (a million watts) running for one hour. Similarly, a gigawatt hour (GWh) is a billion watts for one hour, and a terawatt hour (TWh) is a trillion. While your domestic gas bill will be set out in kWh, the output for a power station, for example, will obviously be expressed in one of these much larger units.
National Grid
The grid, or National Grid, is a privately owned network of electricity supply lines that stretch from the power stations where the electricity is generated to the homes and businesses where it is used. In some parts of the UK, local or domestic microgeneration may make it feasible to live "off grid", while some homes in remote parts of the country have no choice because it does not reach them. In some cases, microgeneration means there is potential for people to sell surplus electricity back to the grid.
Solar energy
Energy derived from the sun's rays.
Solar panels
Solar panels, usually roof-mounted, use the energy of the sun to generate electricity for home use, with the potential to sell surplus back to the grid. Light shining on a panel of photovoltaic cells creates an electric field across layers of semiconductive material, causing electricity to flow. navigation


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