When PV modules were first introduced to the mainstream market, the only electronic equipment most of us carried around was a transistor radio. Today, our tabletops are starting to look like miniature power substations, with electronic appliance battery chargers filling every wall outlet.
PV technology can meet the demand for keeping our electronic tablets, e-readers, digital cameras, media players, games, cell phones, and laptops operating during a power outage, or while traveling on business or tromping around the back woods.
Some reasonably priced, off-the-shelf flexible PV modules can run or charge small appliances or keep a few battery-powered LED lights operating whether you’re trekking in the city or backpacking. These fold-up modules do not have a battery, so are used to recharge the batteries in devices that can accept 12 VDC.
Fold-up solar modules in the 5 to 10 W range are used to recharge smaller electronic devices including cell phones, e-readers, and media players. Those in the 25 W range are well-suited for powering tablets and small laptop computers. Several manufacturers now offer fold-up PV modules in sizes over 60 watts to power larger loads, including radio and satellite communication equipment when hiking or camping in remote locations.
Several manufacturers are incorporating flexible PV modules into almost anything—including jackets, backpacks, fanny packs, purses, and briefcases. Even the smallest versions include adapters to charge multiple electronic devices, and there are lots of colors and styles to choose from.
A typical backpack or briefcase has limited surface area to attach a flexible solar module, keeping most to about 10 W. However, backpacks have interior space to include a built-in battery, which is being charged when not energizing other devices. Some store enough energy to be used even at night to recharge smaller electronic devices. Solar backpacks also include a cigar-lighter-type auxiliary socket. This is the standard connector for powering portable electronic devices, which often come with a 12 V vehicle charging plug.
Adding a deep-cycle battery to any portable PV system can extend its utility. However, batteries with enough energy to operate larger tools, computers, and small appliances for a significant amount of time are heavy. In addition, some electronic appliances may have built-in battery chargers that require 120 VAC.