Solar power it its own right is a whole thing. The purpose of this article is not to teach you all the in’s and out’s of solar power, but rather to give you an idea of how you can easily power a mobile device (or any other electronic device or battery) using a commercial solar panel.

Solar power is the term given to any method which harnesses the power of light, usually from our sun (the nearest star to our planet). The name of our sun is Sol, which is why we refer to anything relative to or determined by the sun as solar, but this term generally extends to reference beyond Sol to any other stars in the cosmos.

Solar power can refer to heating something with light, a process which is considered one of two common methods to convert sunlight into electricity. Known as Concentrated Solar Power, CSP (for short) is the principle that we build solar power plants from; solar power boils water and the steam produced as a result is forced through the blades of a turbine creating motion, generating kinetic energy which is converted into electricity. If you wan’t to charge your mobile device using a system of CSP panels and turbines, be our guest.

Far more simple (from the consumer standpoint) is to harness electricity from a chemical and physical process known as the photo-voltaic effect. It has become possible to create and assemble materials which react to exposure with light. Similar to photo-sensitive chemicals or plants which change form or move when their surfaces are exposed to light, photo-voltaic materials simply start producing electrons which can be harnessed and conducted away (electric current). This is the essence of Photovoltaic Solar Power (PV); volts from light (photo being derived from the Greek word phōs which means light).

Commercially manufactured PV solar panels are basically ready to be connected to any electric circuit, grid or battery. They are usually constructed with two terminal leads; one for positive current and one for negative current. As always, it is helpful to understand the basics of working with wire, in addition to understanding how a battery works. When you have a source of electrical power such as this, you are going to want to use it to power a circuit or charge a battery. In the case of powering and charging your mobile device, you are simply charging a battery (the device is powered by regulated wattage from this battery).

PV solar panels provide electricity in a direct current (DC), which means that it will only send electric current in a single direction; away from the panel.

Assuming you have the power cable for your mobile device, you can simply connect the positive and negative leads to the pins of the electric plug. Depending on the wattage that the solar panel produces, the device’s AC adapter/charger will regulate the flow of electricity travelling into the device. It will prohibit too much power from going in, but still utilize what is available if very little wattage is being transmitted from the solar panel. If you do not have your device’s charging adapter, you could still theoretically use the cable which plugs into the device (assuming you at least have that) such as a micro-usb plug. The wire conductors insulated within the casing of this cable act exactly the same as any other kind of wire, and you can cut this cable to reveal the positive and negative lines which can be connected directly to a solar panel’s DC power. This is dangerous for the device because without an adapter, power is not being regulated into the device’s battery and this fluctuation of electricity (or overload of it) can damage the device’s electro-chemical cells, destroying them or compromising their performance.

As USB-powered devices, most mobile phones will require 5 volts of power to charge at a proper rate, and anything less will provide power at a slower rate, known as a “trickle charge”.

In all cases when dealing with a power source which produces direct current, it can prove infinitely helpful to use a power inverter to convert the DC power into AC power, which most consumer devices are designed to be powered by. Power inverters vary in function and design, and are manufactured for use in different applications from household to automotive. We have them available here in our store, but we can also teach you the basics of inverting electric current between AC and DC.

Solar panels can also be created somewhat easily with the right material and tools, but just like anything else, if you are able to purchase it you will save yourself a lot of time, effort and likely stress. We have several commercial PV solar panels available here in addition to simple photo-voltaic cells which can be built into a solar power system.