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Are Solar Powered Laptop Computers a Feasible Idea?

written by: Jayant R Row•edited by: Ginny Edwards•updated: 7/14/2010

Batteries on a laptop can be recharged using solar energy, thus making the computer environmentally friendly. Setting up the arrays which convert the solar energy to the required electricity can be cumbersome. Newer techniques that make arrays more portable have solved this problem to some extent.

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    Solar Power Basics

    854737 man with laptop Solar power is created by solar panels which contain solar cells that collect the solar energy for either direct use or stored in batteries for later use. In the case of laptop batteries it can be used to recharge laptop batteries so that the laptop can be used even in periods in which there is no sunlight. Solar cells are photovoltaic cells which convert sunlight directly into electricity. These solar cells are made up of special materials like silicon which are called semiconductors. The portion of light that strikes the cell is absorbed by this semiconductor material and this energy knocks loose electrons allowing them to flow freely. They are then forced to move in one direction by other electric fields. This flow of electrons becomes a current which can be tapped by placing metal contacts at the top and bottom of the cell.

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    Solar Chargers For Laptops

    Size and weight issues predominate when you are considering the feasibility of using solar power to charge or directly power your laptop. Most laptops require about 70 watts of power to operate and solar panels that provide that sort of power are too heavy to carry around. However technology has advanced to increase the efficiency of the solar panels. Thin film technology to mount the PV cells on has greatly reduced the weight of solar panels. However there are as yet no breakthroughs on providing solar cells which can directly power a laptop, as is done in the case of calculators. Also solar cells in use up to now for this purpose, require direct exposure to the sun to produce power. This would mean that the laptop would also have to be exposed to the sun, causing it to heat and thus malfunction. Also such laptops would not function in times of the day when there is no sunlight.

    So the present technology required to make solar power feasible for laptops would involve chargers which would remain expose to the sun and produce enough power to back up the laptop battery or a bank of batteries to which the laptop can be connected. Independent solar panels for laptops which are lightweight and easy to transport are available. These may involve connecting three or more solar panel modules to give the necessary charging for the laptop. Portable solar power kits are also available which would have a rechargeable battery which can power the laptop or recharge its battery. Another solution to make solar power feasible for laptops is to use small portable chargers which would slow the drain on the laptop battery and thus give it longer working time.

    Depending on climatic conditions a solar power charger may take longer to charge a laptop battery than a conventional energy outlet would. This currently has to be taken into consideration before you decide to switch to solar power for your laptop.

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