Solar charging stations are quickly turning into a fixture of our environments, especially in those places that offer government incentives for renewable and sustainable technology initiatives. You see them along highways, in major retailers’ private parking lots, and even as “umbrellas” attached to benches in parks.
This is great news both for the environment and for our wallets. Solar powered charging stations produce cheap electricity without any emissions, making them one of the most environmentally-friendly technologies. For instance, if you’re an electric vehicle owner, recharging your car’s batteries is often cheaper at one of these than the average lunch.
How Do Solar Charging Stations Work?
Solar charging stations are designed to allow people to charge their small devices or electric vehicles outdoors, in an environmentally friendly way. All systems essentially work in a similar manner, although some of them might differ in terms of size, capacity, and the type of charging that is available. Below, you’ll find a list of the major elements that contribute to the proper functioning of an average solar station.
Major Components of Solar Charging Systems
- Solar Panels. All solar powered battery charging stations have a set of inflexible or flexible solar panels. These are equipped with photovoltaic cells and represent the source of electricity. They’re also the most iconic part of the technology itself, since they are immediately recognizable. PV cells are made of semiconductor materials that, when heated, are capable of producing power.
- Battery. The battery is responsible for storing all the energy that is generated by solar charging stations for cars. Usually, the accumulators will be deep-cycle ones, as the framework will experience frequent drains and top ups throughout its lifetime. Without batteries to store electricity and provide it when needed, charging times would be extremely long.
- Charge Controller. This is an essential component of every solar powered charging station. It is responsible for connecting and disconnecting the system from the batteries when the latter are in need of charging or happen to be full. Without it, solar batteries would be exposed to overcharging, overheating, and severe damage. All of the latter essentially kill your battery’s health, making it less and less capable of holding a charge for an extended period of time.
- Inverter. Solar panels don’t produce the exact type of electricity you need to directly charge your laptop’s or generator’s batteries. The PV cells generate direct current (DC) voltage, so the inverter is necessary to transform the latter into alternating current (AC). This process does imply a power loss of anywhere between 10% and 20%. Some of the newer inverter technologies have managed to reduce this amount by a lot.
The Types of Solar Powered Charging Stations
As you may have already noticed, there are multiple types of solar powered charging stations. Some of them are proprietary technology that can only be accessed by people with a specific product, while others are free for widespread public use. Depending on the system itself, each station has its own intended use.
1. Level 1 EV. These are the most widespread supply equipment for electric vehicles, as well as the most affordable type of solar charging station for cars. The downside is that, because they deliver power through a 120 V AC plug, they take their sweet time to replenish your accumulators – anywhere from 2 to 5 miles (3.2 to 8 km) worth of power every hour you keep the car plugged. Now, that’s still a lot of power, certainly much more than might be required to energize a solar calculator, for example.
Although it’s unfeasible for them to do anything worthwhile when you stop to have lunch or take a break on your road trip, they can be quite effective overnight. For this reason, most electric vehicle homeowners install level 1 stations in their households in order to get a free “gas” refill.
2. Level 2 EV. These are the most flexible stations at the moment, since they can easily be used for residential and commercial solar powered charging stations. They often come equipped with two types of plugs, a 208 V industrial application one and a 240 V for domestic use, so they can also serve as a solar charging station for cell phones.
Because you can’t plug these into a standard wall outlet, professional support will be needed for their installation. As a solar charging station for cars, level 2s are capable of delivering a substantial 10 to 60 miles (16 to 96 km) worth of fuel range in just one hour of staying connected. No wonder people prefer these.
The Benefits of Solar Charging Stations
There are numerous benefits to the implementation of solar technology in both private and public locations. They are the reason why governments and state authorities all over the world are implementing tax rebates and incentives for those who are willing to go solar. Here are some of the advantages that solar energy can bring to you:
1. Cheap Energy
Especially for those living far from the electrical grid, solar charging stations for cell phones can work wonders to help them stay connected. The mere establishing of a connection to government systems is often costly, not to mention the periodically rising prices of the kilowatt-hour.
If you happen to live in a place that gets a lot of sunlight, solar stations can help you save substantial amounts of money both short and long term. With the right accumulators, PV framework, and environmental conditions, an entire house, as well as an electric vehicle can be charged at almost no expense.
2. No Emissions
The reason why tax rebates are available for solar technology is because this is a sustainable model for us to power our households. Unlike nuclear, coal, or gas-powered plants, solar energy does not produce emissions, nor toxic byproducts. More importantly, it is a renewable source of energy.
Our climate is already suffering greatly from the amount of emissions we’ve generated so far. The temperature of our planet is rising because of the greenhouse gas effect, which, in turn, is destroying natural habitats and endangering thousands of species. Solar energy helps us avoid all of these and minimize the damage that’s already been done.
3. Energy Independence
Achieving energy independence is one of the foremost reasons why solar charging stations are becoming more and more frequent. Travelling and exploration means we can’t always be next to an outlet to charge our batteries.
A public solar charging station for cell phones helps you stay connected with your loved ones even in the most remote, wild places. In case of an outage or a natural disaster, these stations facilitate vital communication between people and authorities, as they don’t rely on a power grid in order to provide electricity.
4. Spending Time Outdoors
One negative outcome of our reliance on technology is that our children spend less time outdoors than we used to. Knowing we can charge our phones outside, in parks or at campgrounds gives people more freedom and flexibility to spend time in nature. It might not be ideal, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Even those events that tend to keep us locked in front of a TV for a whole sunny afternoon can be experienced outdoors, around a picnic table, when there’s a solar charging station for cell phones nearby.
Solar Charging Stations Savings
Automotive fuel has only gotten more expensive in the past decades. Political conflicts, but also a growing scarcity of the raw material necessary for its production, have driven the price so high that many prefer to leave their cars sitting in the driveway and take a leisurely walk.
Fuel Cost Savings
Solar charging stations represent an affordable alternative even in the U.S., where fuel prices tend to be the lowest because of the massive demand. A simple calculus reveals that this is the case. At an average of 12 cents for every kilowatt-hour, a year’s worth of recharging would cost about $540.
One of the most efficient and modern cars would likely need an upward of $1,400 in refueling every year, if not more. Over a modest range of just 15,000 miles, an electric or hybrid vehicle would save you at least $860; and this is not counting any free recharges offered by public and/or private stations.
Initial Expense versus Long-Term Saving
Currently, an electric vehicle costs anywhere from $28,000 to $37,000 in the U.S, which makes it around $10,000 more expensive than the average sedan running exclusively on petroleum. This difference in price is offset by the average amount of time that a driver keeps their car before switching.
Any rise in fuel prices or additional year that you drive your EV car basically saves you even more money. More often than not, the break-even date is much sooner than most people expect. Lower insurance costs and more affordable maintenance can make a big difference over a 5-year timeframe.
Solar powered charging stations might be something of a novelty right now, but they are on their way to becoming one of the most reliable, affordable, and clean ways to generate electricity in the future. As the demand for solar technology continues to grow, its purchase price will be even smaller, making it an even better deal than it is right now.
Furthermore, the versatility of these solar stations ensure that you can plug anything from an EV to a mobile device, laptop, RV or regular car battery. Particularly in emergency situations, when just a bit of power is needed to start-up an engine, they can turn out to be real life savers. Consider adding a solar power meter just to keep an eye on your power levels as well. (Want to learn how to make a solar cell? Click that link!)