Harnessing the Sun (Video!)

It’s a gray, overcast day here in Estes Park, more typical of the Pacific Northwest than sunny Colorado. We spent a good part of the day test packing our kayaks, and on the way home received a small package in the mail, a 12V car charger for our cell phone.

Until now, I haven’t been able to experiment with our solar charging setup. I plugged in the components and we stood excitedly on the porch as the battery indicator flashed a lightning bolt! It felt like we had just plugged a socket into the overcast and started siphoning it’s meager energy into our phone. Neither Apryle or I have any prior experience with solar charging (beyond a calculator or two), so it was an exciting moment.

Here is a break-down of the solar charging setup we will use on our kayak expedition to charge our cell phone as well as batteries for our digital cameras, marine VHF radio, GPS, and headlamps.
Powerfilm r-7 solar battery charger

The business end of the solar charging system is a cadmium-free, waterproof, flexible Powerfilm R-7 rollable integrated solar panel. The panel comes with the RA-2 female 12 volt adapter, which plugs into the panel using a marine-grade connection. Using the female 12V plug, we can plug in anything that would plug into a car cigarette lighter.

Before the trip, I will drill a hole in a Pelican 1050 micro case and run the 12v plug into the case, sealing the hole with silicon and/or marine epoxy. The Pelican box will serve as a power center, into which we can plug either the 12v charger for our cell phone, or a battery charger that can accept 4 AA or AAA batteries.

During the trip, I will be able to attach the panel to the stern deck of my kayak and place the power center in a deck bag or in my cockpit behind my seat. In camp, we can simply place the panel in a sunny spot and charge away. Charging time is yet to be determined, but should be around a day or two for 4 AA batteries depending on the amount of sun. We’ll be using Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable batteries, which are reputed to hold a charge for longer than typical rechargeable batteries and last roughly 4 times longer before becoming depleted.

Our solar battery charging system is small in physical size and in power, but should be adequate for our relatively low power needs during four months of paddling. Here is a video demonstration of the solar charging system:


Go Wild Kayak Expedition Solar Charging Setup from Apryle Craig on Vimeo.

5 comments

1 Michael Amante { 04.16.09 at 2:22 pm }

How’s it working out for you? Thanks for writing about this product — I’m very interested in it as well for outdoors GPS/cellphone use..

2 Apryle { 04.16.09 at 3:19 pm }

Michael, it’s working great. I have a blackberry and it recharges the battery from 0 to full in about 5 hours on an overcast day. We haven’t tried a gps… our gps will run off of batteries, which we have not yet tried.

3 Dennis Barrett { 06.23.11 at 2:09 pm }

Now that the trip is over, can you give me/us a review on your solar charging system and how you would change it for a trip now. Do you still use this system?
Aquatically yours,
dennis barrett
south padre island , texas

4 Apryle { 06.24.11 at 10:28 am }

You bet. We’re a little crunched on time, but hopefully Phil can get back to you ASAP.

5 Phil { 06.27.11 at 9:29 am }

Our solar system worked reasonably well on the trip. We were easily able to charge a cell phone in 1/2 day of sun. The battery charger that we used was not very reliable, and we had a difficult time charging our AA and AAA batteries with the solar panel. (Not, in my opinion, because of the panel output, but rather because of some failure within the charger itself.)

As to durability – we put the panel through about the toughest test I can imagine for electronics. It lived on the back deck of my kayak, exposed to sun, wind, and saltwater waves for 111 days. The panel did not survive the trip; the connections corroded after approximately two months. The panel still works just fine – tested it with a voltmeter and the output is still there – but the connections need to be resoldered.

So – if doing it over, I would happily take the same panel but would experiment more with battery chargers to find one that works well with the panel. Goal Zero makes a charger (the Guide 10) that I think looks promising.

I would also dissect the panel and reinforce the connections (with plasti-dip perhaps? or di-electric paste? not sure.)

Hope this helps!

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