A solar battery charger is a wonderful gadget, but in my experience it has its time and place. Not surprisingly, going solar is ideal when you’re off the grid, but have you considered it for trickle-charging?
We’ve covered solar chargers in a few previous articles here on EcoVillageGreen and so I wanted to take a different angle.
After all, you’re probably already aware of the pros and cons of solar power and we’ve covered solar phone chargers, portable solar power systems, and we’ve even compared portable solar power systems for camping.
So, for this article, I’m going to talk about the use of solar battery chargers for trickle-charging…and I know what many people are going to ask first…
What is trickle-charging?
Batteries have a self-discharge rate. This means, that even when they aren’t hooked up to anything, a series of chemical reactions occurring within the battery means that it is losing some of its charge, a little bit at a time, every day. The self discharge rate will vary depending on the battery; for lithium batteries, this is only 2-3% of their charge per month, whereas some nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries may have a self-discharge rate of up to 30% per month.
Trickle-chargers are used to charge the battery at a rate equivalent to its self-discharge rate. This can help extend the life of the battery and can prevent situations where the battery is dead because it simply hasn’t been used in ages (such as on a boat or that little sports car that only comes out in perfect weather).
When is solar a good choice for trickle charging?
I think the answer to this is whenever possible. The reality is that the biggest frustration on customer reviews for solar battery chargers is that it takes so darned long to charge anything. This isn’t an issue with trickle-charging as you want a slow charge rate…that’s the point!
So, a small 5-watt solar battery trickle charger might be very useful for trickle-charging a car or tractor battery, an electric fence and boat batteries.
Also, with electric cars seeking their revenge on our roads (thank goodness), solar battery chargers are a good way to extend your range and charge when you can’t plug in!
What you need to know before buying
The charger needs to match the voltage rating of your batteries, so be sure to check that.
You need to know your battery – some batteries are very sensitive to overcharging while others are less so. If it’s the former, you may want to also purchase a solar charge controller to prevent overcharging or pay a little more for a smart charger that stops once the battery is fully charged.
Make sure your trickle charger has a mechanism that prevents the panel from discharging the battery when it isn’t being charged by the sun. This would quickly defeat the purpose.
We often think about how useful solar battery chargers are for charging out techno gear when we’re off the grid, but solar trickle chargers are another great use of solar power. Solar trickle chargers can help extend the life of batteries without adding to your energy bill and in areas where you might not have access to electricity. Here’s a quick video showing how simple they are: