A solar car battery charger is a relatively inexpensive way to get started using solar energy.
The system consists of a solar panel, a converter, cables and clips that connect to the car's 12 volt battery, or a cable with an adaptor that plugs into the car's cigarette lighter.
The components can all be purchased separately and assembled for use, or kits can be purchased from solar energy equipment vendors who package them for convenience.
The type of solar car battery charger you need will depend on whether you want to use it to recharge a depleted battery or to keep your car's battery from running down.
A small 1 to 5-watt system is perfect for battery maintenance, or "trickle-charging". The power provided by these smaller systems is low enough that there is no danger of over charging your battery. The cost of a small trickle charging system starts at around US$30 for a 1 watt system.
By providing a light but constant flow of electricity to your car's battery, you can extend its lifespan and benefit several ways. You will never have to worry about getting into your car and finding that it will not start because of a dead battery.
You will not only save yourself frustration, but in an emergency situation a dead battery can be life threatening. You will also save money by not having to buy a new car battery every few years. And you will be helping keep the environment cleaner by not adding yet another dead battery to your community's landfills.
Larger 12 watt solar panels deliver enough electricity to recharge a 12-volt battery. But solar car battery chargers which use solar panels delivering over 8 watts of electricity need to use charge controllers to prevent over charging.
The controller is a small device that is placed between the solar panel and the battery. It regulates the amount of power the panel delivers to the battery, and keeps it within safe bounds. Plan on spending about US$100 for a 12 watt solar panel, and about US$50 for a controller.
By adding a 110 volt power source to your solar car battery system, you can jump start a dead battery and provide emergency power to small household electrical appliances.
The power source is actually another storage battery in a case with built-in inverter and AC (alternating current) outlets. The inverter turns the DC (direct current0 electricity stored in the battery into AC current.
Some models even include USB ports to charge cell phones and other devices. A basic 110 volt power source costs around US$100.
The type of solar panel you use depends on your personal preference and where you'll be using the solar car charger. If you plan to use it mostly at home and store it in the garage in between uses, a rigid solar panel will work just fine.
Since the size of the panel will be about 1 foot wide by 3 or 4 feet long, it can easily be stored on a shelf for safe keeping and handy retrieval. You can purchase a rigid solar panel with built-in controller for about US$100.
If you want to be able to use your solar car battery charger during road trips, while camping or for other purposes while you're on the road, a portable solar panel would be your best bet.
Foldable and rollable solar panels are available in many different sizes. They're typically made using thin film solar cells that are sewn onto synthetic fabric that is resistant to fading or deteriorating from exposure to the sun.
Thin film solar panels do not yet deliver as much electricity as rigid solar panels with similar surface area, but they are flexible, weather resistant and lightweight, so are perfect for powering smaller devices. The cost for a portable solar panel with enough juice to recharge your 12 volt battery or your 100 volt emergency power source is about US$100.
A solar car battery charger can be used on any 12-volt storage battery. That means you can use it on other motorized vehicles and equipment like riding lawn mowers, jet skis, snowmobiles and recreational vehicles.
The trickle chargers are particularly useful for seasonal equipment because the low voltage will not over charge the battery, but the continuous charge means the equipment will be ready to use even if it has been sitting idle for months. Instead of having to wait several hours for a battery to fully recharge, you can load up the RV for a spur of the moment weekend trip!
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