If your power bank solar charger did not come with instructions, or you simply misplaced them, then you’ve come to the right place. Although they are designed to be relatively simple devices, new electronics with inputs, outputs, lights, noises, and more can be a bit overwhelming without the proper guidance.
What to Expect From This Guide
This guide is designed to provide instructions, tips, and troubleshooting for small, handheld solar charging devices.
At Shop Solar Kits, we completely understand the value of having a little extra power on the go and are passionate about electricity independence with free solar energy. For a look at the possibilities of larger solar chargers, please read our best solar battery bank guide.
Although there are hundreds of brands and thousands of models of power bank solar chargers on the market today, we’ve assembled this information to serve as a comprehensive resource for simple instructions and frequently asked questions.
Below, we will outline the features and specs of typical solar chargers, showcase practical uses, provide operating instructions, and offer plenty of purchasing tips and tricks for picking the right product.
Features and Specs of a Power Bank Solar Charger
Although solar energy generation and storage may seem complicated, portable power banks are actually very simple products. As they are meant to be laid out in the sun, they are also typically very durable, weather-resistant, and long-lasting. Of course, the actual product lifespan will always depend on both the quality of the product and the frequency of use.
Almost all power bank solar chargers come with the following:
- An onboard solar panel
- Built-in battery storage
- Input port for AC, DC, or USB charging
- One or more outputs (typically USB)
- And a hard, durable outer casing
How much battery does a solar charger have?
The majority of small solar chargers have a battery bank between 8,000 mAh and 14,000 mAh. For modern smartphones, this is roughly enough electricity to charge a cell phone 3 to 5 times, with varied amounts of battery capacity.
Depending on the manufacturer, the battery of a solar charger will be rated in either amp-hours or watt-hours. In most instances, products will be advertised with their approximate runtime for normal electrical uses.
Besides finding the battery capacity of a potential solar charger, it is also important to look for the product's expected lifetime. This may be expressed as “life cycles” on a product spec sheet, which refers to how many times the bank can be charged and discharged effectively. Of course, checking online reviews is a great way to see whether or not a solar charger is likely to live out its expected lifespan.
Best Uses for Solar Power Bank Chargers
By using a solar charger, you are unlocking access to electricity anywhere you go, at no additional cost to you or the environment. With the free and abundant energy of the sun, it is possible to charge your phones and other devices anywhere the sun shines.
Most commonly, solar power bank chargers are used for:
- Travel of all kinds
- Camping trips and off-grid adventures
- Sports games, tailgates, and parties
- Emergency preparedness
- RVs, vans, campers, skoolies, and other mobile homes
If you really think about it, an extra few phone charges in your pocket or backpack is always a handy thing to have around both for yourself and those around you. In larger solar-powered generators, it is even possible to charge many devices at one time. For instance, in our Ego battery review, we showcase a solar charging generator with 4 USB outlets and 3 AC (wall) plugs.
How to Use a Power Bank Solar Charger
Aptly named, a power bank solar charger is used to charge devices with solar power. Technically, however, the power bank charges its own battery capacity and then discharges the energy to your phone. With this, these devices should actually be called “solar chargers and dischargers.”
Although that name is not very catchy, it truly shows how easy it is to use a power bank solar charger. In this sense, the process of using a solar power bank can be broken down into two simple steps:
#1: Charge the battery
#2: And discharge the power
Yes, it really is that easy. Some call it magic, others call it science. And actually, the science behind a small solar power charger is very simple to understand.
How Stored Solar Power Works
In between steps one and two, you are free to keep your power stored away for as long as you’d like. However, it is important to know that a battery will start to slowly lose its charge as it approaches its rated shelf life.
For small chargers, we recommend recharging your bank every 2-3 months if you always want to have a bit of extra power on hand. Some premium devices have rated shelf lives of up to 1 year, which makes them some of the easiest to use devices for reliable access to small amounts of power.
Of course, you should always remember to “top off” your battery if you are able to before using your charger. Even a few weeks without use can cause an idle battery to slowly lose its charge, which would not be a pleasant surprise when attempting to use it in a real-life situation.
Charging Your Solar Power Bank
For most small solar power banks, there is more than one way to charge the internal battery. Charging time will vary depending on both the electricity source and the amount of electrical input. Below, we will outline some of the most common methods used to power up a small solar battery bank.
Charging a Power Bank with Solar Power
As the name obviously implies, power bank solar chargers can be charged with solar power. Today, many small and handheld products have the solar panel directly mounted onto the device for a small, all-in-one solar generator.
For instance, you may have heard of the Patriot Power Cell, which is a popular all-in-one solar phone charger. Although we would not personally recommend this product, there are many similar devices that incorporate a solar panel directly on top of the battery.
Alternatively, some power banks can be charged with independent solar panels hooked up to the battery reserve. Although this is not very practical for small solar chargers, if you are looking for a large solar battery bank, then high-efficiency PV solar panels are an absolute must.
For instance, if you are charging an ego battery with the help of a small solar generator, then you will need to purchase solar panels separately. Although this is not as convenient, small all-in-one solar chargers are generally very limited by small or inefficient solar panels.
Using Other Electricity to Charge Your Power Bank
Alternatively, most power bank solar devices can be recharged with other sources of electricity. Most commonly, this is accomplished with a USB or USB-C port and cord. Occasionally, it may also be possible to charge a solar power bank with AC (wall outlet) or DC (carport) electricity using the right-sized device and equipment.
If you are considering a small solar charger that cannot be recharged with alternative electricity, then we highly recommend you reconsider. Whenever you are packing for your next trip, it will be incredibly convenient to simply plug in your solar charger to the wall or a USB outlet to ensure you will be able to bring some extra electricity along for the ride.
Discharging Your Solar Battery (Using the Power)
Of course, once our solar power bank is fully charged, then you will be able to use the power to charge your devices. Most commonly, power bank solar chargers are designed specifically to charge your phone, camera, drone, or other USB-powered devices.
With higher capacity models, it may be possible to charge larger devices or even provide continuous electricity for appliances, electronics, and more.
How to Charge a Phone with a Power Bank
We will be the first to say that charging a phone with a solar power bank is not rocket science, and can typically be figured out in a matter of seconds. Once you are sure that your battery bank has been charged (usually indicated by a series of lights), then you can simply plug your phone directly into the device’s USB outlets.
If your phone does not have the same outlet type that your charger provides, then you will need to purchase an adapter. Although this is still an effective solution, we encourage you to take a bit of time to find a power bank that directly matches your electrical needs, if possible.
Simply insert the right cord, and wallah, your phone should begin to charge. If your device is not indicating a charge is present, then you must ensure everything is connected properly and that the bank still has battery life remaining to discharge.
Powering Other Devices with a Solar Charger
Secondly, solar chargers with enough battery onboard are also fully capable of charging many other small electronics besides personal cell phones. For tablets, computers, cameras, drones, handheld video games, and more, solar chargers can help provide you with the extra battery life you need for staying online.
Using a high-powered solar charger, devices with AC and DC ports (in addition to the USB plug-ins), make it possible to energize any household item with portable solar power. Although running time will be limited by the size of the battery, chargers with enough power can help run CPAP machines and other medical devices with silent, clean electricity.
Before you plug anything other than a phone into a solar charger, be sure to identify your devices charging capacity. If the wattage or amperage of your large electronic item exceeds the continuous capacity of your solar charger, it can lead to permanent system damage.
The performance of a power bank solar charger will depend on a number of factors to ultimately determine how effective it is for both charging and discharging. These variables can be divided into product and usage factors, some of which can be improved with the proper adjustments.
If your solar charger seems to be underperforming, it may be because of one of the following common issues:
- Panels are not in direct sunlight (required for efficient charging)
- The charger is or has been, in temperatures outside of the recommended operating range
- The solar panel is covered in dust or has been scratched
- The device has overheated while charging on a metal (or other heat-capturing) surface
- Or the charger has been used beyond recommended discharge power capacity
To test your solar charger, simply stick it out in the sun for a few hours and let it do its thing. Whenever it comes time to check the charge, be careful when picking up your power bank as it may be very hot to the touch after hours in the sun. Once safe to use, simply plug in your electronics and begin to power your life with solar energy.
Power Bank Solar Charger Purchasing Tips and Tricks
To close things out, we’d like to take a moment to outline three of the most important tips and tricks to keep in mind when shopping for a power bank solar charger. With a high-quality product, hopefully, you will never have to seek out additional instructions on how to properly operate your device.
Always Get A Little Extra Battery
First and foremost, a little extra power never hurts. Unless you’re planning an ultralight backpacking trip, you will barely notice a difference between a 7 oz or a 2 pound (32 oz) solar charger. In fact, a heavier unit may even be the sign of a higher quality item, with both internal and external premium components.
When you are using your device, you will be thankful to pack a little extra power for both ordinary and emergency use. Imagine yourself on your next vacation, charging your phone with solar energy. We are sure that your friends and family will find a way to ask whether or not they could use a bit of power as well.
Beware of Fake Solar Chargers
Second, be on the lookout for fake solar chargers when shopping around for the right bargain item. Because many solar chargers can also be powered with USB electricity, there have been many products created with fake solar panels by shady companies.
The best way to evade a fake solar charger is by properly checking the manufacturers’ product reviews. If you are unable to find any information whatsoever online about a solar charger manufacturer, then that is a red flag indicating a possible decoy panel.
If you have a gut feeling that your power bank solar charger includes a fake panel, closely inspect the unit to see if it's the real deal. Look to ensure that the solar cells are aligned and the electrical components seem to be working properly. After hours of unsuccessful charging, it also may be possible that a part may have malfunctioned. This brings us to our last tip...
Pay Close Attention to Warranties, Terms, and Conditions
Last but not least, it is important to always pay close attention to power bank solar charger warranties, terms, and conditions before making a purchase. If you’re currently searching for instructions on how to find your product’s warranty, then unfortunately it may be too late.
In general, solar chargers are designed to be affordable which means some low-priced items may come in cheaper quality builds. Although you do not need a multi-year warranty to ensure your cell phone has a bit of extra battery, we strongly suggest staying away from solar chargers with no or minimal warranty information.
With the wide array of products on the market today, power bank solar charger instructions will always vary between models. However, we hope that this resource has provided answers to some of the most commonly sought-after information regarding these handy devices.
To continue your green energy decisions, we recommend that you seek out the exact end-of-life instructions for your specific solar charger to verify whether or not it can be recycled. Hopefully, however, you will not need to think about recycling your high-quality battery bank for a very long time.
If you’re looking to learn more about how to store larger loads of renewable energy, feel free to check out our solar bank instructions for generators and DIY systems. Using the same technology that powers small solar chargers, large power banks, or “power walls” can electrify an entire home with endless solar energy.