Conclusions: Where, how and when a solar powered mobile phone works best

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the city of Yuma in Arizona is the sunniest place on earth. Of the possible 4,456 hours of daylight each year, the sun shines in Yuma for roughly 4,174 hours, or about 94% of the time. But if you’re not one of the city’s 77,000 inhabitants, what’s the best part of the world to have a solar powered mobile phone? After our four-month field study, we have a better idea of the answer to this and many other questions.

How well do solar powered phones work in Africa?

Near to the equator Amos, our Kenyan tester, was able to harvest charge for nearly 12 hours a day with Lokki, our solar powered mobile phone prototype. His best charging current was 32mA. If we assume the peak theoretical harvesting time is * peak*2/π, Amos’s theoretical maximum harvesting is 230mAh. However, his actual best was 134mAh, or 60% yielded capacity of the theoretical maximum. Nonetheless, in 59 days, Amos gained 20 hours talk time or sufficient standby for 41 days. If you ignore the variations in weather, at the equator these values should stay the same throughout the year.

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Conclusions: A solar mobile phone’s performance is affected by lifestyle

After four months, our solar charging project has come to an end. In that time we’ve collected huge amounts of invaluable data from places as far apart as the Arctic and Kenya. We already knew that for solar charging to be useful it needed to be able to power a phone or at least increase its operational time. Fortunately, the newest phones have such low stand by power consumption, solar power has a better chance than ever to do just that. But, how did things pan out in reality?

Sailing the Baltic with Petteri

Sailing the Baltic, Petteri had little time to use his phone. Consequently, he was able to fully power his phone from the sun during the entire voyage. In fact, he even ended topping up his battery.

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The challenges of using a solar mobile while camping

If there’s one occasion you’d expect a solar powered phone to be useful it would be camping. To test this assumption, we gave Aino Aaltonen a Lokki prototype when she attended the world’s largest scout Jamboree in Sweden. After an action packed ten days of outdoors fun, this is what we discovered.

10 action packed days to remember

Diary: The best thing about the camp was the atmosphere. I loved the fact that you could go to talk to strangers and it was great to meet so many people from so many different countries. The only regret I have is that I didn’t take part as much as I could in the spontaneous activities. Still, it was a very active ten days and I know it’s an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

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4 solar powered gadgets you can charge your mobile with today

Gadgets for collecting the sun’s rays have been around since the 1830s when British astronomer John Herschel famously used a solar thermal collector box to cook food during an expedition to South Africa. These days, there is a whole host of gizmos you can use to make the most of solar energy. We’ve unearthed four that won’t make you dinner, but will feed your mobile phone’s battery.

1. Solio Universal Solar Charger Kit

While this stylish piece of kit is too big to fit into anything but the biggest surf short pockets, it’s still compact enough to easily travel in your beach bag. Oval shaped, it has three small panels that fan out like a flower. Solio’s makers promise that 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight will get your device fully charged.

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How a solar powered mobile phone performs in stormy weather

In his first report from his boat on the Baltic, Petteri Alinikula was enjoying great weather and fine sailing with his family. Perfect conditions for keeping Lokki, our solar powered mobile prototype, up and running. But how will Lokki and Petteri fare when conditions take a distinctive turn for the worse? To find out, read on.

Weathering the storm

Day 8, Wednesday July 13th: 4:30 start from Haapsalu to Kuressaare 75 nautical miles, sunshine, clouds, and tornado!

Day 11, Sunday July 17th: Kuressaare-Kihnu-Pärnu. Nature has truly shown us its energy. Had one of the most frightening moments in my life when a tornado landed next to us and chased us on the Gulf of Riga. To my understanding the probability of that happening in this part of the world is much smaller than winning the jackpot in the national lottery twice in a row. Are we really working on capturing the right mode of sun’s energy, when such powerful forces, waves and winds, are rioting around us?

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A brief pictorial history of solar powered technology

As far back as the 5th century BC, the Greeks were building their homes in grid patterns to utilize solar power. It was such an accepted technology that the playwright Aeschylus wrote that only primitives “lacked knowledge of houses turned to face the winter sun, dwelling beneath the ground like swarming ants in sunless caves.” Nonetheless, it still took over 2300 years for us to see solar powered machines, but since then the progress has been pretty dramatic. To see for yourself, check out our pictorial history.

1865- The first solar powered engine

Auguste Mouchout was the first man to patent a design for an engine running on solar energy.  Worried about his country’s dependence on coal, he received funds from the French government to research solar power. By 1865 he designed a device, which could turn solar energy into mechanical steam power and operate a steam engine. He is quoted as saying “Eventually industry will no longer find in Europe the resources to satisfy its prodigious expansion. Coal will undoubtedly be used up. What will industry do then?” Despite his success, the French government disagreed and ended his funding in 1878.

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How well does a solar mobile work at the end of a Lapland summer?

Summer time in Lapland is like nowhere else in the world. For a start, there are the 73 polar days, when the sun never sets.  Then there’s the average temperature that even in July is just 14°C. Add to that the fact, that summer starts in mid June and ends in mid August, and you can see why you have to be pretty tough to live in the far north. Our Lokki solar phone tester, Ilkka belongs to this hardy breed. But with the summer disappearing fast, how useful will his solar phone be. To find out, read on.

Goodbye sun. Hello clouds

Diary: It has been pretty cloudy. Yet the last three days have been hot. The nights are starting to get cool and soon even the days will cool down. From July 18th to 22nd, I worked mainly in the lab and office, plus the days were not too sunny. Consequently, the phone run out of battery and turned off.  On the 20th I tied it to a light pole and left it to charge all day.

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Hiking the Arctic Highlands with a solar powered mobile

The Arctic Char is one of Norway’s most appreciated fish. Not only is it very tasty, but it’s also well known for putting up an epic struggle. It’s this combination of attributes, which made Esa Karpoff, one of our Lokki solar powered phone testers take his son, Mihkkal, on a 50km trek into the Norwegian arctic. Hiking through one of the most deserted place on earth, he’s also made sure he took his solar phone with him.

Hiking to the end of the world

Diary: 03.08.2011

I didn’t expect Lokki to charge very much at all during the trip, as the weather was rainy and cloudy, so I charged it before leaving. I didn’t pack my big camera. Even after all my years spent trekking, the backpack was already heavy enough at 30kg.


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A sunny forecast: 5 reasons why the future will be solar powered

Despite its huge potential, solar power currently only accounts for a meager 0.02% of the world’s energy needs. This figure sounds disappointing, especially when you learn that solar panels were first invented already way back in 1883. Nonetheless, we’re confident the future will be solar powered. Here’s why.

1. The cost of solar power is dropping

One of the biggest obstacles to the widespread adoption of solar power has been cost. In the US for example, solar is still significantly more expensive than fossil fuels – at around $0.22 and $0.33 per kilowatt-hour, compared to $0.11. However, every year that’s changing. So much so that Mark M. Little, the global research director for General Electric Co. believes that solar power will be cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels and nuclear reactors within three to five years.

2. Solar panels are getting more and more efficient

Solar efficiency is defined as the measure of power produced versus the sun’s energy that hits the panel. When Charles Fritt invented the first working solar panel in 1883, he achieved just 1% solar efficiency. Today’s GaAs based multijunction devices hold the world record in efficiency at 43%, under laboratory conditions, while the most efficient solar cells in commercial use achieve around 21%. It’s advances like these, which have enabled the Mars Exploration Rover’s solar panels to power the mission for  an incredible 30 times longer than originally planned, 7 years 6 months and 23 days instead of 3 months.

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Sailing the Baltic Sea with a solar powered mobile phone

If you’re into sailing, you might have recently read about the MS Tûranor, the world’s biggest solar powered boat. The name, from a language in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, means “the Power of the Sun”. Apt when you consider the boat is currently trying to circumnavigate the globe using solar energy alone. If the sun’s rays can be used for boat power, can they be used for boat communication, too? That’s the question our intrepid sailor, Petteri Alinikula, set out to discover when he sailed the Baltic. Here’s how he fared.

Setting sail

Diary: Day 1, July 6. Still on shore, making final preparations for the trip. I tend to worry about all things. And boy, there is a lot to worry in sailing: technology, safety, food, routes, everything. In the evening our plan is to sail a couple of hours from our home harbor to Suomenlinna, a beautiful 18th Century fortress in front of downtown Helsinki. Perfect location to start crossing the Baltic Sea on Thursday. Did charge my super sun phone using a wall charger. Now it should stay operational for the next three and a half weeks. Should have one topic less to worry!

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