A Solar Experiment

I’m very interested in renewable energy and solar. I watch tons of videos on YouTube about solar panels, home solar storage systems, and off-grid living. I want to get started in trying out solar to see if I can supply a percentage of our household energy needs from a solar system that I own and operate. From watching videos I can tell that this is possible, but I wanted to know how it would impact my day-to-day life.

Before dropping a ton of cash into any type of solar panels, controllers, and batteries I decided to try a short controlled experiment to see if charging only from solar would be inconvenient, add stress to my day, or be totally not feasible. Here’s what I did and how it turned out.

A solar experiment

Last Christmas my sister gave me a 24000mAh Hilucky Solar Panel Portable battery charger. I didn’t know anything about this battery before adding it to my Christmas list other than it had good Amazon reviews and could recharge using built in solar panels. The experiment I thought up is to charge my iPhone 10 and AirPods for one week with power that I got from the sun.

The user’s manual says it “The power bank can charge iPhone 6 around 10 times” so I figured it would work well for my test. The battery was charged to “3 out of 5” lights when I started the experiment last Sunday (super precise measurement I know!).

The first charge of the phone went from 54% battery to 100% battery in around two hours. Extending that out I estimate it would take 4 hours to charge a completely empty iPhone battery using this power bank.

Behavior changes

Charging the battery

Each day after breakfast and before I went upstairs to the office I would put out the solar battery in the direct sun to charge.

By around 11pm the morning location was in shadow so I would have to move the battery to a new location to be in direct sunlight for the rest of the day. The battery user manual said that the bank would take around 22 hours or more of sunlight to charge fully. My goal was to replace the energy that I used to charge the phone and AirPods for one day of use.

Charging my tech

Each night I would charge my phone for two hours. I wouldn’t get to 100% of battery. The AirPods took less than an hour to charge to 100%, but they never dipped past 80% of battery. iPhones and AirPods are very well designed and very efficient so the amount of electricity used to charge them is very, very minimal in the overall amount of power we use, but this is more of a behavior experiment!

I finished the seven day experiment yesterday so here’s how it went.

Things that went well

The best thing about the experiment was that I was successful in charging my iPhone and AirPods for the week only using the battery bank. The changes in my day to day activity were minimal and I didn’t need to alter the way I used my phone. I still listened to audio books while walking, watched YouTube on my phone, and checked Slack and Twitter.

The weather cooperated for most of the week and all days except one had limited clouds and bright sun.

Since I already own my iPhone and AirPods and the Hilucky was a gift this experiment didn’t cost me anything extra!

Things that didn’t go well

The main issue with my experiment is I have very little hard data other than the battery percentage on my iPhone and a few colored LEDs on the side of the battery bank. I would love to have real charge data and graphs to pour over and find out optimal times of the day to charge. It would be great to compare charge times to the weather report to know how a storm or cloudy day affects charging.

Also, because the battery bank doesn’t have a precise reading of how much energy it is holding I’m not entirely sure how much energy came from the solar panels. Without this data it’s possible that I was charging my phone from the first initial charge at the beginning of the week because the bank’s marketing copy mentions “10 charges”.

To be continued!

This very basic experiment only increased my interest in creating a solar system to offset a percentage of our family energy usage. We’re planning on moving into a new house next month and after that process is complete I will work on more experiments like this one.