Step 2: Things You Should Know
Solar Power is fun, and adding solar to your projects is even more fun. Plus these days it's darned cheap to do.
When making a battery charger there are things you should keep in mind.
First, know your batteries. NiMh batteries are the most common these days, and you can find them at any store. Your typical AA NiMh battery probably is 1.2 Volts and has anywhere between 2000- 3000 mah worth of charge in it. (Check your batteries, they probably have the capacity written on them. That or check the maker's webpage.)
Secondly you need to know your solar panels. For instance, the ones I'm using in this project put out a max of 4.5 volts and 80 ma of charge.
With only 4.5 volts coming in, I really shouldn't try charging up any more than two batteries (hooked up in a series giving me 2.4 volts). Also, because one of my solar panels only puts out 80 ma at a max, it's going to take a long time to charge up all 3000 mah hours my batteries hold. In this guide I hooked up two panels in parallel to give me around 160 mahs worth of power coming in. If I had a bigger case I could hook up another one or two to give me even more power.
You're probably asking yourself, "hey, why doesn't he hook up a whole lot of panels to throw down a massive amount of amps and fast charge those batteries!" Good point, but if I did that I'd kill the batteries. Your standard wall charger has brains that let it fast charge a battery without blowing it up. We're going about our charging using the "trickle" method. As a general rule of thumb, you don't want to throw more than 10% of the capacity of the battery (C/10) at the battery when charging. As our batteries are 3000 mah capacity, and we're throwing 160 mah of charge at it, we're ok. (AAA batteries hold between 800 -1800 mah, so we're probably ok for them as well as we're never going to actually get the full 160 ma from the cells.)
If you really want to charge up your batteries fast, you could try and hit the C/10 power supply. Though this being solar, it would still take a while.
So there you have it. Now you've got a basic idea of how to add solar power to your projects. Now go out and buy some Solar Panels and NiMh batteries.