Picture of easy solar charger and PSU [UPDATED]
How long does your cellphone's battery keep the charge? I guess not for long time... and your GPS? Do you have a spare battery to not lose yourself in the woods? A solution is to buy a solar charger, they're cheap nowadays, but not many of them allow you to power your device during the charging process. Indeed this is an effective solution in many cases, and saves you from using a specific battery. Therefore, what are we waiting? Let's build it!
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Step 1: Solar cells

Picture of solar cells
You can buy different types of solar cells: very cheap 2V tiny or huge and more expensive 5V 700 mAh panels. Also halfway choices are good. You need to obtain about 4-5V output voltage from them (a voltage up to 6V doesn't hurt), so if you choose the tiny cells you can connect two of them in series, with sun light they will provide 5V, although the amperage will remain very low. Scissors are there only as size comparison, don't cut the bigger solar cell to obtain many little ones!!

[UPDATE NOTE: as I said you can choose between different sizes and prices of solar panels, and if you want a charger which charges the battery in few hours in direct sunlight, or that charges in shadow too even though slower, you have to spend more and having a bigger surface and weight]
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hirogarden10 days ago
Been trying to work on this still. I have the usb hub it's insides look a smidge different (need to get it out of storage someone accidentally put it there.) i have two decent sized solar panels think are 5v i don't remember the amps or milliamps. I accidentally used wrong gauge wire (didn't realize different wire sizes could cause resistance or what not so power doesn't get threw.) so i need to desolder the solar panels. I am also still working on getting proper 18650 batteries and a pcb charger. I've been super excited at this instructable.
KeilaraK3 months ago

Any website where I can purchase all these components at once? I live in Sweden and some of these items are hard to get so if you could give me a website to order everything i'd greatly appreciate it :) I am thinking of making my own usb solar charger as my highschool exam work :P

Thanks in advance!

andrea biffi (author)  KeilaraK2 months ago

yeah, you can buy all of them on eBay, I did so

KeilaraK2 months ago

I purchased a diode, solar panel, 2 AA rechargeable batteries, battery holder, and an usb hub with 4 ports (with a cord for the wires). You got a charger module in there aswell but I need to order one from e-bay or something to get hold on one of those. Are there any other options, for me to make this happen? Please, i'd like to finish this for my project :(

I'd really appreciate a quick answer. I heard that you could use an usb circuit but I am not sure if any usb-circuit will do.

sunkmail3 months ago

I made this with some modifications ...

I kept the USB cord. This allows me to charge the battery from any USB outlet, and plug into solar panels that have been customised with a female USB outlet.

I didn't see any reason to keep the switches, so I used one of them as a disconnect for the battery. This is to eliminate any current drain when not in use.

I also rigged one of the switches and original HUB LED to the output. This is to confirm that the unit is outputting power, while being able to turn the light off to reduce battery drain.

Next, I attached the Charge complete LED on the charging board to one of the HUB LEDs - This is finicky soldering! No I know when I've got a full charge. My thinking is that if it is fully charged, the little power lost to the LED is 'extra' anyway. As soon as it is no longer charging, the LED turns off, preventing power loss.

andrea biffi (author)  sunkmail3 months ago
Awesome improvements! Thanks for sharing, I will probably add your suggestions to the ible!
odiolafra3 months ago
ok ma il mio dubbio persiste! Il circuito di carica che suggerisco nell'instructables fornisce 5V nei piedini per la carica della batteria. Ma come puoi vedere nella foto sotto aulla batteria c'è scritto che i volt massimo che supporta in input sono al massimo 4,2. La mia domanda è: posso attaccare la batteria direttamente al circuito da te consigliato fregandosene dei 4,2 e sperando che la batteria non si Frigga oppure faccio un partitore di tensione per collegarla al tuo circuito in modo da abbassare la tensione a circa 4V per non rischiare? perché avevo già provato a collegarci direttamente un'altra batteria A ioni tempo fa ma si è rotta e non capisco se si è fritta per i 5V in voltaggio o se sono rimasto troppo con il saldatore sui suoi pannelli di rame
andrea biffi (author)  odiolafra3 months ago

Please refer to notes on pictures of step 2: you can see that +5V is different from "battery connections". So the battery has to be connected to "battery connections", not to "+5V"... easy, isn't it?

Devi connettere la batteria a "battery connections", i 5V sono DC-OUT, puoi connetterci ciò che devi alimentare.

si ma nel "battery connection" sono presenti 5 volts misurati con il multimetro che provengono dal pannello solare, per questo dicevo

andrea biffi (author)  odiolafra3 months ago

Ah ok, non lo sapevo. Sarà perchè non c'è collegato alcun carico...

quindo secondo te posso collegare la batteria direttamente anche se il suo limite di carica è 4,2V? haha scusa se ti rompo le palle ma non ho voglia di brucare la batteria, ci ha messo due mesi e mezzo ad arrivare
andrea biffi (author)  odiolafra3 months ago

prima devi dirci perchè odi la fra! ;-)

odiolafra3 months ago
ciao! siccome sei italiano ne approfitto haha
senti, io avevo intenzione si usare una batteria da telefono, più precisamente una da 3200 mA 3,7 v cinese, quelle che sono copia di quelle Samsung; pagata 4 dollari au eBay
il mio dubbio è che nel retro della batteria c'è scritto che il limite di voltaggio per la ricarica è di 4,2V. Secondo Te posso collegarla direttamente al circuito di ricarica che le fornisce 5v dal pannello solare oppure devo per forza fare un partitore di tensione per abbassare il voltaggio almeno a 4,2?
andrea biffi (author)  odiolafra3 months ago
secondo me devi per forza utilizzare un circuito specifico per la ricarica delle batterie al litio... altrimenti la rovini subito.
Ma costano una cavolata quei circuiti, cerca su ebay.
Alimenti il circuito di ricarica con i 5V del pannello, e colleghi la batteria al circuito stesso, che magari ha già anche un'uscita a 5V.
ps: che ti ha fatto la fra?!

Ah quindi dici che il circuito di ricarica che hai utilizzato tu non va bene per una batteria al litio?

andrea biffi (author)  odiolafra3 months ago

non avevo capito ti riferissi già al circuito di ricarica specifico, certo va benissimo, è fatto apposta :-)

bditewig made it!4 months ago

Thanks for the cool idea and instructions! I made one myself, and it works realy great!

andrea biffi (author)  bditewig4 months ago

AWESOME! thanks for posting! :-)

wobbler4 months ago

Good Instructable.

There are always issues with just putting two cells in parallel. Firstly, if the voltages aren't the same, one will feed current back into the other until they balance voltages. They will also self discharge through each other if the solar cell isn't charging them, although I'm not sure how long this would take.

If you are going to use two cells in parallel it's a good idea to use blocking diodes to stop them feeding back into each other when not charging fully or if they are not both starting with the same voltage. However, these diodes will in themselves cause problems due to the voltage drop across them and will stop the diodes providing current back to the USB 5v outputs. Using diodes like this isn't a problem with a mains charger where losing a volt or so isn't an issue, but for solar cells it can be.

I've also found in the past that there seems to be a minimum current needed to charge a cell and if the current is too low the cell doesn't seem to charge, but this might just be that at low currents it just takes forever. It might be that the circuits are designed to charge one cell because when used with the smaller solar cells this gives a reasonable charging time, which would obviously be doubled using two batteries or because they are checking the current versus voltage to stop overcharging, although I doubt that that's an issue with solar cells.

hirogarden6 months ago

Trying to figure out how to build this with what I have I didn't want to hunt down the special batteries but looks like might be a good idea. I have usb base (trying to decide if I want to use a 7 plug one instead.) and got some tools but trying to figure out if the charger circuit would work as a current regulator even if I had say 4 of those batteries hooked up to it. Don't really want to blow up any of my gadgets even though I want to keep them charged while out and about.

Mr_Rep7 months ago
WHERE DO I FIND THOSE LITTLE TINY HINGES?!?!? I could seriously use those little things
maxhuey1 year ago

I got a bunch of free solar panel from a VW car dealer, they are used in new cars to keep the battery charge during transport from factory to dealer, output of each panel is about 1000 ma. at 12 volts. I bought USB cigarette lighter adapter from dollar store for $1 and connect the two together.

Now I have a 5 volt 1 amp USB charger for $1 + my labor... :-)

davidsona maxhuey8 months ago

Oh, that sounds like something I might want to try and get. What should I ask for when I go to a dealership?

Why don't you do an instructable on this?

It should be pretty straight forward if you have gotten these 12 volt solar panels and the 12 volt cigarette lighter USB adapter. Connect one to the other. I doubt if Instructable would help... :-)

and... by the way, this site used to be gadgets and stuffs, when did it turned into food channels? LOL... sorry got nothing against eating, just could not help it...LOL again falling off my chair this time...

andrea biffi (author)  maxhuey1 year ago

Yup, I need to learn to cook if I wish to post an instructable in each category

;-) That panel seems great!! I wonder where nearest VW car dealer is... a search is mandatory now!

They were originally OBDII connectors so I changed them to standard barrel plugs, much easier for isolation or diagnostic.

Go to a dealer that sells import models, locally assembled VW may not have these panels.

more solar.jpg
andrea biffi (author)  maxhuey1 year ago

cool! if you want to get rid of some of those awesome panels I'm here! ;-) actually I'm sure all Instructables community is available!

Lol... most imports dealers have these panels. You just need a good friend there. Sometimes you can find them in their garbage bin. Those are the non working panels because the wire had lost contact with the back of the solar panel. They can not be soldered, but need to glue back. I don't know what kind of glue needed though so I just insert foam pieces to keep the pressure on
andrea biffi (author)  maxhuey1 year ago

that's interesting! I should follow some of those guys home ;-)

No, I don't meant their home garbage, you might look suspicious there. Its those big metal garbage bin behind the car dealers. You'll be surprised what else they throw away. One time I found a part (US$439 door control) for my neighbor's VW - thrown away because one missing mounting bracket that can easily make with a small piece of Aluminum. Them dealers do not repair, they just replace in order to sell parts - bigger profits paid by customers...

andrea biffi (author)  maxhuey1 year ago

LOL! Ok, but I'll look suspicious behind the car dealer too!

Anyway you are right, they throw away very expensive and almost new stuff!

chuang79 months ago

Hello, I'm just wondering what type of wire I should use? I'm looking at 26~28 gauge. Is this too thin or too thick? Thank you!

andrea biffi (author)  chuang79 months ago

Don't worry too much about that, any thin wire is good, thinner is easier to use. 28 gauge holds more current than needed.

thamizhmca2712 months ago

I will try to this in my own.

andrea biffi (author)  thamizhmca2710 months ago

great, let us know!

ajensen2710 months ago

ok i like what you did but i want ask you a question. i have a usb hub and a USB cable and several solar lights like four and I think they put out around five or six volts. how do I check the amperage and could I use the USB car charger that I plug into cigarette port. I can solder and wire things but don't know how they will interact and if they will get the job done. all I want is a solar charger for my cell phone bc I work all day in middle of a construction site. it won't be used for much else. can you help with advice on what all I need.

andrea biffi (author)  ajensen2710 months ago

What are the dimensions of the panels? if they are tiny they probably are not powerful enough...

manuka1 year ago

Well shown, but I'm wary on several fronts-

* With PVs attached like this naturally the whole setup needs to be placed out in the sun! The internal electronics may hence become cooked & the Li-ion cell overheat! (It happens - I've had such setups destroyed here in "down under" NZ due to excessive solar heating). Best use flying leads so the PV can be put in the sun while the energy store stays in the shade (or shelter).

* LiFePO4 cells (3.2V) are much more rugged & tolerant. Li-ions can be VERY dangerous if charged/discharged out of spec.!

* Chargers like this left outdoors may be stolen,animal (dogs!) or rain damaged.

* Such small PVs have a really pathetic output - best go for something MUCH larger. (Even with 4 hours of bright sun a setup like yours would take DAYS to recharge!) Since you may need to charge the phone on a less sunny day I'd say something in the 2-5 Watts range may be needed. A 12V PV automotive trickle charger (~$US10) may tempt, but these are usually quite bulky.

Yes, you want to keep the battery away from the sun. Not only can it decrease the battery life, but the charge circuit can overheat and shut off. Also, you're essentially charging two devices, the external backup battery and your phone, at the same time. This instructable explains what kind of charge controller and power is required to perform this task and give constant phone charge even under non-ideal conditions:

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