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  1. #1
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    Does anyone use solar to power laptop on the road?

    Just wondering if anyone has found a solar system that is small and light but powerful enough to power small laptops like eee pc etc. While on the road. we will be away from mains power for fairly extended periods of time and need to use laptop quite a bit to keep sponsors happy. All suggestions greatly appreciated.
    Gav

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    Formerly Known as Newbie Juha's Avatar
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    Search the Forums for "solar", you'll find threads where this has been discussed. In short: it will most likely be impossible for you to keep the panel in proper angle and position while riding. Unless you're riding a straight line in salt desert or similar. Proper solar recharging requires you to stay a sunny day at the camp every now and then, adjusting the panel if needed and letting it charge.

    I have the eeePC myself, but I don't know how much current it draws to recharge. Maybe use a dynohub?

    --J
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  3. #3
    Senior Member one_beatnik's Avatar
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    I've heard very good things about these: http://www.rei.com/product/760969

    A couple of the journals on crazyguy mentioned these.
    Dan in SW Iowa...
    life is lethal; none of us gets out alive!

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    Professional Fuss-Budget Bacciagalupe's Avatar
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    AFAIK, the Solio won't hold enough juice to power a laptop or notebook.

    FYI, the way these solar chargers work is that they charge up a battery (which takes many hours of strong sunlight), and you charge your device off of the battery. It's a time-consuming process, and you'd probably want something like an "Energi To Go" to supplement it or work as backup.

    However, a Solio will keep an iPhone or a similar smartphone powered up most of the time. If your sponsors expect you to stay in touch, blog and post photos, a smartphone won't be quite as smooth as a netbook but should be workable.

    There's a panel made by Sunlinq that might work, but it's kind of big and expensive.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Neil G.'s Avatar
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    I've toured with a solar panel, and it's been pretty successful. The trick is that it has to be a real solar PANEL, not one of those tiny gimmicky "solar chargers". Mine is a 10-watt panel. It sits flat on top of my rear rack. Total weight, including cable and PVC frame I built to support it, is 3 lbs. The cable runs along my top tube and into my handlebar bag, where it ends at a female automobile "cigarette lighter" adapter. Then I just plug in the car charger/adapter for whatever device I want to charge. No heavy intermediate batteries or custom circuitry required.

    I have an old Fujitsu P1120 (a "netbook" before the "netbook" name was invented), and I tried charging it via solar on one tour, but that wasn't very effective. The problem is that the Fujitsu requires a 16VDC input, and the panel provides 12VDC (just like a car's cigarette lighter). So I needed a hefty adapter to boost the 12VDC up to 16VDC, and with the losses inherent in that, needed optimal conditions to charge the laptop.

    In contrast, on my latest tour, I used it only to charge USB-based devices, and it worked beautifully for that. I got a cigarette-lighter-to-USB adapter, which must have done a very nice job of dropping the voltage from 12VDC to USB's 5VDC, because devices would charge almost as quickly as if they were plugged into the wall. In all we were able keep 4 devices charged up: 2 smartphones (T-mobile G1s), a Garmin GPS, and an auxiliary USB battery. It had no problem charging when partially shaded, when the skies were completely overcast, or even at 8am. No special angling or care required. Admittedly, we were in Utah and Arizona, less than two months away from the summer solstice, but I think you'd still get pretty effective charging at other places and times. It really makes you wish that USB was a universal standard for charging!

    I actually was hoping that my friend would get an eeePC for the tour, because I believe that takes a 12VDC input. Which means that theoretically, it could be plugged directly into the panel, and would have a much greater chance of successful charging than my 16V laptop. Unfortunately, you'll never really know for sure until you try it...the eee could always have some sort of detector that prevents any charging at all unless the supplied current is above a certain level.

    I can also mention that my friend managed his whole journal from his G1 "phone", including writing all the entries and uploading them (including photos). So that's another possibility if the laptop thing doesn't work out for any reason.

    Here are some not-very-explicit pictures of my setup, but hopefully it's enough to give you an idea. If this sounds like something you might like to explore, I can give more details.

    It's definitely a great way to get attention and questions from people!





    Neil

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    You can buy a printed/rollable solar panels.They come in 5/10/15/20 amps,and different voltages. They are 12" wide and up to 6' long,depending on the amps,and roll up to a 4" diameter.

    It will take a 20 amp panel to run the netbook directly.If you were planning on charging the netbook while your riding,solar panels are not there yet...maybe a year or two.

    You will need a 14 volt panel in order to charge a 12 volt battery.You can run it directly on 12 volts if you have the amps.

    I use a 14 volt panel to charge an ASUS eee netbook,everything else runs on AA batteries.To charge AA batteries,I plug in a 12 volt charge station and charge 8 AA batteries at once.I have a 15 amp panel and it will charge 8 AA batteries in about 4 hours,as long as the sun comes up,overcast or not.
    Last edited by Booger1; 06-24-09 at 04:05 PM.
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    I'd suggest getting an electronic device that didn't require a few amps to charge a battery or run itself. Using a blackberry or something similar. You're going to have to get a big solar array to charge a battery that can run a lap top,,bigger than you can carry on your bike realistically especially if you want it survivable. I woudn't want to wrap my bike with $1000 of flexible panels.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Booger1 View Post
    It will take a 20 amp panel to run the netbook directly.If you were planning on charging the netbook while your riding,solar panels are not there yet...maybe a year or two.

    You will need a 14 volt panel in order to charge a 12 volt battery.You can run it directly on 12 volts if you have the amps.

    I use a 14 volt panel to charge an ASUS eee netbook,everything else runs on AA batteries.To charge AA batteries,I plug in a 12 volt charge station and charge 8 AA batteries at once.I have a 15 amp panel and it will charge 8 AA batteries in about 4 hours,as long as the sun comes up,overcast or not.
    what's an ASUS eee netbook? I don't see solar panel efficiency making it possible to get 20amps while riding a bike. Cost will come down but the actual output isn't going to increase enough compared to simply getting a device that isn't designed to be plugged into a 120v line.

    Ok,,I looked it up. 3amps 12v powers the charger. Would that power the notebook as well? Seems that it would take a lot of panels draped around to get a consistant 3amps while riding.
    Last edited by LeeG; 06-24-09 at 05:19 PM.

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    I don't know what the ac converter runs at,I don't have one.But I do have a 15 amp solar panel and it will not run the netbook directly.My EEE pulls about 18 amps at 12 volts to run.
    Everything should be as simple as possible...But not more so.---Albert Einstein

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    eek,,no way will a person get that out of folding panels. Sounds like a souped up PDA is the best bet with solar panels or the smallest laptop and a pile of batteries to make it to the next 120v source. Quite a lesson in power management. It's more effective to figure out how to do more with less than adapt a generator or solar panel to portable laptop(60watts) use.

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    Senior Member Neil G.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LeeG View Post
    You're going to have to get a big solar array to charge a battery that can run a lap top,,bigger than you can carry on your bike realistically especially if you want it survivable. I woudn't want to wrap my bike with $1000 of flexible panels.
    Hmm, is my post invisible?

    The flexible panels are a lot less efficient than the rigid ones. To get equivalent power out of a Brunton SolarRoll, compared to my rigid BP panel, you need a panel nearly 3 times the size. Not to mention you need nearly 5 times the dollars!

    Certainly you won't be able to actually *power* the laptop from the panel (i.e., run applications without using the battery), but charging should feasible, as long as the charging circuit allows it. A 10-watt panel can put out 0.5 amps in good sunlight, which will fully charge an EEE's battery in about 10 hours. That means you probably won't be able to drain the battery each and every night, but if you use it for an hour a night, or occasionally have access to an AC source, it should be quite manageable. Of course, if the bike setup doesn't allow for a place to keep a rigid panel pointing skywards, then yeah, you'll have no chance.

    Quote Originally Posted by Booger1
    It will take a 20 amp panel to run the netbook directly.If you were planning on charging the netbook while your riding,solar panels are not there yet...maybe a year or two.
    I'm confused by this statement...I agree that powering the laptop directly off a panel is probably not possible, but why is charging the battery not possible? Have you tried it? What happens when you turn off the EEE (or put it in suspend) and plug in the panel to charge it?

    Also, I think you're mixing up watts and amps (watts is voltage*amps). If you actually have a 15 amp, 12 volt panel, that thing can put out 180 watts, which would be more than enough to power even a monster laptop at full brightness playing a first-person shooter. Online over Wi-Fi!

    Neil

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    I'm stupid,I meant 15 WATTS.

    I didn't mean to sound like you couldn't charge with it.I mean that they are not good enough to ride around with your laptop on directly off the panel,yet! You can charge a netbook off of it.

    I had the rollable one for something else and decided to play with it while touring.My 15 watt panel is 12" x 6 ft long.Not something you can unroll completely while riding.You can unroll it part way to charge batteries while you ride,works well for that.

    True,rollable panels are not as powerful as a solid panels,but I can throw mine on the ground and it still works.It also weights 3 times less than a solid panel.

    I know my ASUS eee will run directly off of a 20 watt panel,I've done it.I meant to say it takes about 16/18 watts(12v-1.2-1.3 amps) to run that netbook.
    Last edited by Booger1; 06-24-09 at 10:52 PM.
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  13. #13
    Formerly Known as Newbie Juha's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neil G. View Post
    A 10-watt panel can put out 0.5 amps in good sunlight, which will fully charge an EEE's battery in about 10 hours. That means you probably won't be able to drain the battery each and every night, but if you use it for an hour a night, or occasionally have access to an AC source, it should be quite manageable. Of course, if the bike setup doesn't allow for a place to keep a rigid panel pointing skywards, then yeah, you'll have no chance.
    There's also the question of "good sunlight". Around where I live, counting on a full day of sunlight is optimistic at times. Expecting several days in a row is delusional. OPs situation may be better in that respect, but I'd look for other, less weather dependent solutions. 12V for the eee is a problem there.

    There is the Dynotec S12 bottle dynamo from Busch and Mueller that delivers 0,5A at 12V. Even though it's supposedly extremely good (and expensive) as far as bottle dynamos go, it will have more drag than a good hub dynamo. But it's the only 12V bike dynamo I know of.

    Keeping the voltage at 6V would simplify things. Instead of the eee use something that can be charged via USB, with foldable keyboard if needed (a Palm for example). Add a dynohub and n4zou's clever charging system to keep it running.

    --J
    Last edited by Juha; 06-25-09 at 03:31 AM.
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  14. #14
    where2pedalto.com andrewh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gavsaway View Post
    Just wondering if anyone has found a solar system that is small and light but powerful enough to power small laptops like eee pc etc. While on the road. we will be away from mains power for fairly extended periods of time and need to use laptop quite a bit to keep sponsors happy. All suggestions greatly appreciated.
    Having toured around Australia and then through North America, I can say I am sold on the use of solar power for laptop use.

    On the Australian trip I used a rigid 20w panel and documented it here - http://www.where2pedalto.com/journal...leTouring.html then select the Solar Power link on the right hand side and http://www.where2pedalto.com/journal...htm#electrical

    On the North American trip I used a flexible 12w panel, but it just didn't seem to cut the mustard, even when replaced after the original one was found to be faulty.

    Anyway, as I said, I am sold on it and will be using it again to power my laptop and other such gadgetry.

    Regards

    Andrew
    Last edited by andrewh; 06-27-09 at 06:52 AM. Reason: Update

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    Where are you going? In Australia or a similarly hot and sunny country, I could see you getting enough sunlight to power a laptop. Other places, I'm less convinced. Anyway, we have the EEE 1000 PC and its battery lasts a good 6 hours. This is generally enough for us to write journals every night and edit photos every 2-3 nights and it'll last about 5-7 days like that. Then we have to go to a library anyway to send the journals so we can recharge and do final editing of things there. Unless you're going to be regularly away from towns/villages for stretches of 5 days or more, I would question the need for the solar panel.
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    Just a quick additional thought, instead of getting a solar panel, could you not just get an additional battery to swap in when one goes dead? That would potentially give you 10+ days of power.
    We blog about bike touring, with reviews, tips and cycle touring podcasts at Travelling Two

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    Senior Member thehum's Avatar
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    wow, neil, I really like your simple and effective solar panel setup. did you have to build any other sort of circuitry or was it really simply wiring the panel to the socket?

    Not solar, but in terms of self-sustained power for touring I remember seeing somebody on here who built a circuit which wired a dyno to a laptop battery to store and output power for his devices.

  18. #18
    Tinkerer since 1980 TheBrick's Avatar
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    Not using a solar panel but useful non the less for being self sustaining with power.

    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?...c_id=3295&v=3D

    also

    http://www.mark-ju.net/bike_ride/equipment/charger.htm
    Last edited by TheBrick; 06-28-09 at 04:44 AM.
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  19. #19
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by avatarworf View Post
    Unless you're going to be regularly away from towns/villages for stretches of 5 days or more, I would question the need for the solar panel.
    +1

    Do all of you who use solar panels actually tour in places where you don't have a chance to plug in every several days? I can see where if you were touring in very remote locations that might be the case, but I doubt most of us do that. Crossing the US the farthest I went between towns was 80 miles. Most places I have toured it isn't hard to find a place to charge every few days at the most and the majority of the time there is an opportunity every day.

    We all get to choose how much we want to carry, but I can't see myself carrying 3 pounds of solar panel and mounting hardware under any circumstance. Personally I think that even the eepc is a bit too much to carry on tour. At 7 ounces not counting the charger (maybe 1.5 ounces?) my N800 tablet is about all I am willing to carry for that purpose. The battery lasts about a week for me and I have no problem finding places to plug in a charger. It worked fine for journal updates and uploading pictures on my last tour.

    If I were to tour somewhere that I would be away from electrical outlets for weeks at a time I would just leave my electronics home.

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    We have toured in a lot of places (30 countries now) and been remote for up to 1 week at a time and in spots where the electricity goes off 2-3 times a day or people just don't have a lot of electricity but even then, I can only think of a handful of times where the computer battery ran totally dead and we were unable to do anything. Now, I type quickly (that helps!) and I have learned to prioritize my work so I write journals first and edit photos only if I have a lot of power. Otherwise they get saved for when we are plugged in. Maybe slow typers who want to do it all every night would need more power. Personally, even though I love blogging and I love writing and recording our trip, I find that at the end of the day I don't normally have the enthusiasm for more than 1/2 hour on the computer. I know you have sponsors to entertain but I really think that even in India/Nepal/Bangladesh, you will find hotels/cafes where you can ask someone for a place to charge your stuff. What kind of things are you going to do for your sponsors anyway? Are you going to carry a sat phone too? Internet connections might be a bigger problem than charging.
    We blog about bike touring, with reviews, tips and cycle touring podcasts at Travelling Two

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    this is something that I've also investigated briefly since I like having my 9" acer aspire one almost everywhere. I found this: http://www.frys.com/product/4980081?...H:MAIN_RSLT_PG @ fry's electronics. it's on sale for $69 if you have a local store near you.

    you'll have to find out how much power your eee draws. either way, solar panels are still not very efficient. you'd be well off getting a bigger (6-cell) battery for your eee if you don't have it already. the best thing to do is to find a way to mount the panel so that it can give your netbook a trickle charge while you're on the go.

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    There's a great big desert in the western US,you can go for days without seeing anyone.
    Everything should be as simple as possible...But not more so.---Albert Einstein

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Booger1 View Post
    There's a great big desert in the western US,you can go for days without seeing anyone.
    Days, but probably not weeks. I think you would typically pass through a town every 3 to 5 days just about anywhere in the US unless you tried pretty hard not to. I can easily get 5 days on any of my batteries.

  24. #24
    Senior Member Neil G.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thehum View Post
    wow, neil, I really like your simple and effective solar panel setup. did you have to build any other sort of circuitry or was it really simply wiring the panel to the socket?
    Thanks. Connecting a female cigarette-lighter adapter to the unterminated wires coming off the solar panel was absolutely the only electronics work I had to do. That's what makes it attractive to me: it's very simple, so it's easy to construct and use, and there's nothing to break or fiddle with out on the road. I read about all kinds of stuff people have used, like charge controllers and custom circuitry and intermediate batteries, but that sounded too messy. I realized everything I want to power already has its own battery and charging circuitry built into the device, so I just take advantage of that.

    Quote Originally Posted by TheBrick View Post
    Not using a solar panel but useful non the less for being self sustaining with power.

    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?...c_id=3295&v=3D
    Yeah, I saw that and was interested (I have a Schmidt SON dynohub too), but unfortunately Wayne never posted any real-world results (and speaking of...I hope he's still ok somewhere out there!)

    Ah, cool, now there is something with actual results! I've seen various dynohub solutions, but never knew what kind of power you can actually get out of them after DC conversion and all that. I guess 8Wh in a day's riding doesn't sound too bad for a 3W generator, but it's quite a drop from what you can get off a 10W solar panel.

    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    Do all of you who use solar panels actually tour in places where you don't have a chance to plug in every several days?
    No, but we may have desires and preferences that differ from yours. There are three factors: how much electrical energy you like to use, how much time you're willing to spend tied into the grid to replenish that energy, and how much weight you're willing to carry.

    For me, I like to use a lot of energy. I plan all my routes myself, and my computer is my main (usually only) mapping tool. I love being prepared and knowing what to expect, so I plot out the next day's route (including elevation) every night. I use it to write journal entries, select and edit photos, and do online research/planning. I also love music, and on this last tour, used my "phone" to listen to an album or two every night in camp. I also used it as an e-book reader, and a gaming machine.

    Then, I love camping in spectacular places; 12 nights of my last 28-day tour were in National Parks/Monuments, with most of the rest at various state parks, BLM sites, or National Forests. Given the choice, I would much rather spend my non-riding time in those places, either hiking or simply enjoying the views and atmosphere, than inside a library or cafe in a town waiting for my stuff to recharge.

    Finally, I already carry a big fat load, so an extra 3lbs is a pretty inconsequential trade-off for the flexibility it gives me. Plus, it provides a nice impromptu table any time I'm stopped or in camp!

    If your preferences are different, that's cool, no one will force you take a solar panel with you! In fact, I didn't take it along on my tour-before-last and got along just fine, so it's hardly even a necessity for me.

    Neil

  25. #25
    Biking to the Pits IntoThickAir's Avatar
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    I like this thread, with plenty of ideas on how to pull off charging electronics on the road. Neil G. sums it up nicely: if you like electricity, it's nice to bring your own.

    That said, I checked out the planned route of Gav and the Cycle for Change, and believe you'll have ample opportunity to plug in at various towns and truck stops. I did a series of bike trips for the Discovery Channel, riding to the lowest point on every continent. I brought a computer and sat phone, and was surprised to find electricity at the smallest places. Sometimes you won't, and you'll run out of juice, but it will show up in day or two, and personally I'd rather carry less gear. So I'd recommend skipping the solar setup.

    Good luck on your ambitious journey!

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