How to harvest solar energy small-scale

8 January 2012

Here’s Rolf with a new type of post for this blog: a product review! Don’t worry, it’s just a one-off, and it’s just because I’m so pleased with this particular gadget.

BootstrapSolar Chi-qoo, front view

The transparent front

BootstrapSolar Chi-qoo, back view

The engraved back

It is a Chi-qoo solar power pack, financed with a generous contribution from my dear mother-in-law on the occasion of Christmas. I found it on Kickstarter, a site where inventors and creators solicit support for innovative projects. I made my contribution to BootstrapSolar and they sent me a kit, which was reasonably straightforward to assemble. The case is mostly bamboo, with a transparent (acrylic?) cover to reveal a view of the innards. The battery holds a whopping 6 Ah, enough to charge two or three mobile phones via the two USB ports. The internal battery is recharged via the two 5-watt solar panels. Theoretically, this should take no more than 3 hours — I haven’t had a chance to verify this because the weather conditions were not favourable. I could charge it with the AC adapter instead, but I’m loath to contaminate this precious device with French nuclear-generated electricity 🙂

What I like about this gadget is that it reduces my dependency on grid power for running small electronics. This makes it useful for travelling and camping, as well as for emergencies (the latter having been the inspiration for the inventor — he spent several months volunteering in Japan, helping victims of the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake). It may also be a step towards sustainability, although of course the device isn’t exactly sustainable. It relies on limited resources in multiple ways: there’s the lithium used for the battery, precious metals used in the circuitry, and large amounts of energy used in making it. The solar panels in particular have probably been made with much more energy than I will be able to recuperate in my particular use case.

Another open question with the Chi-qoo is how useful any small electronics would be in the kind of emergency where grid power is lost on a large scale. Mobile phones would be useless, at least initially, since the base transceiver stations would also be likely affected. But having a small broadcast radio receiver could be vital. The most promising means of enabling two-way communications would probably be participating in an emergency radio network. Hey, that reminds me of my amateur radio days — maybe I should reactivate my callsign (DG6YHS) and set up an emergency rig for disaster preparedness. That would be fun! I’ll keep you posted 🙂

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