Going green with your devices: Could the sun be the answer to our power deficient smartphones?

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Renewable energy sources promise to offer us more sustainable energy free of environmental pollution. Technologies that use renewables  and are designed to conserve energy or  improve energy efficiency are termed as Green energy technologies. These convert the energy from wind, solar,hydro, waves, ocean tides, geothermal and biomass to electricity which our devices need to function. Solar energy is perhaps the most common resource and is a source of energy to most of the other sources. The sun’s energy is converted to electricity using photovoltaics( PV) or into heat using solar thermal collectors. Of all the renewables solar is easily scalable and is most abundant.

Use of renewables therefore reduces greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to slow down global warming. Extreme weather conditions currently experienced around the world is one of the many effects of global warming. This has driven large investment in clean energy and smart energy solutions around the globe.

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Device makers have also risen to the challenge of going green by designing devices with more efficient power usage and solar powered devices. For a while now small electronics like radios, watches and calculators have been solar powered. This concept was made alive in phones by Samsung with the S7550 Blue Earth, LG   and  ZTE with Coral-200 announced in the 2009 Mobile World Congress(MWC).

A Solar powered smartphone is a good proposition here in Africa where in most countries like Uganda, only 15% of the population is connected to the national grid. The Sun’s ubiquity means mobile subscribers will have access to energy for their devices wherever they’re.

However, solar technology in itself is still an expensive technology with low electricity generation efficiency of about 15-25%. Therefore to harness enough power, one needs a wide area covered by panels. Research into better materials and new technology like solar paint is promising but initial costs are still high.  Adding a solar panel to a phone would increase the cost of the device significantly,  this could explain why most of these phone models were discontinued.

More recently with the increasing market of phone and device accessories, phone jackets and device pouches now come with solar powered charging. Enerplex’s Surfr product line provides solar powered cases for select smartphones,Samsung and iPhone. Sold as a separate device gives the company motive enough to better their products while maintaining the device price. This way, the device makers can concentrate on making their devices more energy efficient in battery usage and still contribute to going green.

One challenge is that the phone has to be in the sun or on its front which means you can’t use it as it charges. 3M and Sunpartner technologies makers of the Wysips crystal energy saving device screens are designing transparent solar charging systems that enable you charge your device even in use with natural or artificial light. Prototypes were shown at the MWC2014.

The efficiency problem of solar systems works a lot to the disadvantage of such innovation. Until we get materials that can boost this efficiency to over 60%, solar powered devices will remain accessories. That being said devices going green for me would mean low power processors(not at the expense of the device performance), smart battery usage algorithms and more advanced battery technology all geared to extend battery hours hence less use of electricity. A little too ambitious but possible, all saved electricity reduces the pollution associated with it hence paring global warming.

Share your thoughts on how devices can go green

 Image: Wikipedia

  • Tonami

    Good points raised. However in regards to charging mobile devices with solar, Having the solar cells on the device or case is just gimmicky. No practical benefit, but having a separate portable solar pad with a usb connection to the device will be far more practical.

    On solar cell efficiency, I don’t think it needs to get to 60% before we can benefit from them. The current 15-23% is good enough. It all depends on inplementation. Besides even plants only manage 3-6% overall efficiency and they’ve had millions of evolutionary years on their side.Yet no complaints on the quality of food they produce.

    • Jemimah

      Thanks Tonami for your comments. Yes, having a separate device would be better but this means you have to carry it along with you all the time. I think the biggest advantage of having solar cells on the device would only come if they are on the screen like promised by 3M and Sunpartner

      Its true with 15-23% a lot of applications are already maximizing solar energy however a low efficiency always reflects back on the cost of the technology especially because it has to be made worthwhile

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