Solar chargers and solar power banks charge your devices through the sun’s energy, but they’re different. So, what’s the difference between these two?
The main difference between a solar charger and a solar power bank is their ability (or lack thereof) to store charge. Solar chargers don’t store energy and can only charge when their solar panels are exposed to sunlight. On the other hand, solar power banks can store energy for later use.
The rest of this post will explore this and other differences between solar chargers and solar power banks in greater detail. By the end of this article, you should clearly understand what each device does and what suits your needs best. Let’s dive right in.
1. Exposure to Sunlight While Charging
The primary difference between these two is their ability to store energy. Solar chargers can’t store energy, so they must be exposed to sunlight throughout the charging process. On the other hand, solar power banks store the energy in a battery, which can then be used to charge devices later.
Put simply, a solar power bank allows you to hold onto the energy, whereas a solar charger requires you to use it as it comes in. This makes a big difference in the usefulness of both devices.
Solar chargers often aren’t as useful for emergencies because you need sunlight at all times to charge your device. On the other hand, solar power banks are often significantly more useful for emergencies because you can prepare ahead of time. Because the solar power bank stores the power, you can charge your devices whenever necessary.
However, solar power banks also experience some degree of battery discharge. So if you want to keep it for emergency use, you’ll want to ensure you check the battery percentage and recharge it to full regularly.
The benefit of solar chargers is that you don’t have to worry about the battery running out. This means that as long as sunlight is available, you have unlimited access to charging – similar to having a charger plugged into an outlet in your house.
2. Size of the Devices
Solar power banks are generally smaller than solar chargers. While both require you to place solar panels in the sun, which takes up some space, solar power banks take up less space than solar chargers.
Solar chargers are often similar (if not identical) to portable solar panels. They can fold up for improved portability but tend to be several feet wide when fully extended. In contrast, solar power banks are often the same size as tablets or smartphones.
However, even though solar power banks are smaller, they weigh more than solar chargers. This can make for a heavier pack, especially if you bring multiple solar power banks along on a hike.
Despite the extra weight, the smaller size of a solar power bank gives you more freedom to charge it on the go if you can keep the sunshine on it. However, the fact that it can be challenging to keep it in direct light when you’re moving somewhat nullifies this extra freedom.
3. Charging Limitations
Because solar chargers charge as they draw energy, they’re an unlimited energy supply as long as the sun is out. This means you can use the charger as much as needed without worrying about depleting the battery or waiting for it to recharge.
Because solar power banks contain a battery, your charging time is limited. You don’t have the option to charge your device as the battery recharges. You’ll need to charge the battery and then charge your device afterward, which significantly limits the charging capabilities of a solar power bank.
Of course, you’re still trading portability with the solar charger, so which one is better depends on your primary goal.
4. Solar Chargers Don’t Experience Phantom Power
This is arguably the most significant benefit of solar chargers over solar power banks and one of the major things that set them apart.
Most power banks, including solar power banks, experience a phenomenon known as phantom power. This means they continue charging a device even when it is fully charged. This also happens when charging via electrical outlets.
Solar power banks are prone to phantom power. That means the power bank will likely keep charging whatever device is plugged in long after it’s fully charged. This might not seem like a big deal, but it can drain your power bank pretty quickly if you forget to unplug your device soon after it’s fully charged.
The last thing you want is to waste the power in your solar power bank, especially considering the time it takes to recharge. There’s also the fact that leaving your devices (especially smartphones) plugged in long after they’re fully charged can damage their batteries.
On the other hand, a solar charger will stop charging your device once it’s fully charged. So if you leave your smartphone plugged in for extended periods, you won’t have to worry about damaging its battery.
5. Flexibility in Charging Capabilities
Overall, solar power banks offer significantly more flexibility in charging capabilities. What do I mean by this?
Solar power banks can be charged via solar energy or USB at home in preparation for a trip. You can use a solar power bank like a regular power bank.
The freedom to charge at home and take the power bank on the go makes solar power banks much more beneficial than solar chargers, at least initially. However, solar power banks have significantly less flexibility once you’re out in the great outdoors.
The battery pack on solar power banks requires quite a bit of energy to charge, which can result in a much longer charging time before you can even charge your device with it. You need a full day if not more, to charge a solar power bank through solar energy.
Since solar chargers don’t have a built-in battery pack, they can’t be charged beforehand. This means you’ll be completely reliant on solar energy from the beginning, which can be potentially inconvenient in an emergency.
6. Energy Absorption Potential
Another major difference between a solar charger and a solar power bank is the amount of energy that can be absorbed simultaneously. Most solar chargers come with multiple panels, which amplifies the charging power.
With more panels, you have more surface area. And the greater the surface area of your solar charger or solar power bank, the more solar cells you have.
Because solar panels work by absorbing energy via their solar cells, increased surface area equates to a greater energy absorption potential.
Solar power banks typically only have one small solar panel. While this is better for portability, it results in a much slower charging time when using solar energy, as the surface area is less than what you’d find with a solar charger.
Because solar chargers have multiple charging panels, they will usually charge your device significantly faster than a solar power bank. For example, you could charge your smartphone more rapidly when using a solar charger (in direct sunlight) than a solar power bank.
However, it could take significantly longer, depending on the quality and wattage of the solar charger and current weather conditions. Some solar chargers will take upwards of five hours to charge your phone entirely.
Additionally, some solar power banks offer high-speed charge ports designed explicitly for personal electronic devices like tablets and smartphones. These rapid-charge ports can make short work of replenishing your phone’s battery.
7. Price Differences
In general, solar power banks cost more than solar chargers. The built-in battery pack makes them significantly more valuable than standalone solar chargers, which require a supplementary battery (which you must purchase separately) to store solar energy.
While you can find solar chargers and solar power banks retailing for about $50 each, you won’t usually get a very good solar power bank for this price. Solar power banks capable of withstanding multiple charges are often costlier, retailing at $100 or more.
On the other hand, you can purchase a decent solar charger for less than $100. That’s because solar chargers are only capable of doing one thing — absorbing solar energy.
Because solar power banks can both absorb and store solar energy, they’re often more expensive.
As with any other product, there are some expensive solar chargers. High-wattage models with a watt output of 300W or more tend to be the priciest, while those with a power output of 100W or less are the most affordable.
The bottom line is that solar power banks, particularly high-quality ones, are almost always more costly than solar chargers.
Another difference between solar chargers and solar power banks is their durability. Overall, solar power banks are much more durable than solar chargers.
One of the main reasons for this difference in durability is that solar chargers typically contain about four panels that fold up. While this results in more energy production at times, it also makes them less durable. If they are dropped the wrong way or have too much weight placed on them, they can break fairly easily.
Solar power banks don’t usually have this issue. Because the solar panel is built into the device, it can take a few more falls and pounds than a solar charger.
9. Ease of Transporting
It’s much easier to take a solar power bank on a trip than a solar charger. While the panels in a solar charger fold up into a relatively small rectangle, it’s still two to three times the size of a solar power bank.
Because these devices are a bit more sensitive in terms of durability, they can’t always be packed with other items. It can be pretty challenging to figure out the best place to store them when moving from place to place, especially if you’re packing many other items on your trip.
You’ll want to ensure that a solar charger isn’t surrounded by too many other items, so you can’t just toss it in a backpack and go. On the other hand, solar power banks can typically fit in most hiking or travel backpacks because they are smaller and more durable.
10. Solar Chargers Don’t Need To Be Charged Ahead of Time
One of the biggest benefits of solar chargers is that they don’t need to be charged ahead of time.
When heading out on a long trip, there are often so many things on your mind that you may forget to charge power banks ahead of time. Solar chargers solve this problem, allowing you to recharge solar power banks while on the go.
Solar power banks must have stored energy in their batteries before you can use them. If you’ve forgotten to charge your solar power bank before heading out, and the weather is cloudy or rainy, you won’t be able to use the power bank to charge your devices.
This means a lot more preparation is required to use a solar power bank, which can be challenging if you’re pushed for time. It also makes it more challenging to use the solar power bank on an extended hiking trip or any other situation where you don’t have access to electricity for days at a time.
Solar chargers, however, don’t require as much preparation.
With a solar charger, you can plug and go. Of course, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have enough light to charge the device, but most places have adequate sunlight to charge the device immediately.
Solar chargers and solar power banks work similarly but differ in many ways.
The most significant difference between these two is that one contains a battery that must be charged before you can use it to charge your phone or other devices, while the other allows you to start charging immediately.
Other differences include the size, flexibility, and price of the devices. Overall, what’s better between these two solar charging options depends on the situation you’ll be using it in.
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- Solar Generator Guide: Power Bank Solar Chargers: Instructions and Troubleshooting
- Sunshine Facts: Pros and Cons of a Solar Charger vs. Power Bank
- Interesting Engineering: Everything You Need to Know About Solar Battery Chargers
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