There are scores of solar-powered battery chargers on the market already, offering a greener alternative to juice up your devices. But these chargers often fail to live up to expectation — either being very bulky to carry around or taking ages to charge your device.
Solar efficiency is improving, though, and the cost of producing solar cells is also coming down. And those improvements should start to trickle down into better portable solar chargers in the coming years.
On that score, meet Spor: a portable solar-powered battery charger that wants to shake things up with its fuss-free, compact form factor that’s still capable of delivering a power punch.
It’s also aiming to look a lot less boring than the generic competition — with a shell that can be customised via home 3D printing, if that’s your bag. Making solar tech look a bit cooler is certainly a worthy goal if it means getting more people to get on board with the idea of reducing their energy consumption.
Each 8.2cm x 8.2cm x 2.4 cm Spor contains a 5,300mAh battery which it uses to juice up the gizmos you plug into its two output ports (so you can charge two devices at once if you choose), and a small monocrystalline solar panel.
Its battery can be charged passively, via the Spor’s solar cell (which can either be charged by sunlight or indoor light if it’s bright enough), or by plugging Spor into a wall outlet — much like you would a spare battery pack. But this is a spare that can self-charge if you let it catch some rays.
Spor currently outputs 1 amp to devices you plug into it, which its makers say is the market standard. But they are aiming to raise that to 2 amps per port on the shipping product.
Another point of difference vs current gen solar chargers is that multiple Spors can be daisy-chained together in order to build up greater capacity — so you can output more.
A single Spor apparently takes 1.5 hours to fully charge an iPhone. Chain up multiple Spors and the charge rate won’t change but more devices can be charged in tandem.
In terms of charging up the Spor, one Spor takes two to three hours to charge from a wall outlet. If you’re hoping to charge it entirely from sunlight that would take some 50 hours. Or the best part of a week’s worth of sunny days. So not exactly speedy. But sunlight offering a top-up/back-up option for your spare battery pack means the Spor could still offer users in developed markets some convenience.
The team is also designing larger solar panels that can be used in conjunction with Spors to create small-scale solar grids. That use case is being envisaged as a way to bring cleaner, distributed off-grid energy options to developing markers. The larger solar panel could act as the hub device for charging up multiple Spors, which then become useful on an individual level, offering portable energy.
“A micro grid could consist of just a 5w panel technically and would cost somewhere between $20-$30 for a developing market. This would be cheaper than setting up some of the more complicated village wide micro grids that use centralized storage and power lines to connect each dwelling. Giving each dwelling a Spor for storage and use would give each villager autonomy over their own energy generation and use,” explains Spor co-founder David Hunt.
Other ideas the team has involve adding Bluetooth to future Spors so smartphone users can track and measure their energy generation, and even be given rewards to incentivize use. It’s also looking at ways to bypass the need for inverters or charge controllers so it can make larger capacity (100w) direct USB solar panels.
All that’s the big vision. For now Spor is a prototype as its makers look to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter to step things up from their current prototype to commercial production. At the time of writing they have raised $23,000 with 30 days left of their campaign to run.
On the cost front, the Spor is currently $40 for early bird Kickstarter backers, rising to $50 once all the lower priced pledges are snapped up. So it is a bit more expensive than some of the generic competition. But then buying something branded cool typically entails a premium.
In addition to the Spor, the team has also come up with some suitable snazzy accessories in the form of different charger cables to pair with Spor, including coloured nylon fabric or gooseneck cables which allow you to stand the device up to catch more rays.