Ben Lovejoy On The Possibility Of Using Solar To Charge iPhones


Solar panels have, until recently, been pretty inefficient. You need plenty of area and lots of sunlight in order to generate worthwhile amounts of power. Of all of Apple’s products, the iPhone offers some of the least surface area to work with. The latest generation of solar panels are a lot more efficient reaching close to 40% in the labs, but still, there’s no way that a panel the size of an iPhone screen – even the larger one we expect in the iPhone 6 – is going to power the phone on its own.

But delivering a useful boost to battery-life, an hour or so, say, would likely be feasible. Not, admittedly, if the phone spends all its time in your pocket or bag when not in use, but I can certainly envisage a situation where you know you’re getting low on power and you’d be glad of the opportunity to be able to put it out on a desk or table to help you make it through the day.

At a surface level, the idea is appealing, as manufacturers search for ways to prolong battery life in spite of the fact that advancements to battery capacity are nowhere to be seen. However, solar panels need to be relatively big and exposed the sun to work. This doesn’t really seem to gel with the form factor of a phone, which are inherently small and stowed in pockets when not in use.

Perhaps the technology will be more applicable as part of an iPad or MacBook, where the potential surface area of a solar panel is many orders of magnitude larger, but I just can’t see it for the iPhone.