It seems as though we've reached a point in time where our technological advances in portable computing have outstripped our advances in battery technology, with the weakest link in mobile tech being the short life of most batteries and the inability to recharge them on the fly.
If there's one thing which annoys just about every laptop and tablet user, it's the fact that the battery life of most devices isn't capable of powering them through a full work day, and in order to get our portable devices powered again, we've got to plug them into a wall outlet for hours for a charge. However, there is another way to stay charged - with a DIY solar laptop charger.
The seemingly limitless power of the sun remains just a potential if we don't have a way to capture and store that energy as electricity. And while there are a number of great portable solar laptop chargers on the market, the price tags on them are enough to turn most of us away, as it's far easier to just plug in than to come up with $500 for a unit of our own. But if you're willing to get your hands a little dirty (and learn about electrical circuits and solar panels), then building your own DIY solar charger is a viable option.
There are two basic types of solar laptop chargers, a portable version and a stationary version, and the type you build will largely be a function of where and how you'll use it. For those who merely want to charge and use their laptop at home via solar power, then the portability of the unit isn't a concern, and your version could very well sprawl across your deck with no regard for weight or size. But if you want a solar laptop charger that you can take with you for charging while on the go, then you'll have a different set of constraints to work with, which may limit the storage capacity and lengthen the charge time.
For a stationary DIY solar laptop charger, any of a variety of different sized PV panels can be used, as you're not going to be toting them around. For storage, a 12V deep cycle (or other rechargeable) battery can be used to capture the energy generated by the solar panels. You'll also need a charge controller to protect and optimize your charging, and once you've got a full charge in the battery, your portable devices can be connected via a power inverter (DC to AC).
Check out these versions of home solar laptop chargers to get some ideas:
S.P.R.E.E. (Solar Photovoltaic Renewable Electron Encapsulator)
Home Solar Generator Portable Solar Generator A Simple Solar Charging Station To build a portable solar laptop charger, you'll need to keep in mind just how much weight you can comfortably haul around with you, as well as a way to contain and carry the whole device. Some of the best designs are built around either a briefcase or a backpack, and while that's a good place to start, it shouldn't limit your design approach, because some of the best ideas come from thinking outside the box.
Here are a couple of great articles to get you started with building a portable solar laptop charger:
Solar Laptop/Device Charger Solar USB Box SUBcomandante Solar Laptop Station