Friday, June 15, 2012

The Solar Charging Solution

Voltaic Fuse 4W Solar Charger
As part of my preparation for our 10-day trekking trip to Ladakh (Kashmir), I have been franctically looking around for a solution to keep my Panasonic GX1 camera charged, since we would be in the wilderness for the entire duration of the trek - with no possibility of finding an electric source for charging the batteries.

I ordered 3 extra batteries, and even purchased an external viewfinder for the camera, hoping it will extend the battery power, and allow me to complete the full trek without the need for any re-charging.

But real-world usage of the camera made me come to the conclusion that there was no way that the 4 batteries would last for 10 days. These new cameras, with their reliance on LCD or electronic viewfinders for composition, and electronic systems for controlling all aspects of the camera, simply need more juice than the traiditonal dSLR cameras that use optical viewfinders, and use the battery only for triggering the shutter, and saving the resulting image to the memory card.

I had 2 options. Buy more batteries - perhaps another 4 or 5 (which I would use only once for this trek), or look for other alternatives.

The obvious choice for me was a solar-charging solution. They are reasonably affordable, and instead of worrying about just charging the camera, the solar-charging solution would charge a number of other devices (most importantly, our mobile phones). Most of the solar chargers in the market seem to be targetted for charging just mobile phones, but I found an interesting device that is geared towards trekkers like me, and has the ability to charge camera batteries.

Voltaic Systems makes a number of solar charging solutions that can charge everything from mobiles, cameras and even laptops. I was not interested in charging laptops (as the solution is unwieldy and heavy for trekking), but instead settled on a device that would charge both mobiles and camera batteries.

The Solar charging solution.
The Voltaic Fuse 4w Solar Charger is a small 2 panel bag that you can carry on your back, or strap it to your backpack (which is what I plan to do). Surprisingly enough, I found a local dealer ( in Kuwait selling it for about the same price as the manufacturer, which is great since I would not have to worry about shipping or warranty. I immediately ordered it from their website and the product was delivered to me the same day.

The charger is light (about 700 grams), so it's not too much extra weight to the back-pack.

Inside of the solar charger.
Charging mobile phones is pretty simple. It comes with a battery pack with a standard USB outlet, as well as a number of adapters that fit most mobile phones on the market. In addition to the output, it also has a 3000mAh re-chargeable battery that is good for charging an iPhone about 2 times. The battery is continuously charged whenever the solar panel is facing the sun - which means, you can charge some of your gadgets even at night.

But how would I charge the camera battery with this solar charger? Camera battery chargers are designed with AC input, and this thing outputs DC current.

Selectable 6v or 12v output from the solar charger.
The camera manufacturer makes a number of battery chargers with a 12V DC input. Unfortunately for me, the GX1 is a relatively new camera, and they do not have a compatible charger (yet) that can charge the GX1 battery.

While I was scratching my head for options, I suddenly realized that the Wasabi replacement batteries that I purchased, came with its own battery charger, and more importantly, it can charge via a car charger (12V input). I quickly wrote to the company and explained my situation to them. I was very impressed when they immediately replied and agreed to send me a free connector that would fit into the Wasabi!!.

The connector is on its way, so once I receive it, I will have a very flexible charging solution, and will not have to worry too much about taking pictures, or talking on the phone (as and when there is reception in the mountains).

This is a perfect solution for modern trekkers.

UPDATE: I received my connector from Voltaic, and it works perfectly with the Wasabi Charger, as shown in the picture below.

A special connector links the Voltaic to the Wasabi charger.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interested in how well this worked for you. Have you completed the expedition yet?