No more excuse to wait on going solar

solar panel on kitchen mitt

I work in solar energy, but I couldn't install panels on my own house. So I put this solar phone charger on a kitchen mitt out on the porch instead. I move it so it tracks the sun for maximum charge.

Even before I began working with a company that develops solar energy projects, I was fascinated by solar panels. Though I had lots of science toys as a kid, I always wanted a kit to build my own solar panel, but somehow I never got one. And as I got interested in the environment and energy in college and grad school, I vowed that someday I’d “go solar” myself.

But getting my first job — and my second, third and fourth — out of school, I found myself moving likewise from one city to the next, and even among apartments in the same town. As a mobile young renter with no place of my own (and no cash even if I had one), I had to defer my dream of putting up photovoltaic panels.

Fast forward to today, and I’m a solid citizen with a career and a house and a family. But still no solar panels! Our 1910-1920 era Edwardian townhouse is located in a historic district that prohibits them.

Do we want to serve as a test-case to challenge this restriction? Maybe sometime.

Meanwhile, I decided that I’d waited long enough to go solar. I was determined to get at least some of my power from the sun.

solar charger

The charger has a USB charging port and an attached reading light.

So I ordered the XTG Premium Solar Charger to charge my cellphone. At half off the list price (I paid $28), it’s affordable. At only six and a half ounces, it’s light. And it’s small too, thinner than the phone itself but a half inch or so wider on each side.

The built-in lithium ion battery allows me to charge the panel during the day. I place it out on the porch, resting it on a kitchen mitt that I move to face the sun every couple hours, if I’m around and remember to do it, for my own solar tracking system.

The battery will fully charge in about a day with full, unobstructed sun. Even the lightest cloud cover or shade will really slow down the charging.  A handy charge indicator on the back tells you how much juice you’ve got.

Then, at night, I plug my phone into the solar charger using the mini USB charge cable provided. The phone fully juices up in ten or fifteen minutes. It’s not a replacement for the wall charger, since I don’t always have a sunny day when I need to charge my phone. But it’s a great backup.

I imagine the solar charger would be handy when one is out and about, as it comes with suction cups to install on the inside of a car windshield or some other window. But a caveat: charging the unit through window glass takes much longer than doing it outside in the direct sun.

The attached reading light is a nice feature, and since it’s an energy-sipping LED, I’ve not yet used the light long enough to run down the internal battery.

Next, I’d like to find other small electronics that can also be charged via USB. Meantime, now I’ve finally gotten to go solar. And though it’s in a very small way, it’s surprisingly satisfying to make some of my own clean power at home.

And how educational — people ask me about it all the time. While they’re particularly curious about my handy device, it invariably leads to a bigger conversation about solar in general. Let’s just say I’m not the only regular guy who’s more than ready to go off the grid right downtown, or in the ‘burbs, or on a farm. Everybody I talk to wants to know, When is this country going to get moving on solar?

— Erik Curren, Transition Voice

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  1. says

    I have the exact model shown in the photos. It works great! It will hold at least a 50% charge for 8 mos too. I’ve just recently started using it again after a summer bike tour.

    • says

      Hey Chris, I discharge mine every few days, so I haven’t yet had a chance to test the battery’s longevity. So it’s interesting to hear about the battery holding its charge for nearly a year.

  2. says


    I think a 12v solution would be a bit better: if you could get a plug out of it, and a circuit in to cut it off when the power goes too low(or some electronics would die otherwise). I’m in spain so maybe this is why I think micro home generation could be more useful than just for phone charging. The mintyboost is both open source hardware and allows for solar generation. I use it to go from a 12v solar panel to a USB plug which you can then charge lots of things with. Being able to power a laptop would be the next step up, and I think it’d be a useful and viable “green” business to take today’s micro solar panels/chargers etc and (ethically) provide something anyone can just stick on their balcony.

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