I'm looking to buy a solar panel to trickle charge my phone + other devices while out and about. Obviously I don't want a panel that is excessively large/heavy but also I want something that won't allow the battery to drain even after potentially many hours of usage (not just idle).

So is the following a method of working out how much power I need?

I know from experience that using the satnav on my phone the phone will last at least 2 hours from a full charge. If I also know that the phone can gain a full charge from empty in 2 hours when powered off by using a 5v, 1amp charger. Does this mean I can simply half this power requirement to retain whatever charge level the phone currently has indefinitely?

Or more generally can I apply this formula:

Pc    Pr
-- =  --
Tc    2*Tu

where: Pc = power output of charger, Tc = time take to charge from empty in powered off state, Tu = time to full drain battery from full when in required usage scenario. Pr = required power to maintain a usable charge level indefinitely.

Obviously in reality I'd probably add a 10% error/safety margin.

Thinking about it I'm pretty much sure that the 2 in my formula is wrong. Also I'm wondering if there is some overhead on the charger. i.e. a minimum power level required before charging even starts. Also I'd probably have to add an overhead for any required voltage regulation etc.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You can use a variable power supply and meter to see how your phone responds on low energy sources. It may be possible to charge a capacitor to 5V and then connect it to the phone, let it transfer what it will and then repeat. Do not exceed 5V! \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon
    Jun 9, 2014 at 13:39

1 Answer 1


You can't really trickle charge a cell phone through the microUSB interface that most use. There is a minimum current capability, below which your phone just won't charge. A 500 mAh charger will top of your phone, then your phone will stop charging and just draw running current from the USB line.

You are needing a 3-5W solar cell to do minimal charging, plus any losses in regulation. You best bet would be to use a 5V buck converter to drop the voltage of a 12V cell. You are still looking at a solar cell around 250x180mm. This isn't very portable for using while out and about. And full power is only good when angled directly into full sun. Ambient light will give a much lower output.

  • \$\begingroup\$ so it sounds like this is a completer non-starter then and I'd be better off with a stack a batteries! \$\endgroup\$
    – DJL
    Apr 14, 2014 at 7:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ For out and about, I would look for the Lithium power packs that charge from USB and give a phone charge or two. They are just a Lithium cell with a 5V boost converter, to provide USB compatible charging. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe
    Apr 14, 2014 at 14:30

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