Lately I’ve been carrying around a couple small-scale energy generators to test a few things. Since these devices are new to the market and it is impossible to nail down exact specs from the variety of user input cases, people often ask me how they work. Here’s an E14 article I wrote to sum up the conversation:
With my experience working for small scale alternative energy companies like Tremont Electric (Kinetic Energy Harvesting) and Voltaic Systems (Solar Generation), I always get two questions when walking around with prototypes:
- Do those things actually work?
- How do you know how well they work?
The first question is easy. Yes, they work. However since they are small scale energy producers, a customer needs to have the right expectations. If you buy a product with a solar panel the size of your palm to exclusively power your heavily-used 4G smartphone, you will find yourself with a large bill and an even larger sad face. However if you need a small power source on a camping trip where plugging in isn’t an option, then you’ve got a product worth checking out.
The second question is more interesting. A product might specify the power output of the energy source, such as “Our 5×10 panel is capable of generating 5W.” However this not what you will see going to your target device. In most small-scale energy producing devices like these, there isn’t enough power to reliably charge a device directly from the energy source. Instead, the energy goes into a battery that charges over time and can deliver a stable supply to the phone…