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How to Solar Power Your Laptop

Extending your wilderness computing experience.

Depending on how much you use your laptop computer it is possible to keep the laptop batteries fully charged at all times using the sun.

My Acer Aspire laptop computer can run about 2 hours on a full battery charge. The solar battery charger I have can provide about 1/3 the power necessary to power my laptop. Therefore; for each hour I use my laptop the solar charger requires 3 hours to recharge the batteries.

Using a newer more power efficient notebook that can operate for 5 hours on a charge, my solar battery charger should provide about 2/3 the necessary power.

In each case above to run at a 1 to 1 power ratio you will need to add additional solar panels. Adding more solar panels only works if the sun is shining. How do you use solar power when the sun is not shining?

The Concept of Using Solar Power

  • Use solar panels to collect the sun’s energy and
  • Convert the energy in to 12 volt DC electricity.
  • Store that electricity in a deep cycle battery to be used on demand.
  • Convert the 12 volt DC battery power to 110 volt AC electricity (house current) to power laptops, printers and other small appliances.
In essence you are indirectly powering the laptop computer with the sun’s rays; you are actually keeping a rechargeable battery power source charged using solar power.

This may sound like a lot of work and it is if you want to power your entire house with solar power. However we are looking at a smaller more mobile application. Our goal is to power a laptop (or TV) and maybe a printer for a few days while camping or RVing. This web page is being written in the Oregon Cascade Mountains using solar power.

In fact using solar panels to keep your deep cycle RV batteries charged when not in use as well as while camping is a great idea. Your RV deep cycle batteries will always be ready for quick get-a-ways, and you won’t need a noisy generator that will disturb your outdoor experience at camp.

This is my solution:

  • Carry a small rechargeable battery pack as a power source. I have purchased a Slime rechargeable tire inflator.
  • Use a 12v DC to 110v AC power inverter to deliver the power to the laptop. I have a Die Hard 140 watt power inverter.
  • Use a solar battery charger to keep the 12v power source recharged. I use a Uni-Solar 22 watt solar battery charger.

This configuration works for me because:

  • The rechargeable tire inflator battery can be charged from any AC outlet, any automotive cigarette lighter outlet or my solar charger.
  • The rechargeable battery can be recharged any time the sun is shining using solar panels.
  • The combination extends my computing time longer than purchasing an additional laptop battery.
  • Most importantly all components serve dual purposes.

I use the tire inflator to keep up the air pressure in my tires and as a portable 12 volt DC power source for multiple 12v accessories. Adding the power inverter to the rechargeable battery pack I have a portable 110 volt AC power source for a small TV, tools or appliances. Also the power inverter can be plugged into any cigarette lighter in any vehicle or RV.
The only change I would make is I would not use a Die Hard power inverter. The fan is noisy and runs constantly even when nothing is plugged into it.

Here you see all the components of my solar laptop system.

All components of the solar laptop system. Laptop, solar battery charger, rechargeable power source, power inverter, cigarette lighter adapter

  • Solar battery charger (Uni-Solar 22 watt). See wiring modifications!
  • Portable 12 volt rechargeable power source (Slime Air Compressor).
  • Cigarette lighter 2 way adapter (Radio Shack).
  • 12v DC to 110v AC power inverter (Die Hard 140 watt, Sears).
  • Laptop Computer (Acer Aspire).

If you want to use your laptop and charge the 12v power supply at the same time, you will need a 2 way cigarette lighter adapter.

Close-up configuration for simultaneous computing and battery recharging.

  • Plug a cigarette lighter 2 way adapter into your portable 12v DC power supply.
  • Plug a solar charger into one receptacle to charge the battery.
  • Plug a 140 watt power inverter into the other receptacle to run a laptop.

In the test I ran; the sun supplied about 1/3 the power necessary to run the laptop computer in the setup you see here. Total run time in full sun was about 8 hours (over a 3 day period) before switching to the laptop internal battery. Note that the Slime battery was never allowed to charge on its own. If given time to recharge between computing sessions run time would extend indefinitely.

The Solar laptop in Use

Here is a practical application of the solar laptop. Note that a small TV or video game can also be powered by this method.

Harold and Maude are on their honeymoon. Over morning coffee Maude composes emails to her friends about her wedding.

Solar laptop application being demonstrated.

This is the perfect setting because:

  • Maude, laptop, battery pack and power inverter are in the shade.
  • When using electronic equipment outdoors protect it from any adverse conditions (direct sunlight, rain, snow, dust, etc.)
  • The solar panel (lower right) is in full sunlight.

Another scenario for this mobile and versatile solar configuration is;
Maude can take her laptop and auxiliary battery pack to a nearby picnic table while Harold connects the solar panel to his truck camper to charge the RV batteries. Later when not using the laptop the solar battery charger can be used to recharge the auxiliary battery pack.

Hint: Keeping your solar charger connected to your deep cycle battery when not computing will keep it charged.

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Variables to consider

  • No two solar laptop configurations will be the same so results WILL vary. Here are just a few variables to consider.
  • Power consumption of the laptop computer or other devices.
  • Efficiency of the power inverter.
  • Age of the deep cycle batteries.
  • Intensity of the sun.
  • Latitude of the solar charger.
  • Season
  • Time of day
  • Weather
  • Air quality

For your protection and greatest efficiency from your solar configuration; read and understand all the directions furnished with each component of your solar laptop system.

Wiring Modifications See Photos

Some solar battery chargers are not equipped with a cigarette lighter plug; you must install your own.


With his unit I unplugged the 2 prong battery terminal connectors supplied by the manufacture and added the cigarette lighter plug and a 2 prong wiring harness purchased from Radio Shack or automotive accessory stores. Note that the connector supplied by the manufacture has an inline 3 amp fuse to protect the charger. The cigarette lighter plug has an internal 3 amp fuse that will protect the charger. Also note I have two 2 prong connectors wired to my cigarette lighter plug for an additional solar panel should I choose.

Close-up solar panel modifications.

The cigarette lighter plug was designed as a plug for an automotive accessory not a charger therefore the exposed metal connectors are HOT when the solar charger is exposed to light. That is; any metal object touching the connectors will complete an electric circuit. This low voltage, low amperage current will not cause any harm but shorting out the solar charger may damage it. To prevent this I use a small section of a bicycle handle bar grip to cover and protect the terminals when not in use.

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