I'm driving cross country and back this summer, and will be baking in the sun for most of it. So I'm looking for recommendations for gear and/or strategies for harnessing some of it to make electricity to power phones, laptops, etc. Does anyone has any experience with this?

  • Possibly no related to travel so much as Physics / Technology – Stuart Jun 22 '12 at 15:21
  • @Stuart I disagree. Equipment to fit on a car is specific to a mode of travel. It's like choosing a backpack (not a weaving topic) or shoes (not a shoemaking topic). – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jun 22 '12 at 16:18
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    FWIW, I think this is an on-topic question. Powering electronic devices while travelling with solar energy is a legitimate use case, that is significantly different from "how do I harness solar energy when living at home" – Ankur Banerjee Jun 22 '12 at 16:50
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    @Gilles: Exactly; I'm not asking how solar panels work, I'm trying to get one to solve my traveling problem. – Joshua Frank Jun 22 '12 at 18:36
  • I think gadgets to generate power while using your car on a road trip is more on topic than gadgets to simulate flushing sounds while using a toilet in Japan. But it might also be on topic in the "Motor Vehicle Maintenance and Repair" beta site - at least ask on their meta site whether questions about accessories and enhancements are within their scope. – hippietrail Aug 19 '12 at 11:58

For almost a decade I am extremely happy with my 2 iSun They don't go to the roof though. I have them right on top of the dashboard. I have never tried to charge a laptop though. But they are quite sufficient in charging mobile phones, portable gps's and rechargeable batteries. Being more then 10 years old, I guess technology must have enhanced. Given that they still do what I want them to do, I don't look for more modern solutions. Already ten years ago there were panels up for the job


While browsing through some kickstarter projects I came across a portable solar panel device, that seems quite interesting and something you might be looking for. I am considering backing this project, especially since it comes with a handy carrying device and my iSuns seems to provide less power after a decade of trustworthy service.

  • This looks really promising. I'll check this out in detail and report back. Thanks! – Joshua Frank Jun 22 '12 at 18:38

The flexible panels that these guys sell are pretty good.

You can rest them on the dashboard or across the parcel shelf. They have excellent power output.

However- you are in a car, why not use the excess power from the alternator? Either the 12v DC from the lighter socket our use an inverter for high voltage AC.

From the comments below, I think a couple of you have entirely misread my answer. Solar power is far better for the environment, obviously, but the amount of power your engine generates is far in excess of what you need to charge the battery and power your electricals. When I have my invertor fully loaded up I can't notice any difference in engine load, unlike when I use the AC, which is a really high load. Even my 600w amp and subs don't come close to the load the AC causes.

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    Why burn fuel when you can get free energy? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jun 22 '12 at 22:23
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    You're burning it anyway. Don't get me wrong, I joined Greenpeace over 35 years ago and am all about being good, but you have excess power when driving so why not use it. – Rory Alsop Jun 22 '12 at 22:30
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    @rory Is that rally true? someone recently told me that all the electronics in modern cars are gas gusslers. Hè told me that switching off you gps on known tracks actualy safes gas – user141 Jun 23 '12 at 8:26
  • @Rory: I guess my assumption is that taking it from the car battery ultimately wastes gas. Is that not so? But also, even if not, the fan on my inverter is quite loud (annoying) and gets really hot, ultimately causing us to use more A/C, so I'd rather mount a solar device on the roof or something and run a cable into the cabin, to avoid this problem. – Joshua Frank Jun 23 '12 at 11:20
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    @iHaveacomputer: Unless things have changed a lot since I sold my last car to concentrate on backpacking, the engine has no idea how much power is being taken from the alternator. If you draw too much power you might end up with dimmer headlights than usual and your battery not well charged, but there is no feedback for the engine to work harder. But hey cars are full of computers now so if this has indeed changed, let us know about which which year or decade most cars gained this ability. – hippietrail Aug 19 '12 at 19:56

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