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AA Battery Solar Charger

AA Battery Solar Charger

This almost trivial circuit may be used to charge a pair of AA or AAA sized rechargeable battery cells from sunlight. The circuit has been used to keep a Palm Pilot and walkman radio running perpetually. This is an unregulated charger, proper charging is achieved by placing the unit in the sun for a known amount of time, this time varies according to the battery type.
Specifications

Open Circuit Voltage: about 4.0V
Closed Circuit Current: about 25ma (depending on the solar cell types)
Charge Current: < 25ma (depending on the solar cell types)
Charge Time AA cells: approximately 1 full day of direct sunlight
Charge Time AAA cells: approximately 1/2 full day of sunlight

Theory

Each of the solar cells develops about 0.5 volts across itself when in full sunlight. The string of 8 solar cells puts out around 4V with no load. When the solar cells are connected to a battery, a current will flow and the battery will charge.

Two versions of the circuit are shown in the schematic, the 8 solar cell panel with a diode is the recommended circuit. The diode prevents the battery from discharging through the cells at night and the 8th cell boosts the voltage up enough to compensate for the voltage drop across the diode. For an 8 solar cell panel, connect jumper J2 and disconnect J1. For a 7 solar cell panel, connect jumper J1 and eliminate SC8 and D1. Typically, the jumpers are not necessary, they are shown in the schematic to illustrate two ways to to build the circuit.

For operation in cloudy weather, it may be useful to add one or two additional solar cells. It is a good idea to temporarily insert an amp (microamp) meter in series with the battery to measure the charging current in various light conditions.

Since solar cells are current-limited devices, it is possible to use the circuit as-is to charge a single battery cell. If one cell is all you ever need to charge, five solar cells and a series diode will be sufficient for the task.

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