Q&A: Can you power a mini PC from solar cells?

mk802Q: Can you power a mini PC from solar cells?

A. Yes, you can – but you’d be far better off doing it in conjunction with either NiMH, Lithium-ion or SLA (sealed-lead-acid) batteries with appropriate charging circuitry to go with them.

Solar panels can easily deliver the power – you need on a rough rule of thumb 4-watts per core of power. So, for a single-core, you need 4-watts; dual-core 8-watts and a quad-core roughly 16-watts – that’s if you want continuous power.

Most electronics stores will sell you solar panels of that wattage, but to ensure you get smooth, reliable power, you’re much better off using the solar panels to charge the batteries and run the mini PC from that. Is it cost-efficient? Well, you wouldn’t do it for cost efficiency but the bigger problem will be the size of the solar panels needed to get the power – any idea of compact design would go out the window if you’re thinking of some remote 24-hour operation type application.

The main problem is that solar panels get expensive quickly, so it’d be worth checking whether you can get by with just a single-core mini PC (a Raspberry Pi springs to mind) to keep your solar/battery power costs down.

If you don’t need 24-hour operation, try a battery large enough to run the hours per day you need and a solar cell large enough to charge the battery up in the available hours of daylight.

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