Charging cell phones with the power of the sun

When first asked to lead a hands-on project around renewable energy, the sheer volume of possibilities seemed intimidating. Energy source aside, I wanted something that would motivate our seventh graders to persevere through the inevitable challenges of their first week-long design project. What is it that a group of young adults with fairly reliable access to light and heat care most about powering? Their cell phones, of course.

Having identified the target device to power, there were still a multitude of renewable energy sources to choose between. Should we wire together a hundred pounds of potatoes? Build a hand crank generator using a DC motor or a magnet? Dive deep and build a Seebeck generator or a wind turbine?

In the end, I went with what I know – solar energy. Through two volunteer projects to install solar energy at orphanages in Africa, I’ve learned the basics of solar power and why it is incredibly important for the future of our planet. However, I also knew we didn’t need a (pricey) panel and inverter just to charge a low-end Android phone.

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