Nokia Solar Energy Test Produces Disappointing Results

Nokia’s research project on phone charging using harvested solar energy has concluded with disappointing results indicating that there is much work to be done.

In a blog post, Nokia admitted that “there’s still some way to go before a workable and care-free solution is achieved.” Despite this, companie swith more modest aims are already selling low-specification all-solar phones for developing countries.

Not an ideal solution

For its project, Nokia developed a prototype phone which featured a solar charging panel in the back cover. This prototype was tested by five people last summer in a range of different environments.

Two testers were located inside the Arctic Circle, one in southern Sweden, one in Kenya and one was sailing around the Baltic sea. Progress reports and technical articles were posted on the Nokia Solar Charging blog so that the public could see how the project was developing.

“The solar energy project was designed to assess the viability and ease of solar charging for mobile phones. The idea was also to look at the possibilities for phone charging in conditions where it’s not possible to plug in to recharge the phone, or where the electricity supply is uncertain,” said Nokia.

“The tests showed that charging a mobile phone by simply using a solar charging panel on the back cover is possible but challenging.”

Walking on sunshine

Nokia said that although it is possible to charge a mobile phone by simply using a solar panel on the back cover, the results showed that there were still challenges to overcome.

The biggest obstacle is the limited size of the phone’s back cover, which restricts the extent to which the battery can be charged. Nokia added that in order to ensure mobility, it was essential that the phone’s weather protection didn’t cover the solar charging panel.

The Finnish manufacturer admitted that the prototypes were, at best, able to harvest enough energy to keep the phone on standby mode but with restricted talk time. Other problems included not only the weather conditions and amount of sunlight, but also the profile of the user and the angle of the sun.

Unsurprisingly, the prototype enjoyed the most success in Kenya where there was abundant sunlight and the user was a security guard who was often stationary. This contrasted with the testers in the Arctic Circle, who struggled with the low angle of the sun.

Although reasonably good results were achieved when the tester was able to carry the phone around while outdoors, Nokia admitted that this isn’t necessarily the most stylish or convenient arrangement, and another solution is needed.”

Other people disagree

Despite Nokia’s pessimism, other vendors have a brighter view of solar-powered phones. Back in 2009, ZTE launched the Coral-200-Solar, a phone for countries with a poor electiricity grid, which is designed to operate without needing a mains connection.

The ZTE phone is a solar-powered version of an existing ultra-low-cost handset designed for developing market.s It has no bells or whistles, no touchscreen, no Internet and no camera, and ZTE reckons it can give 15 minutes talk time on a 1 hour charge in the sun.

The ZTE solar phone has been sold by operator Digicel, and among other things was shipped in large numbers to Haiti , after an earthquake hit the island, making communications very urgent, but destroying the power infrastructure.

Green fingers

Nokia’s experiment is the latest sustainable energy project fromk the manufacturer, which topped Greenpeace’s Guide To Greener Electronics for three years before it was finally deposed by HP in November.

In February 2008, it revealed a translucent concept handset called the Nokia Morph which ran on solar energy, while in March 2010, Nokia filed for a US patent which a phone charger powered by kinetic energy and later that year it released a bicycle charger kit.

However the most novel solution has arguably come from Orange, who began testing a t-shirt which charged mobile phones by converting sound waves earlier this year.

Steve McCaskill

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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