Solar-powered cell phones are possible, but still have a long way to go before batteries won’t be needed, according to Nokia, tempering expectations of green technology.
The solar-powered phones under development by Nokia can gather enough energy to keep the phone charged on standby, but don’t have much talking or texting time, according to a study conducted by the Finnish company.
The cell phone maker reported better results when people carried the phone around outdoors in a holster around the neck, but “that isn’t the most stylish or convenient arrangement, and another solution is needed.”
Nokia’s findings dampen hopes slightly that solar power is a viable energy solution for smartphones, as other device makers ramp up look into the sustainable technology.
Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics both introduced smartphones with a solar panel on the back cover in 2009, but the technology still isn’t mainstream.
Meanwhile, last year, Apple sought patents for solar-powered phones, which would embed solar cells into displays instead of in the back of the phone, solving the problem of phones that can’t get enough sunshine to charge them.
However, according to Nokia, the technology for solar phones isn’t yet developed enough to be widely adopted. The Nokia solar phones tested best in sunshine-filled Kenya, but did not do well in northern climates, where further tests were completed at the Arctic Circle, on the Baltic Sea and in southern Sweden.
The biggest challenge to creating a completely solar-powered phone is its size. A phone’s small back cover restricts the solar panel’s size, reports Nokia, and that means it can’t be charged enough to keep the phone going.
Nokia is a major innovator for solar-powered phones, launching what it claims to be the first solar cell phone back in 1997.
Solar-powered phones will likely sell well, but the Nokia test suggests the idea is still some time away, even for feature phones that don’t need a great deal of battery power.
Nokia, working to make inroads in smartphones, still has high numbers of sales with its feature phones, particularly in developing countries. Developing a solar-powered phone is likely to jumpstart more sales in places where it’s not easy to plug in a phone and charge it, especially in emerging markets where infrastructure is not fully in place to support mobile networks.
Doing away with a phone’s battery may also allow phone makers to create even thinner smartphones.
However, solar technology also needs further development before it works for smartphones, which need large amounts of power to fuel their many functions, so phone owners likely won’t be able to ditch their chargers any time soon.