Monday, July 18, 2011

In search of solar car-battery charger

MY friend Aning Awang showed me a solar car-battery charger when I visited him last month. His son purchased the device a decade ago while he was studying in Japan. When he returned to Malaysia after his studies, he brought a couple of the chargers home and installed one in his father's Nissan Bluebird.

According to Aning, the device charges the car's battery using the sun's energy. Leave the car outdoors during the day, switch on the charger, and it goes to work to keep the battery power in healthy condition.

"The good thing about this Japanese-made product," Aning said, "is that it also works under normal light -- not necessarily under the hot sun."

Having used quite a number of solar powered devices -- from torchlights and radios to garden lamps -- I was skeptical of any product that claims to use solar energy. They simply don't last. But I had to give this one the benefit of the doubt.

According to Aning, this charger is different. He said he has forgotten when he last changed his battery since using the charger.

"I only maintained the electrolyte level of my car battery," he added.

When I returned to the city, I went looking for several car accessories dealers to ask about the solar car-battery charger. I even showed them a photograph I took of Aning's charger. No one has seen the device before despite the solar charger being in the market for over a decade.

These days, car batteries cost a bomb. And they don't last as those made in the good old days. Part of the reason is because today's cars are wired with all sorts of power-sapping instruments, especially the central locking and alarm system.

Wet batteries last two years at the most -- if you take good care of them. Maintenance-free ones do last just about the same duration except that you don't have to dirty your hands topping up the electrolyte level every few months.

But if you had been absent-minded enough to leave your car lights on, like I did a couple of times this year, your battery would die even faster. And the red face you would experience would not only come from being absent-minded, but also from having to push your car to start the engine.

I have seen a solar charger for cell phones. I don't know if it works as well as its manufacturer claims but the RM499 price tag makes it too expensive to invest in.

I have also read about annual solar car competitions our local scientists have been taking part in. I am sure each year, they are closer to putting us in pole position in the worldwide race to produce the ultimate solar car.

But can they make me a solar car-battery charger instead? I think it takes less sweat than trying to figure out how to cool the interior of a solar car under our hot weather to make it practical to drive in.

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