Are Solar Powered E Ink eReaders Really Necessary?


Bookeen, a small ebook reader company based in Paris, has announced that they intend to bring solar charging to ebook readers through a new partnership with Sunpartner Technologies, also based in France.

The press release is slim on details, and doesn’t specify whether the technology will be used on Bookeen’s line of Cybook ereaders exclusively or if will be sold to other manufacturers as well.

Either way, the solar-powered “product” is scheduled to hit the market in 2016, but if Bookeen’s past release dates are any indication it could end up being closer to 2018.

The solar technology uses “Wysips®”, a thin invisible photovoltaic layer of glass that is designed to seamlessly integrate into any surface to transform it into a solar panel. This invisible layer can recharge an ereader’s batteries using light energy, both natural and artificial.

Solar power is indeed an interesting concept when it comes to mobile devices. But you’ve got to question the absolute necessity of it when it comes to E Ink ebook readers. Solar charging seems like it would be much more suited for devices like phones and tablets that need frequent charging.

When it comes to E Ink ebook readers, battery life is usually measured in weeks, not hours. Some ebook readers, like the Kindle Paperwhite, are advertised as being able to go 8 weeks per charge, which is totally unrealistic for most users, but it’s not impossible.

Two to four weeks of battery life is more typical for most ereaders. So if the device only needs to be charged 12-24 times per year for 2-4 hours per charge, it’s only going to save a few pennies worth of electricity by using solar power instead. And the cost of manufacturing and applying the technology would far outweigh any actual energy-savings over the relatively short lifespan of an ebook reader.

Solar charging is one of those things that sounds like a cool idea but is it really practical when you only need to charge an ebook reader once or twice a month? It seems like the technology would be better suited for high-energy consumption devices rather than E Ink.

That being said, it would be pretty neat to have an ebook reader that you never had to plug into a charger.

12 Responses to “Are Solar Powered E Ink eReaders Really Necessary?”

  1. You said it yourself – ebook reader that never has to be charged is practical. Is it ecological? Probably not, but e-ink is supposed to be like paper, right? Does paper run out of battery?

  2. Nifty sure. Would I drop the money? Maybe. I would not mind, but then I plug my devices in to transfer book. Bookeen has some great devices, I just wish they were more available here in the US hence my conversion to Kobo Aura HD and H20

  3. Eh, looks like a neat proof-of-concept, but, as you said, not an extremely useful or practical feature for eInk devices.

  4. if the glass layer is going to be reflective then it wouldn’t be a good idea!

  5. The crowdfunded ereader “Earl” is also supposed to have a solar panel on its back:

  6. So long as it’s not executed in some obnoxious manner, it’s really a slick idea. Eink readers use so little juice that solar charging makes great sense… and is green, to boot. Again, it needs to be stealthy, though.

  7. Not everyone has easy access to reliable electrical grids for charging devices. Readers in Africa would probably be very happy to have a solar-powered device:

    Not to mention that the very fact that ebook readers consume very little energy means it would be a lot easier to use solar energy to power them than a high-consumption device.

  8. I would prefer a intermediate solution:
    A photovoltaic cover that can transfer electric charge to the reader, it only need to be modified for it.

  9. Given the choice between a solar-powered e-reader and an e-reader that can survive being dropped in water[Kobo H2O], I would choose a solar-powered reader.

    One advantage that print books have over e-books is that you don’t need access to the electrical grid to read a print book. A solar-powered reader equalizes this advantage.

  10. Wow. For exactly the same reason I want the e-ink reader to be powered by solar or ambient light. Why? Then I’ll totally forget about charging.