Today I received a Biolite SolarHome 620 and my initial experience hasn’t been great. I’m a big fan of Biolite as a company, and I’ve been impressed with the other products I’ve purchased from them, so I may have had unrealistic expectations for the SolarHome.
The design of the device has the same level of quality I’ve experienced with other Biolite products, and the materials seem, at least superficially to be good, but it’s hard to say more than that because so far I haven’t had any luck getting it to work.
The system appears to ship with a (nearly) dead battery. I was able to get the control module to turn on for a moment to display this information. Not a big deal, in fact I expect things to have dead batteries when they show up this time of year but less expected is the fact that the unit won’t charge.
I connected the included solar panel, placed the unit near a window and coaxed the display into showing the charge rate, which was zero.
I figured the unit was cold, and maybe the panel wasn’t making much power so I left the system this way for a couple hours. Checking again later the results were the same, so I grabbed a meter and tested the panel to see if there was a problem or if it was just not sunny enough to work.
The VOM shows between 11-12vdc at the solar panel terminals, and the lable on the back of the panel indicates that 12vdc is the ideal output voltage. I did a continuity test between the panel’s terminals and the plug, and that checked-out as well.
So it appears that the panel and its cable are OK, and that there’s enough sunlight to do some work, but the control module disagrees. I’m tempted to find a suitable power supply and see if I can get the unit to indicate charging that way (perhaps the panel isn’t producing enough amps?), but I’m a little worried about toasting the thing, and since I don’t have a plug of the proper size I’d probably have to butcher the cable that came with the panel.
Instead I sent a request via Biolite’s contact form to see what they think. Hopefully they’ll have some ideas because I think this is a very cool, very useful system and I’d love to be able to recommend it to others.