Can You Charge Solar Lights Without The Sun?

Solar power is a terrific energy alternative that can serve as an environmentally friendly option while saving you money in the long run. The common understanding is that solar power relies on the sun to produce the power. So can you charge solar without the sun?

The lack of sunlight might seem like an obvious pitfall of converting to solar power or using solar devices in and around your home. Fortunately, direct sunlight isn’t a necessity. There are plenty of ways you can charge solar without direct sun access. One of the best alternative options is to place the solar panel under an artificial light.

Understanding how solar devices convert light to electricity will help clarify why the lack of direct sunlight doesn’t need to be a hindrance. As previously mentioned, you can use an artificial light to generate electricity from a solar panel. But there are some options that work better than others.

How Solar Power Works

Solar panels are composed of photovoltaic cells, which convert the energy from light photons into electricity. The electricity is then stored in rechargeable batteries for later use.

The sun is the most common light source capable of charging solar panels — it produces the most light and is entirely renewable — but in reality, any source of light can produce energy for solar.

The sun’s light, not the heat, allows solar panels to create a charge. The photovoltaic cells in the panels capture protons and knock electrons loose in the process. The cells then absorb the loose electrons, which produce the power from solar devices.

Solar is capable of powering all items within a home, as long as your system is strong enough to provide the necessary energy to do so. Finding a system with the correct wattage and connectors is essential to ensure enough power is available for day-to-day use.

It’s a common misconception that solar panels need direct sunlight to generate power and work efficiently. Direct sunlight is beneficial, but solar panels are capable of absorbing any light. Solar panels absorb photons even if they are not aimed directly at it. The receptors in solar devices are designed to take in even the smallest light waves and convert them to power.

The outdoors still have plenty of light, even on the cloudiest of days. It’s still easy to tell when the sun is up and when the sun is down behind the clouds because plenty of rays still make their way to the earth’s surface.

To look at it another way, think of a hot, yet cloudy, summer day at the beach. You’d still wear sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays. Even though you might not see as much direct sunlight, those rays are still breaking through the atmosphere, and that same principle applies to providing power to solar panels.

Remember, the photons of light produce solar power. The heat generated by sunlight does not contribute to solar energy generation. Therefore, as long as photons are hitting the panels, power can definitely be produced.

How To Charge Outdoor Solar Panels Without the Sun

Even on the cloudiest of days, unseen photons that breaks through the atmosphere charge solar panels. As long as it’s not night time and the sun has set, that restricted light will still provide power.

Certain types of solar panels perform better in low-light situations. This means that depending on the climate of your home, this might be a significant factor in your decision-making. Amorphous solar panels perform better in low-light situations compared to poly- or mono-crystalline panels.

So even if minimal sunlight is breaking through the clouds, amorphous panels can still gather enough light to provide power. If consistent sunlight isn’t an issue in your region, poly- or mono-crystalline panels would be the smart choice since they are typically more efficient in high-light situations.

While solar panels might still capture light and produce a charge with minimal sunlight, cloudy days still prevent the majority of rays from reaching the cells. So devices such as outdoor solar path lights might not be able to capture the same amount of charge during these days.

Keep Your Solar Panels Clean

Even the best solar outdoor lights need regular cleaning. Regardless of the level of sunlight available to your solar panels, they won’t work to maximum efficiency dust or dirt cover the panels. Keeping the panels clean is necessary to get the best results and generate the most electricity in the shortest amount of time.

Clean water and a soft cloth are the only cleaning tools needed to remove dust and dirt. Detergents and other cleaners can cause streaking, which can block photons from reaching the cells and creating energy.

Use Mirrors To Redirect Light To Shaded Solar Devices

If your home has solar-powered outdoor lights that are typically shaded from the sun, using a mirror to redirect sunlight can be a simple solution to ensure they receive a proper charge. Angle a mirror toward the solar lights so they can have easy access to the sun’s rays.

Again, even if these solar-powered lights are in shaded areas, they don’t need direct sun to access enough light to run effectively. But if you find the little light is not enough, mirrors can fix the issue.

What About In The Winter?

Winter months don’t provide the same amount or intensity of sunlight as the summer. But solar panels are still perfectly capable of collecting and dispersing energy from that small amount of light. 

Winter does bring the obstacle of snow, which can cover solar panels. And even a thin coating of snow would need to be removed in order to give cells access to light. Use a soft brush or cloth to remove any snow since those tools will effectively clear the panels and prevent any damage to the solar cells. Regular cleaning schedules for your solar panels will keep them producing the most energy for you.

However, snow can also be helpful for solar powers to receive high amounts of light, as long as the panels are clear. If you live in a region where snow blankets the ground consistently during the winter, the white surface can reflect light and help your panels receiver even high access to the sun’s rays.

Keeping solar panels out of the shadows during the winter months is also essential. With sunlight already limited during the day, you want to ensure the panels get maximum exposure to light for the best results.

Since the earth’s angle changes with the seasons, it might also be necessary to adjust your solar panels during the winter to help maximize their exposure to sunlight. Changing their position will help create more light hit the cells during the restricted hours when the sun is out.

How to Charge Solar-powered Devices Indoors

Aside from the solar panels commonly found outdoors, plenty of other items, can be powered by solar. Anything from flashlights to stovetops to cameras can be solar-powered. Sunlight is also an option to charge these items. But when clouds restrict the sun, it’s even harder for indoor items to get access to a natural power source.

But unlike outdoor solar panels, there are many more convenient options for powering these items in the absence of sunlight. Remember, almost all forms of light are capable of providing the energy necessary for solar power to operate. 

Using A Light Bulb To Charge A Solar Panel

Using lightbulbs is not nearly as efficient as sunlight. But in a pinch, household lights are perfectly capable of charging smaller solar-powered gadgets. Just like the sun, incandescent bulbs generate light waves, which solar cells can gather and convert to power. Household lights won’t charge solar panels as quickly as the sun, but it can be done in a reasonable time.

Household lights do not give off the same ultraviolet light level as the sun. So charging will take a bit longer than using the sunlight.

To charge any indoor solar devices, place the item no more than two feet away from a light source. Make sure the photovoltaic cells directly facing the lightbulb. The closer the cells are to the light source, the more they will absorb to convert to power. With a little bit of patience, this will charge the device.

Lightbulbs with a higher wattage will also charge solar-powered devices faster than low-wattage bulbs. LED lights are an option to charge these devices in the absence of the sun. But incandescent bulbs produce light waves more similar to those of the sun. So LED lights can take longer to provide a charge.

Using An Ultraviolet Lamp To Charge A Solar Panel

Ultraviolet lamps can also work to charge solar panels, but these bulbs give off more heat and energy, so safety is a factor. Instead, solar manufacturers recommend using standard light bulbs.

Some solar devices also have alternate, more traditional ways of charging in the event sunlight isn’t available. You might be able to plug your device into a USB charging port. Or you could plug in directly into an electrical socket.

But it’s important to keep in mind that using household light bulbs or traditional charging methods are not as efficient as sunlight for charging solar devices. On top of those methods’ longer charge times, it is not more cost-efficient than the renewable energy of sunlight. Therefore, these steps should only be taken out of necessity if waiting for sunlight is not an option.

Putting Devices Near Windows to Charge

The sun can still be the primary source of charging indoor solar devices without you having to take them into the elements outside. As long as the solar panel on the device has access to light, it can charge.

Normal windows don’t block out most of the sun’s rays. So merely placing a solar device near a window with the photovoltaic cells exposed to the light will allow it to charge. Tinted windows block more of the sun’s rays, so charging could take a much longer time, depending on tint level.


Using solar devices might seem daunting if sunlight is not a consistent factor where you live. But it can still be an easily viable and money-saving option. 

Even on cloudy days, solar panels can collect light photons to create energy. And indoor devices can also be charged with traditional light bulbs. Massive amounts of direct sunlight aren’t required for solar power to work efficiently.

Being prepared and understanding the solar power’s ins and outs is vital to help make it work for you. There are plenty of ways to charge solar without the sun and continue to rely on clean, renewable energy. The technology is designed with different climates in mind. Regardless of your region, solar energy can be a realistic option.

Want to power more things with the sun? You can use solar to power your pond pumps.


I'm trying to make the world a bit greener every day, whether that's through my day job or helping others make green choices for their homes.

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