Other than calculators, what are some other accessories and gadgets that are now available solar-powered?

Other than calculators, what are some other accessories and gadgets that are now available solar-powered?

—Frank Rogers, Concord, NH

While solar-powered calculators have been readily available and inexpensive for two decades, only recently has such technology been applied to other tools, accessories and small appliances.

Perhaps the most widespread use of energy from the sun today is for charging up small electronic devices like flashlights, watches, palm pilots and cell phones. Solar cells are also being put to use around the home increasingly to power garden, pool and security lighting as well as automatic watering and lawn-feeding devices. And as photovoltaic technology improves, people are using small solar cells to power up bigger devices like radios, cameras and even laptop computers. A good assortment of such items can be ordered from online stores such as Brunton, Sundance Solar, Real Goods, Global Merchants and Energy Federation (EFI).

Well beyond the realm of gadgetry, EFI sells a solar-powered oven, made by Sun Ovens International, which is working to protect the environment and raise the standard of living for the poor worldwide by developing solar cooking technologies that reduce the developing world’s reliance on scarcer and scarcer wood products. The interior of the oven is heated by passive solar energy when the oven’s reflectors are opened up and pointed toward the sun. According to the EFI website, “even though it is called an oven, food can be baked, boiled, and steamed at cooking temperatures of 360° F to 400° F.” Here in the developed world, the Sun Oven can save resources and keep the air cleaner when used for backyard cooking or on camping outings.

According to Wired Magazine, climber Sean Burch used solar cells to charge his laptop and phone during his solo ascent of Mt. Everest in 2003. “The sun was so bright at 18,000 feet that it wasn’t a problem at all,” said Burch, who didn’t have the manpower to bring along the hundred-pound batteries used by bigger climbing crews to power communications devices. “It was nice because I had my computer, solar panels and phone and I could communicate as well as anyone,” he said. Indeed, by strapping small photovoltaic cells onto their backpacks, panniers and kayaks, adventurers heading out into the wilds can stay in touch with loved ones—and rescue crews if needed—more reliably and for less money than ever.

Despite the profusion of solar-powered devices, environmentally-conscious consumers know that it is greener not to buy something that they don’t need. According to the website GreenChoices.org, people should only buy gadgets that are “genuinely useful additions to a green household, things that actually save energy or water, or make living green easier.”

CONTACTS: Brunton, www.brunton.com; Sundance Solar, www.sundancesolar.com; Real Goods, www.realgoods.com; Global Merchants, www.global-merchants.com; Energy Federation (EFI), www.efi/org; Green Choices, www.greenchoices.org.