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Can’t afford solar panels? Try these bright ideas

By Alan J. Heavens, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 Feb 2009
Source: San Jose Mercury News

You may not be able to spend thousands of dollars to convert your house to solar power. But there are smaller, less expensive ways to do your environmental part with the sun’s help.  Many solar products are available, though there are limits to what some can do. Still, anything to reduce your carbon footprint is worth doing.

Solar computer bag: Voltaic Systems’ Generator bag ($499, uses the sun to charge a computer notebook. The battery pack included stores a charge that will deliver the required power automatically. Also included: adapters for cell phones and other portable equipment.

Solar charger: Solar Style’s SC002NBC ($59.99, www. will charge cell phones, PDAs, MP3s, handheld video games and digital cameras, as well as operate radios, CD players and other portable devices. It also has an emergency light and can be used with a car adapter or plugged into a regular outlet.

Wireless speaker: With the Arius solar-powered wireless speaker ($260, www.nova, you can have music outside without running wires. You can even plug an iPod directly into the weatherproof speaker. Fifteen watts of sound are produced; technology and signals are transmitted through walls, floors and ceilings up to 150 feet away. Once fully charged, the speaker lasts eight to 10 hours.

Water bottle: During the day, the bottle stores a solar charge (the water doesn’t heat up); at night, it’s a spare LED lantern ($19.95,

Portable multiband radio: This unit ($69.95, has four shortwave bands, a medium-wave band, FM, two television bands, and a weather band. It can be powered by the sun, by cranking, battery (not included) or AC/DC adapter (included).

Bluetooth car kit: Iqua Vizor SUN ($110, is a hands-free speaker that clips onto the visor and uses solar power to recharge. Battery life is 20 hours. Dedicated buttons let you answer and end calls and access other features.

Computer keyboard: Proponents of the Cherry CyMotion Master Solar M86-21950 ($135, say it’s the first step to a solar-powered PC. The keyboard charges during operation, has 10 side-mounted keys for horizontal and vertical navigation, and allows quick access to complicated key sequences. Nineteen programmable function keys allow access to multimedia, Internet or other commonly used programs.

Speed racer, mini division: The World’s Smallest Solar Car ($19.95, www.earthtechproducts .com) has adjustable steering and rubber tires, for fun on tabletops or smooth surfaces wherever there’s sunshine. Excellent for demonstrating solar power in action; not so good for long trips.