Eco Wise

Let Your Gadgets Soak Up the Sun

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The region's recent run of days with temperatures in the 90s is a potent reminder of just how powerful -- and underutilized -- the sun's energy is. In fact, according to the Department of Energy, the nation's electricity needs could be met if all the sunlight reaching just a 100-by-100-mile patch of the American Southwest could be harvested. And while retrofitting homes to run on solar power may be too complicated and initially expensive for many people, a new generation of photovoltaic gadgets employs the sun's rays to power iPods, cellphones and more.

· Georgetown-based Reware is one company leading the way: Flexible solar panels on its beach totes, backpacks and messenger bags ($225-$299 at charge small electronics with a built-in universal adapter. In direct sunlight, the panels are comparable to wall outlet chargers; in indirect sunlight, they don't produce as much juice but do work. An eco-bonus: The bags use fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles and are manufactured in the United States to reduce transit fuel use.

· Prefer to carry your own bag? Stuff the Solio Universal Hybrid Charger inside: The compact, sleek module fans out to resemble a flower and comes in black, white, silver and pink, with a range of adapters available ($89.95-$99.95 at

· For laptops, which require much more energy than smaller gadgets, solar options come at a much steeper cost, and nothing on the market provides the constant power of a wall plug. But until a version suitable for heavy-duty use is invented, Sierra Solar's three versions (from 15 watts to 26 watts) are the most compact and double as carrying cases ($262-$390 at

· Rays captured during the day are great for providing on-the-spot outdoor lighting come sunset. Try Home Depot, and for a good selection of garden and sidewalk lights and lampposts; you can even find solar-powered string lights (efficient LED versions are sold for $29.99-$39.99 at

· And for a simple, low-cost way to tap into the trend, Sundance Solar's fuel-free lighter uses a parabolic mirror to concentrate solar radiation and spark a flame ($12.95 at

Solar devices may be more expensive than their traditional counterparts, but if you can afford the investment, they'll reduce the number of times you have to plug into the grid or use batteries or petroleum fuel. Besides, they make a lot of sense as backup for traveling, camping, boating and in case of a blackout.

-- Eviana Hartman

© 2007 The Washington Post Company