Solar Powered Gadgets
Millions of homes in America are now equipped with rooftop solar panels that produce electricity. Some even use solar power to heat their water. Utilities in many sunbelt states have also built giant solar farms to supply their customers with power.
Over the last several years, hundreds of appliances and products have hit the market every year to inspire even more use of solar power inside our homes and outdoors.
If you're interested in buying some of them and checking them out on line, be sure to read the comments from other buyers because some of these products can be limited in their performance.
Many of these devices come and go from the marketplace, but here are some of the latest choices plus advice on getting good service out of them:
Improved solar lights for landscape lighting:
Dozens of companies are flooding the market now with landscape lights powered by the sun, including path lights and lights on posts, flood lights and security lights.
Early versions of these products a dozen years ago were often disappointing because they failed to produce much light, and their batteries needed frequent replacement. As time passes, new versions of these lights seem to have become more reliable. But before buying, check out manufacturer Web sites for comments from buyers. Of course, they can be easy to install. The path lights, for example, simply have to be shoved into the ground; no wiring needed.
Logitech has a wide range of wireless keyboards (in the $60 range) that connect to a computer via a USB receiver plugged into your laptop. Reportedly, any light source will power the keyboard with a three-month charge even for use in total darkness. There were quite a few complaints online about customer service by Logitech, but many buyers had good comments about the keyboards.
Portable table or desk lamps:
You can find table lamps that use LED bulbs and are powered by solar panels, priced at about $30 or less. They have no wiring and some will go on automatically when darkness falls and then go off when they're exposed to strong light. Some buyers contended that the lights are not bright enough for reading, but they're attractive as accent or mood lights on an outdoor table.
Sunnytech has a portable LED lamp with its own solar panel and a USB port for charging your phone if it needs power. The lamp folds up to form a flat package for ease of transportation. It also has batteries once solar power runs out. But some reviewers said the lights were weak and eventually died. This lamp and several similar brands are on the market for prices ranging from $20 to $30.
A few years ago, when we looked into solar cookers, there were relatively few options, but now solar cooking seems to be exploding with dozens of new cookers for sale online. The most popular styles seem to be solar panel cookers that surround a pot with shiny flaps that focus sunlight on what's cooking; solar parabolic cookers that look like giant rooftop TV dishes; and solar boxes into which you can stick your cookpot.
But new kinds of solar cookers are invented all the time, like one that cooks food by sliding ingredients into a glass vacuum tube surrounded by parabolic reflectors.
Solar cookers work best in places with consistent sunlight and hot, dry temperatures. So Arizona should fit the bill on climate for successful solar cooking. Manufacturers of the various devices claim that you can boil and steam and even pasteurize using solar cooking devices.
You can reportedly even bake bread or a pizza. But clearly, learning how to get the best results with a solar cooker requires a lot of patience and many tries. Better units can range from $150 to $300.
Solar pool pumps and filters:
Conventional pool pumps use a lot of electricity, so solar looks like a good alternative, but it is costly – probably about $1,000 for an in-ground pool. It could take a couple of years to recoup that cost in utility bill savings. Better pumps claim to have a 10-year life expectancy. The filter and pump will be wired up to a separate solar panel in your yard. Be sure to read the customer reviews of different products. Some pool owners say they don't work very well on cloudy days.
These devices can power up your cell, your laptop, camera and even lights when you are away from home on outdoor adventures. They can even charge up external batteries. Many are lightweight and can be folded to fit inside a backpack when you're camping, biking, kayaking and more. Some are waterproof as well. Priced at $50 on up.
There are solar generators on the market that can probably power a small medical device or tiny refrigerator. But these devices can't replace your main source of electricity during a power shortage.
Flashlights with a built-in battery that can be charged by using a solar panel:
The Simpeak flashlight ($16) can even be powered up by absorbing light from strong light bulbs or using a hand crank. Birksun has similar models.
But clearly, the search for new products powered by the sun is continuing, and lots of customers are willing to give them a chance.
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