In a world full of personal devices and gadgets, it can feel like we’re forever buying batteries or charging these items up. But there’s  a whole class of gadget that doesn’t require charging the standard way – rather these innovative tools are powered by sunlight. Solar power is one of the most readily available renewable energy sources for powering the home or workplace.  While mass adoption of solar energy is gradual, there are some ingenious places we’ve seen solar power show up. 

Solar devices can help the environment (less batteries in landfills) or even help survival in remote areas. 

Let’s explore some of these gadgets below.

Solar mobile device chargers

Charging our phones is, for better or worse, one of the most common bits of life admin we have to think about nowadays. Depending on your phone and usage habits, you could find yourself having to reach for the charger more than once in the day. 

While healthy usage of digital devices is a must, there are times where having a low or flat phone battery can  be an issue. Losing the ability to communicate with loved ones, work colleagues or organise our lives isn’t ideal. 

In most cases we’ll be able to find a power outlet and charge up our phones before long. But what about those situations where there’s no  power outlet close? Think bushwalks, camping, on water, or at the beach.  

That’s where the solar powered mobile device charger comes in.

These gadgets can come in a number of different configurations, but often will be a battery pack with a solar panel mounted to it. As the sun hits this small panel, the lithium-ion battery is charged. These packs will often have ports like USB where you can plug in a smartphone, tablet or other small electronics.

Solar powered chargers will come in a variety of ports, battery capacities and builds – so make sure you do your research and buy what’s compatible with your devices.

Solar phone charger

Source: Wikimedia 

Next time you go on a camping trip, you’ll be able to bring your solar charger and be safe in the knowledge that you’ll have access to power. While you may not always have reception, you know  that once on a network, you’ll have the juice to make contact with the world.

Solar camping lanterns

Speaking of camping, solar power is a reliable way to give your campsite light during the evening and night. 

Solar camping lanterns are built sturdy – some are even waterproof. Available in different sizes, camping lanterns become critical when finding something in your pack at night, cooking safely, fixing a tent or any other job involved with a typical camping trip. Having a number of solar lanterns amongst your group can reduce the risk of people tripping over tent pegs or bumping their head on a low hanging tree. 

Some solar camping lanterns are collapsible, meaning that your lighting for a bush adventure can fit easily into a pack. When shopping around for a camping lantern, be sure to check how much light it can store, how bright it will go and of course its build quality.

Solar camping

Solar torches

Solar torches are super handy when you’re out away from powered light sources. Think camping and hiking – when the sun goes down you’ll want to have a portable, reliable light source. 

Sure, you can bring a standard AA battery operated torch, but these can be bulky and once they’ve run out of battery, they’re useless. Tramping with a solar torch on the outside of your pack will charge its battery throughout the day, ready to use when its dark. Given the main purpose of solar powered torches is for the bush, they are typically built to last and pretty light weight. 

Some solar powered torches will combine the photovoltaic panel with a hand crank that charges the light kinetically. This can be a good feature to have if the solar energy generated has run out.

Solar Bluetooth speakers

Now this is really cool. Bluetooth speakers have become hugely popular over the past 10 years, giving us an ability to enjoy music free from a power outlet. Products like the UE boom, JBL and Bose wireless speakers have proven hugely popular. 

For Kiwis wanting to play beats (at a considerate sound level of course!) in the middle of a tramping expedition or at the beach, Bluetooth speakers charged by solar offer a truly cable free listening experience. The options aren’t as good as traditional Bluetooth speakers, and you may find better sound quality elsewhere, but the ability to listen to music on a sunny day with total freedom from plugs and cables is pretty unique. 

Solar Bluetooth speakers usually feature a panel on the top of the unit to capture sunlight through photovoltaics. Some speakers can give up to 8+ hours of listening time – plenty of music while you enjoy a campsite meal in the bush. 

When looking for a solar Bluetooth speaker, be prepared to spend a bit more than a regular one. Also, check for water proof in the feature list – a gadget pretty much built for the outdoors that could find itself by a river or the ocean should ideally be resistant to water.

Solar portable generators

A solar generator takes the large-scale solar power solution and applies it to a smaller, portable footprint. These generators aren’t just for charging small devices – they’ll often include standard NZ AC adapter outlets to plug in anything from a fan to a television. 

There’s a wide range of solar powered generators, with some larger units even having a separate solar panel that plugs in.

Solar power station

Source: goalzero.co.nz 

Consider some of the uses you might find for a solar power generator:

  • Operating power tools when building remotely.
  • Powering appliances like fridges at festivals or day events.
  • Supporting a larger group’s charging needs at the beach or campsite.
  • Providing electricity to a remote building like a bush hut.

Solar backpacks

Imagine walking the beautiful Queen Charlotte Track, gathering power along the way for your devices.

By having solar panels as part of a backpack, you know that you’ll be gathering power as you walk around with it on – no need to even worry about getting enough sunlight to power portable solar charging devices. 

Solar backpacks are available in a walking day pack, large tramping pack, and even day commuter-type packs. It’s a good idea to think about what you want a solar bag for and buy accordingly. Some of the hiking options are quite bulky – which is okay for the bush but not so great on a bus or train!

The photovoltaic panels of a solar backpack do need direct sunlight to really be effective, so think about where you plan to wear the bag. Bush walks with a lot of tree cover may make it harder to get power. Also make sure the bag you pick covers other requirements you may have like capacity, durability, waterproofing and compartments. 

Solar smartwatches

Smartwatches have taken off in the past 5 years. There are plenty of choices and owners buy them for communication, health and fitness features.  Much like mobile phones, smartwatches typically need charging via a cable.  When compared to a traditional watch that winds or lasts for a long period on a small battery, a ‘wearable’ can seem a bit more effort to keep running.

Solar watch

Source: lunar-smartwatch.com

Solar technology has reached this device category as well. In fact just recently well known GPS and wearables company Garmin announced a version of their smartwatch which uses solar power to extend its battery life (combined with standard charging). Another company LunaR, offers a fully solar, ‘self sustaining’ smartwatch.

Solar radios

A portable radio is still a popular piece of kit for many Kiwis – ask any builder! Solar technology has been brought to many portable radios, which is very useful for staying informed no matter where you are in the country. Transistor radios are a popular choice for the packing list, but run the risk of draining batteries. 

We covered solar torches earlier, mentioning that some combine solar with a hand crank to power. You’re also able to find a tool that is part flashlight, part FM/AM radio and part mobile device charger – all in a portable little package. This can be a good idea for a general outdoor emergency tool – or to listen into a test match when sleeping under the stars!

Solar showers

Being in the outdoors doesn’t have to mean no hot water. In fact, solar energy can be harnessed to give you a warm shower, far away from any bathroom. A solar shower is a large bag that is filled with water. This bag is made of material that absorbs the sun’s heat and warms up the water inside. After a few hours, this hot water is piped through to a shower head. Mount on something like a tree or hold the head and you’ve got a nice relaxing shower. 

If you’re looking to live off the grid, travelling in a motorhome, or camping for a number of days, a solar shower is worth looking into.

Further reading

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