What Do you Think About Small Solar Gadgets?

| 5/13/2009 1:27:53 PM

Tags: solar power, solar gadgets, electricity, reader response, question to readers,

Many people dream about powering their homes with solar energy, but aren’t ready to make the investment in solar panels just yet. But chances are you’re already using solar power at home, even if it’s only in a small way.

There are a growing number of small, inexpensive solar-powered gadgets available that fit nearly every budget. That includes not only the familiar solar calculator, but a growing array of solar flashlights, radios, cell phone chargers, outdoor motion lights and more. Solar-powered products also are useful around the homestead, for example, for solar-powered electric livestock fencing.

Over the last couple of weeks, we ran a poll asking people if they were using these small solar-powered products and a surprisingly large number of people —almost 90 percent — said yes!

Now we’d like to know more about what you think of these solar gadgets, including what products you’re using and why — or why not. For example, do you have a solar cell phone charger or radio around because it’s a good backup for emergencies? Are you using solar motion lights because they’re convenient? Do they save you money?

Beyond that, what do you think about these small solar products in general? Are they gimmicky? Interesting? Useful?

Share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

karen elkins
10/9/2012 2:26:23 PM

last nightI I dreamed up what I throught was a great idea to star a business on line. I was going to call it Gadgets. I wanted to sell small solar gadgets like car fans for when your car is parked in the hot sun all day while your at work. The first thing I do this morning is look up small sorlar items on the net and I come across your web site. Is it possible for me to use the name solar gagets or just gagets? I would love to start a onlline business or a retail store selling small solar gagets, do you have any advice. A list of wholesale companies.

k angel1
6/27/2012 1:12:38 PM

I love Garden Solar Powered Lights !!! They are nice and practical at the same time, I even made an article about my faves Outdoor Solar Lights http://www.squidoo.com/funny-solar-lights-for-garden-or-patio

glen graham
5/14/2010 9:25:40 AM

My young daughter likes a night-light om in her room. I know they don't cosume much, but it got me thinking and I bought a cheap solar shed light on a certain auction website we all know, and just fed the wire in through her window (as I did not want to drill holes when hopefully she won't need a might-light in a cople of years) so the 6-LED shed light is in her room. Even in winter it gives off enough to keep her happy, and only really dies off by about 6am or 7am. It is so effective, that it got me thinking that if we can do that from a very cheap 6" x 6" solar panel, then maybe LED lighting all through the house would be feasible and much cheaper than going the 240v solar panel way (which I priced up but it is still *far* too expensive here in the UK as the market is much smaller than in the U.S or europe).

chris diehl
1/9/2010 10:07:17 AM

I think it is a great idea to use solar to fuel small gadgets. I have small solar panels to power motion detect lights in my carport. I have a light there but the previous tenant cut the wires for some reason. The light only cost about $90 and it is really bright. Even in cloudy Tacoma, it works all the time. I also have the same light in my shed since no electricity out there. I had another solar panel/light there but it wasn't bright enough so I bought another solar light from Lowe's. It is bright enough to go digging through my small selection of tools or garden supplies. All my garden lights are the cheap solar lights. I also have a solar radio I use for camping and outside and I have a solar flashlight. Someone stole my bike that had the attachment to hold my solar flashlight. I also have small solar lights for my office. I bought these at Ikea. They are convenient since you can pop out the solar portion and set it outside in the day. My daughter has a solar powered lawn mower. I plan on more small solar gadgets since I can't afford the solar panels on my roof. Need a new roof on my 110 year old house first.

5/21/2009 12:07:38 PM

I tnink solar gadgets CAN be great. There are numerous applications that increase safety and may even be life savers. Applications like small rechargers for devices on boats, kayaks, wilderness hiking etc. I guess it's unavoidable, but I hate to see them used in applications where someone would be recharging a game boy, MP3 player, or even a cell phone if its primary function is not strictly for emergency use. I can just see the happy hiker walking over a cliff as he/she is texting the friends back in the city.

berta tangye_2
5/20/2009 12:27:34 PM

I'm seeing more solar powered flashing lights in school zones, and other road signs as well. Can't wait to see how fast our innovative Americans come up with truly affordable solar power.

5/19/2009 3:51:19 PM

As a double edged sword sort of reward from my energy supplier, I was sent a solar powered cell phone charger. Great idea in theory, useless in practice given both my private cell phone and my work cell phone refuse to be charged by it. Likewise my partners phone. As I said, it is a great idea in theory, but basically a waste of silicon, copper and plastic.

5/19/2009 2:43:23 PM

I use a solar powered pump in my ornamental pond. Love it! Now, I'm adding a collector to run the pump after the sun sets. m

5/19/2009 10:50:08 AM

I think solar has a great future and you will see it in more and more back yards as it becomes more affordable and practical for an average sized home. More information can be found here: http://www.greenpower4home.com Tom

5/18/2009 10:02:57 AM

Ken, I never suggested the government should pay for it. I'm talking about an interest free loan through our local power company with the "Homes" power payments being higher (rather than a personal loan, in case the home gets sold) plus the excess electricity generated being sold to the power company with that money going towards paying the loan. Once the loan is paid the home owner gets full advantage of excess electricity. Our power company, FPL in Florida, will purchase excess electricity, already. They are hopefully soon to begin construction on the world's largest solar farm in North Port, Florida at Babcock Ranch. Unfortunately republicans are blocking a bill designed to fast track permitting by tacking on Gulf oil drilling to the bill. Ken: "That is not a good use of MY money." I don't mean to be rude sir. But I assume you are republican (a bad word these days). Going solar and green has nothing to do with "ME ME, MY MY" it is something we have to do as a species or we may well die. When would you like to start? We don't need more oil or coal, we need to learn to live with less. I think its a great use of "OUR" money! And it will put people to work. Not easy work, but work for those that really want it. That's why it seems to me to fit so well with the stimulus package.

5/16/2009 5:46:05 AM

In response to twlack, the government has no business paying for your solar installation. That is not a good use of MY money. Get yourself a regular loan and you pay for it. Having the government involved is a sure waste of time and money. Check out gizmag for great ideas on small solar charging devices. Here's a good one. http://www.gizmag.com/suntrica-solar-powered-chargers-pocket-sized-energy-sources/11589/ If your really want to help lower the prices of solar panels get net-metering in your area. If folks got paid for the excess energy they produced, even at a wholesale rate that would save them money and encourage the purchase of more panels. Every erg of energy created by solar is one not created by polluting sources. Encourage banks and new home builders to put enough panels on new home construction to meet the homes needs. Adding the cost to a 30 year mortgage will help make it more affordable from the start. Require the home builder to add them AT COST but give them a credit for retail will encourage the builder as well and reduce the cost to the home buyer. The home buyer could then purchase a larger unit as well. Encourage the wal-marts and other large buildings to cover these flat roofs of theirs with solar panels. USE TAX INCENTIVES not regulations and you will get greater responses. Ken

5/16/2009 12:58:57 AM

It seems that manufacturers have some type of myopia in this domain. They created and commercialized products to be used outside (solar garden lights, accent lights), but forgot something very simple: people need products to be used inside their house or apartment without making holes in their wall. How many people want, or have knowledge to bore holes in their wall for squeezing an electrical cord? Very few, indeed, would do that. What people need is a ready-made solar system with a sensitive panel which they could place in a sunny window (on the inside, not outside). Such system would be able to automatically recharge cell phone batteries, or any batteries, running a small bed reading light, or powering a notebook. The only item which I could find was a shed light. But you have to (1) own a shed, and (2) break your shed wall to install it.

laura _1
5/15/2009 11:25:42 PM

The solar garden lights and calculators are great. Using rechargeable batteries already but want a solar charger for the computer and cell phone. That's next to get. We made a solar oven before (foil lined cardboard box and glass panel) It worked well so we will make a sturdy one and insulate it. I want to build a passive solar home with a small active system so this stuff has been a good start.

winter star
5/15/2009 5:47:08 PM

Have had loads of fun and rewarding experience from many solar gizmos--yard lites, Xmas lights, flashlites, radios, etc. Solar even better when coupled with LED bulbs. What I have NO patience for, anymore, are gizmos that are made to trap the unwary, made cheap or wrong. I.e., wiring LED's without reflectors, or with electrical components guaranteed to suck more power than necessary; solar things made with such cheap parts, they fall apart, or don't even work to start with; solar radios with such poor electrical design and/or parts, it barely works; hand-crank gizmos with garbage capacitors; etc. We have tried loads of items, sometimes finding really cheap flashlites that work better than the expensive ones, for instance. There is a huge market and learning curve that seems to be expressing itself, before the garbage products get weeded out; before some corporations faking their conversion to greener products stop taking advantage of customer ignorance. But, real solar, done right? Oh, yeah! Bring it! Chi

5/15/2009 1:57:50 PM

Hi, We have had the solar calculator for years. We bought a solar electric fence charger a few years to keep the cattle in the pasture. We also purchased a solar exhaust fan for the hen house. This year we added on a passive solar attached greenhouse to our home. It is great for growing plants and helps to heat the house. We plan to find more uses for solar energy. We are looking into building a solar hot water heater. We love how after the initial investment we don't have to pay for electricity.

frederick riley
5/15/2009 1:21:19 PM

Have had solar hot water system on my house for more than 15 years with zero problems. Except for novice plumber draining the antifreeze out of system without shutting off the electricity. It burnt out the auxilary heating coil, and the circulator motor. Its a great system. Also spend winters in a military RV park in Florida in which full hookup sites are at a premium, causing many to have to "dry camp" (do without water & electricity hookups.) Many have installed solar panels on the roof of their RV with very good results. The panels are quite expensive though and I still use my 2000 watt Honda generator to keep my batteries up. I have 3 15watt solarpanels, one of which I plan to use to keep the batteries up over the summer, when the Rv is in storage.

dennis quinter_1
5/15/2009 1:08:08 PM

Any design work in solar energy has a possibility of discovering some new technology.

5/15/2009 11:57:16 AM

I was surprised that the "Stimulus Package" did not include a way to install solar panels to many of our homes here in SW Florida in a way that would make it affordable to home owners. The sun shines 90% of the daytime and its very powerful. Have the installation paid by the government. The home owner pays a slightly elevated electric rate with any excess electricity sold back to the power company (FPL here) and that extra (plus higher electric rate overpayment) goes to pay down the loan from the government for the installation cost. The less the home owner uses the quicker the panels belong to them. If we had 75% of Florida homes covered with solar panels I'm sure we'd be selling electricity to other states. Stop burning coal. And what a way to charge up your electric cars!

5/15/2009 11:45:27 AM

I use a Solio charger for my cell phone, and solar battery chargers from ccrane.com for charging small batteries for all sorts of things. The motion-activated porch light from realgoods.com is one of my favorites (I have two of them and never had any problems with them), although the LED light bulbs are the older type and not as bright as I would like. I had trouble with a bulky motion-activated porch light that I bought at my local hardware store--it was plenty bright, but the heavy lead-acid battery was hard to install and failed pretty quickly. I've had much more luck with LED-type lights that have smaller NiMH batteries. I really like the solar atomic clock from realgoods.com. The display is big and easily read and I never have to set it or even adjust for daylight savings time. I ran into one problem with the stake-in-the-ground type of path lights: if you put them where someone might trip over them, they're easily destroyed. I thought that 12 inches off my walkway would be far enough, but it wasn't--a delivery guy kicked one hard enough to snap the shaft right off.

5/15/2009 11:30:55 AM

I would love to find something like a solar powerstrip that I could plug other small items into for charging (camera batteries, cell phone, rechargeable batteries, etc) instead of having multiple dedicated chargers for individual items. Would appreciate any info if such a thing is available. Thanks. Susan

5/15/2009 11:19:25 AM

I am an ardent fan of using solar energy. Three years back, I bought 10 solar lights and installed it in my garden so that it lights up all night. I am happy to report it still works fine (every year, i replace the AA battery on each one and that's it). I went ahead and bought another 10 solar lights last week and installed it in my garden/garage and very happy to see it glow in the night. My plan to install a solar water heater shortly.

larry ladebauche
5/15/2009 10:12:23 AM

I have played around with small solar devices for years. I am pleased to see better quality useful devices popping up in several places. I currently use small localized lights and panels for my hall, shed and computer desk as well as using them to charge my cell phone and MP3 player. I am getting ready to take the plunge into larger localized units to reduce usage of commercially provided electricty without investing a great deal of money to do the whole house. Anytime we can get away from adding more dependence on the grid we help the environment even if it is in a small way. I hope that manufacturers recognize that many more people will use these small solar devices if they are made aware of their many creative uses and the manufactures provide good specifications for their products to help people like myself make educated selections for wise use of money and time.

5/15/2009 9:47:15 AM

I started out with a small 12 watt solar panel and a small 12 vold lead acid battery and connected a few connectors to it. one of which was a cigarette adapter. then I could charge about anything (small) that I had an adapter for. then I added a bigger panel and a few marine batteries and charge my battery powered tools (including my Neuton mower), all of my kids rechargable batteries for his toys, batteries for a couple of dozen battery powered lights I use around the house and such. it's a bit expensive for a battery charger, but I plan on slowly adding more solar panels and such and then eventually getting a bigger (and better configured) battery bank and use it more and more. I just built a small wooden rack to hold the two panels, and eventually hope to put them on top of my house when I have 5 or 6 panels.

5/15/2009 9:37:13 AM

I've been using solar lights here on the ranch for years. The ones a few years ago were very expensive but the prices have dropped a lot lately. Here ont eh plains of CO, they are Wally-Mart items. Not only do I have the low level lights around walkways and paths, I have some pretty high intensity LED solar spot lights that light up areas and several solar LED motion lights. These all saved me lots of money in power cable that would have to been run to power AC devices so in a short time, the cost is paid back in the savings in copper wire. I have solar battery chargers for the AAA, AA, C, D batteries used on the ranch and LED flashlights that run on these batteries. BTW, the LED MAGLITE will take your eyes out. As more and more of these 'gadgets' appear, more people will pick them up and use them. We get the energy conservation in small slow steps which is comfortable to people and from them we then get converts to more conservation - we use high-power LED AC lights - to solar systems on homes. The ham shack is all solar/wind and has been for near 20 years. So, yes, these gadgets get the 'non-choir' introduced to solar power and what it can do and that adds to the movement so maybe this time, unlike 30 years ago, we will continue. Yes I sign my name. Leslie

5/15/2009 9:33:12 AM

I love the solar devices I have -- I have a light fixture in my shed that works nicely and on one of the pathways to my backyard, I have solar lights. Generally, the solar lights work best on sunny days and not so much on cloudy ones but I have a tendency to not go in the shed or in the backyard on cloudy days so it works out. What I'd like to know is where can I get more of the small solar powered devices? That seems like an article-worthy subject! Wish I could afford solar panels for my house -- maybe someday but for right now I'll stick with the small stuff. Sometimes smaller is better!

sandy l_2
5/15/2009 8:04:55 AM

I am 100% behind solar power and wish everyone could afford it. I think small things powered by solar power is a great start - and very economical. Maybe as this usage spreads, larger projects using solar energy will become more affordable. At least I can hope.

dan bossenbroek_1
5/14/2009 6:22:07 PM

I think it's great! It started years ago with calculators and finally more and more items are available with solar power. This makes great sense, especially anything powered by battery. If you can recharge it with the sun instead of plugging it into the wallyou just took one tiny step in the right direction. Dan Bossenbroek

5/14/2009 7:40:48 AM

I have a Solio I use to charge my cell phone and IPod shuffle. Works great. Family is addicted to moving it with the sun. I also have a solar head light I read with at night, also kind of fun. Love not turning on any lights or even just charging the little gadgets I may forget to unplug. Would like to get the panels that charge a laptop, but not there yet. (But have 4kw solar system on roof too.)

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