There are a lot of cool gadgets out there, but there’s a fine line between what’s cool and what’s useful. This is a green list of gadgets that are useful, but boast the extra-cool factor of using renewable energy. No batteries required!
10. The Ship has Landed
The lightship is a solar-powered LED mounted on suction cups. Result: a portable, hands-free, solar light. It’s even weather proof and weighs a slim 8oz. For under $15, this is the best 8 hours of clean light I can think of, and I might just get one for my car/camping trips/travels.
9. High-tech pool toy?
If you simply must have hot water anywhere, at any time, try a portable solar water heater. Could it double as a heated water bed? A pool toy? Bring some towels if you decide to try. This gadget is designed to bring cheap, easy hot water to people and places without access to indoor plumbing or electricity. It rolls up small enough to fit in a backpack, and it’s supposed to be affordable enough for people or communities in developing nations.
8. The Fridge without Power
A little ingenuity paired with the laws of thermodynamics have made Mohammed Bah Abba a famous man. His invention is simple: place a pot into a slightly larger one. Pad the space between them with wet sand, and cover with a damp cloth. As the water evaporates, it will draw heat out of the containers and cool whatever’s inside. The system has already proved itself in northern Nigeria, a hot and arid region. Food lasts for days or weeks longer compared to the only alternative: room temperature. Here in the land of plastic coolers, I can think of a few common uses: Camping trips could be easier without the weight of heavy packs of ice and the danger of freezing more fragile foods. Egg-cicle anyone? Even if you don’t intend to leave the comforts of modern civilization, consider these for cooling food or drinks at your next BBQ, or even for a DIY kid’s science project.
7. Speaking of BBQ…
We’re putting heat in the kitchen with solar cookers. The benefit here is that some designs are lightweight with easy-to get materials, like foil and pizza boxes. They also offer a neat alternative for your next BBQ (and yes, they can get hot enough to cook meat) if, for example, you live in an area with frequent fire-bans. Since there are no flames involved, it’s much safer and there’s definitely something fascinating about watching the sun roast your food.
6. Crank your Gadgets:
How about a MP3 player that you can crank? You’ll never run out of juice if you can charge your gadget by hand. Trevor Baylis, the inventor of the hand-crank radio, brings you an MP3 with plenty of whistles and bells. If a wind-up MP3 isn’t your cup of tea, how about a kinetic cell phone or phone charger? You might hesitate to buy anything that requires physical exertion on your part, but what happens when there’s no socket in which to stick your regular charger? Be the cool kid who can charge himself. Also, consider emergency applications. The MP3 comes with a flashlight, and the cell phone charger could keep you connected when you most need to call for help.
We’re not talking about the huge wind-farm fodder; we’re talking about something you can strap to your house. Now I admit, gadgets tend to be smaller and more… gadgety. After much deliberation, I figured omitting wind power would be like forgetting Unix in a “Top-5″ for PC operating systems. Plus, they look really cool. For a mere $500 you could own this turbine, which is designed for charging batteries (the batteries would power a cabin or house). The Japanese turbine (shown above) hasn’t quite hit the American market yet, but it’d be my wind-power-of-choice. Airplane propellers are so last-year.
4. Sunlit Gadgets
Solar powered lighting aside, what about self-sufficient gadgets? Nowadays there’s a wide variety to choose from. There’s Msi’s solar’powered MP3 player, which you can also plug in when the sun won’t shine. How about a Bluetooth headset? You too could strut with all the style of a pocket-protector, smug in the knowledge that yours works indoors and out. Other self-sufficient gadgets include a mosquito repeller, tire gage, and all-in-one survival kit. However, some of the extreme deals associated with these makes me wonder if they’re worth the low price…
3. The Nerdies Lights Around
Let’s play with fiber optics. You could have natural sunlight (sans UV and infrared) for your home or office, and it could come from fiber optic cables (pictured above). Among the gadget you don’t get to see (assuming it’s wired through your walls), it’s got to be the coolest. You even get a futuristic collector dish on your roof.
2. Lightcap 200
This is a solar-powered cap for your water bottle. So why power your Nalgene? It turns your translucent water bottle into a solar-powered lantern. Every backpacker knows that every ounce counts, so now you can combine two heavy but necessary items into one. There is also the cool factor: pick you color with your favorite shade of kool-aid.
It was bound to be on the list. There are a range of solar-powered rechargers. Some come with battery packs (for when the sun don’t shine) or bells and whistles. Voltaic Systems and Burton’s Solar Roll claim the prize of recharging a standard laptop. As you might expect, prices range from $20 to “owch”. But if you carry a purse, tote your gadget horde, backpack, geocache, or travel through regions with less-than-reliable electricity, any one of these could be invaluable. Plus, they all come with a magnificent cool factor.
I'm an environmentalist who loves to write. I grew up across the southeastern U.S.A. and especially love the Appalachian mountains. I went to school in the north east U.S.A. in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. I majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. I've worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced me to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. I also taught English language in South Korea for a year, which taught me to take nothing for granted. Currently I'm applying for grad school to study international environmental policy.