Sustainability concerns are encouraging new product development for a wide array of products, and advancements in solar technology are making solar energy as portable as your cell phone.
Portable solar recharging devices for all the gadgets that on-the-go people carry with them have taken advantage of the micro capabilities of thin-film photovoltaics-and they don't cost an arm and a leg. One online retailer, CableOrganizer.com, offers a wide range of portable solar devices for eco-friendly electronics.
Mildred Munjanganja, VP marketing and general manager, says sales for the new solar charging devices have been "increasing steadily" since the company first added them to the site. "For example, the JuiceBar [solar charger] was added to our site around October of 2009 and sold more than 75 units in its first quarter," says Munjanganja. "We expect an increase of activity in sales for the Juice Bar as well as the other chargers as we finish off the first quarter of 2010."
Campers and beach-goers can have a ready charge for their mobile devices even if they are away from an electricity source. Paul Holstein of CableOrganizer.com says that having one of these "budget-friendly portable charging devices" that harness the power of the sun means you're never without power. "These mobile solar chargers also reduce the need for multiple chargers or adapters for each piece of equipment requiring power," he says.
The JuiceBar Solar Charger ($40.21) is a compact device equipped with solar cells that begin charging immediately upon contact with light. It includes 12 of the most commonly used adapters for cell phones, iPods, MP3 players, portable gaming systems, and more.
Another offering from the company, the PowerMonkey-eXplorer AC/Solar charger, allows you to recharge your iPod, GPS unit, cell phone, or PDA any of three ways, including with a solar cell, and it can be plugged into the wall in 150 countries thanks to four AC adapter tips. It can even be charged from your computer with the included USB adapter. The PowerMonkey ($149.21) holds enough electricity for 40 hours of iPod time or 96 hours of cell phone talk time.
For more power, there's the XPower Solar Portable PowerPack ($193.49), which is lighter, quieter, and "greener" than any on the market, claims CableOrganizer.com. Because it's also beefier, it's intended for camping, road trips, tailgating, or power outage emergencies.
Munjanganja says that customers have a positive reaction to these products. "They love the fact that they do not need to be anywhere near an electrical outlet to charge their appliances-they can charge them in their cars on the way to a mall, or on the train on the way to work," she adds. "The other comments I'm hearing are that these charging devices can help everyone be more eco-friendly. In these times when electricity costs are accelerating and everyone wants to do something better for the environment, every little thing helps."
Konarka Technologies Inc. is an innovator and developer of Konarka Power Plastic, a thin-film solar photovoltaic material that converts light to energy. The company says its Power Plastic 320 Solar Charger (3.3W/8V) is lightweight and more versatile than traditional solar panels. It's designed to charge batteries for portable electronic devices. The Konarka Power Plastic 620 Solar Charger (7.6W/8V) is larger, but can perform the same functions. Some of its recent applications include a handbag and beach umbrellas with the solar panels embedded in the material.
The chargers are based on patented photoreactive materials made from conductive polymers and organic nano-engineered materials that can be printed only on flexible plastic using an inexpensive, energy-efficient manufacturing process.
CableOrganizer.com is constantly on the lookout for more solar-powered devices to catch consumers' eyes, and expand their product line. "As customers become more aware of their carbon footprint, they are going to search for more environmentally friendly items that will help their day-to-day life, and solar-powered anything will be part of that," she says. "That will cause more manufacturers to develop more solar-powered products, and we will be ready to meet that demand." —Clare Goldsberry
Read the April IMM issue's Market Snapshot: Electrical and Electronics to find out more on how electrical and electronic products are benefiting from new materials and compounds that provide optimal mechanical properties such as antistatic and thermal conductivity, while offering eco-friendliness for applications in several markets.