Good Morning, Sunshine

by Yvonne Seng for Digital Living Today

Solar power is no longer the proprietary domain of marooned survivalists, crunchy granola-types, and off-the gridders. While trying to shed its novelty status and become part of mainstream living, solar tech got a huge bounce from Y2K and the looming fear of a lights-out millennium.

After the millennium hangover, sales are again on an upsurge for personal solar gear. This time, it’s from mainstream homeowners interested in energy efficiency. A practical and affordable niche for solar tech products is landscape and sensor security lights. Brookstone’s pavers offer an updated alternative to the solar-powered garden lanterns that have been around for years. Replace a few conventional sidewalk and driveway bricks with these pavers hooked to a 88w transformer and you have a soft, unobtrusive glow from sunset to dawn ($109.95 for 8-paver set, www.brookstone.com). And if you’ve given up on solar-powered security lights ’cause they’re always losing their juice, give the two-piece Optimum Placement Solar Sensor Light a try ($123.95 at www.hammacherschlemmer.com). The industrial-grade Siemens solar panel and its high capacity battery can store enough energy for up to 10 gray days without sun.

For that geek-chic look while you mow the lawn or weed the garden, try donning the Solar Safari Hat ($39, www.realgoods.com). With a miniature solar panel on top to power a small fan, this pith helmet gives new meaning to the term propeller head. Or, if you don’t want to part with your favorite baseball cap, clamp on a zippy little Solar Hat Fan ($8.95 from RealGoods) for the same cool effect.

For an anywhere energy boost, unzip the Sunwize Portable Energy System and place its face to the sun (www.realgoods.com, $369.00). This single-crystal, solar celled device delivers 3 to 18 volts of power for almost any of those portable electronic devices you can’t live without: laptops, cell phones, GPS units, radios, etc.

If you’re hankering for a Scout flashback without heading off to Pulau Tiga, check out BayGen’s line of battery-free radios (starting at $70). The iMac-ish transparent blue radios operate on both solar and hand-wound energy. Either wind them for 20 seconds for more than 30 minutes of AM-FM signal or set them in direct sun for unlimited playtime. Developed in South Africa as a low-cost, energy-efficient alternative for rural areas, they are steadily making their way downtown and into such upscale shops as Brookstone, as well as into vacation homes and family campsites everywhere. A wider range of BayGen products, including short-wave radios, laptop power generators, adapters and accessories, is available from RealGoods and JadeMountain (www.jademountain.com), online dispensers of solar lifestyle products.

Ooops…the alarm on my Casio Solar Watch (www.casio.com, $24.95) tells me it’s time to get off of my chaise and amble on over to the Sun Oven ($169, from RealGoods) to see if the tofu pups are done. Mmmmm…life is good living in the sun (ya know…if you apply the sun block with a paint roller and cover up like a Bedouin).

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