Renewable Energy Chargers: 6 We Love and 6 That Will Never Fly


Photo via dmack901via Flickr CC

Charging gadgets with renewable energy is something we can't get enough of around here. We talk about it all the time because it's a great way to get off grid. However, not all the chargers we see coming out of designers and stores look like they'll be successful. In the world of small scale renewable energy, some ideas are perfect solutions, and others fall flat. Here's our take on those we think will make it, and those that will get tossed in the bad idea bin, and why.

Human Power



Got Wind's Orange Power Pump
What Flies: Charging stuff fast when you have to move around anyway
1. BioLogic FreeCharge
There are a lot of pedal power options out there already, and this particular one won't be on the market until March-ish 2010. But we still point to it as a prime example of putting human powered charging where it makes the most sense. If you're going to be pedaling anyway, you might as well be harvesting some of that energy you're expending. And this charger will work with a wide range of devices while selling in a price point most people can afford.

2. Orange Power Pump
This one nearly falls in the flop bin but it makes it into the flies section because it highlights our point about human powered charging needing to be fast. The foot pump is a repetative movement, sure, but it only takes one minute of foot pumping to get enough charge for five minutes of talk time. That's pretty good for human powered! The most energy with the least effort means the more likely a human-powered charger will find a market that wants it.

What Flops: Charging stuff through long stretches of tedious repetitive movement
3. nPower PEG
While we like this device more than many others we've seen, it still has to go in the flop pile simply because it requires people to do work they don't want to do. Sure, it's the best option if you're going to be out backpacking and will need emergency power for your GPS unit or something. But for most instances, people won't want to shake a stick for who-knows-how-long so they can talk on their phone for three minutes.

4. Hand Crank Charger
Hand cranks are not fun. Yo-yos that charge, yes; hand cranks, no. Unless you're spinning a crank to get an emergency flashlight to shine, it doesn't make practical sense for charging something like a cell phone or MP3 player. And if there's going to be cranking involved, the device needs to be designed so that it doesn't feel like your hand will cramp up in two seconds.

Solar Power

Regen's ReNu Solar Charger What Flies: Pretty solar where you want it 5. Voltaic Solar Backpack A backpack - it's just a flat out practical place to have solar panels. A backpack is always out when you are, you don't mind setting it out in the sun for long periods of time, and this particular one has enough efficient solar cells on it to actually charge up some gadgets.

6. Regen ReNu
There are lots of beautiful solar charger designs out there, but the ReNu really highlights our point that solar chargers need to be pretty. People need to want to have them out on display since they need a long time in the sun to gather a charge. The ReNu is just flat out fancy, and we've no doubt that it will have broad appeal in the market so more people use solar because it looks good, let alone that it can save money in the long run.

What Flops: Ugly solar that takes foooorrreeevvveeer
7. Kodak Solar Charger KS100-C +2
While we like small solar chargers similar to this one, we like them to actually capture a charge. However this charger takes a full 28 hours of sunlight to reach full charge. That means you'll have it sitting in a window for the better part of a week just to charge one battery. And even if you wanted to plug it into the wall to fill it up and have a backup battery, you'll be waiting a whole 14 hours. Who is going to wait for that when there are solar chargers on the market way faster than this? Solar needs to be fairly fast to fly with most people.

8. Hideous Solar Vest
Groan. This thing. It is a glowing example of why we can't just slap a solar cell on something and call it a success. Yes, solar vests are practical in some instances, but for the most part, designers can't just put solar on some clothing and think they can take the product to market. Where small scale solar charging flops is when it takes a turn for the ugly and impractical.

Wind Power

Minikin Wind Charger What Flies: Wind where it makes sense 9. Minikin This device highlights an important part of personal wind power - adjustability. You can adjust this in a number of ways to get the most out of any breeze coming by, angling it to be directly in the wind no matter where the wind is coming from. Getting at the wind, after all, is an important part of using it for charging.

10. HyMini
The HyMini is a favorite and their recent upgrade made it even more appealing - it can be mounted to your bike so you can be gathering up a charge via wind even if it's a calm, breeze-less day. Charging with wind that you're generating yourself without thinking about it...brilliant. And also key to a wind power charging device that will sell.

What Flops: Wind that you'll likely never use
11. Hybrid Charger from Kinesis
It's a cool device, but most likely people will use this for the solar component rather than the wind component. Primarily, that's because it's not easily hooked up to something that makes wind when you want it, like a bike or a car. Also, it'll be a rare day when you can get both the wind and the solar working for you at the same time. So while this looks like a good option for off grid power, it still highlights how we need wind chargers that are sleek and can be mounted to things.

12. Febot
On the whole, this is a neat idea, and it can be mounted to things. But it points out a primary problem with small scale wind - you've got to be able to put the charger where the wind is going to be. The febot has to be put so close to a larger surface like a wall that it isn't going to be able to capture much of a breeze. It's just a concept, so we won't tear it apart too much, but just use it to point out that if a wind power charger is going to work, it needs to be designed to easily capture energy wherever you put it.

More on Charging with Renewable Energy
7 Portable Solar Laptop Chargers Worth Considering
Charge Your Gadgets with Small-Scale Renewable Energy
CHARGE IT on Planet Green

Tags: Alternative Energy | Electronics | Gadgets

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