UK Technology Writer Takes His Electronics Off-Grid

matthew sparkes off grid photo

Image Credit Danny Bird @ PC Pro/Dennis Publishing

British technology writer and TreeHugger emeritus Matthew Sparkes faced a challenge- could he run all of his technology on solar and wind power, even in gloomy London? It turned into an interesting demonstration of how far technology has come but how far it has yet to go.

Matt started with an advantage- he is a crazed cyclist, usually doing 15 or 20 miles a day on his fixie. That was enough time for a HYmini wind turbine fastened to his handlebars to half-fill his phone. (Although I must say that I think it is possibly one of the dumbest uses of wind-power; someone should take the old-fashioned generators that rubbed on the wheel of the bike and hook that up to a detachable battery pack or charger; I suspect that you would get a lot more power out of it.) The HYmini uses both wind and solar, so Matt was able to put it on his windowsill and get even more out of it.

HYMINI wind and solar charger photo

HYmini wind and solar charger

He then tried a couple of hand-crank powered units and was not impressed, concluding that " passive power sources are better than human-powered ones", even though that is exactly what his HYmini was.


He concluded with solar, trying the curiously named "Powermonkey-eXplorer" and the Sunlinq 25 watt folding panel, which he hung on his clothesline.

His conclusions: "You can run devices on sustainable power, and green gadgets are far from gimmickry. To be honest, though, as much as it pains me to admit it, my colleagues were right on one point - not all sustainable power sources are reliable or advanced enough to be practical. "

He charmingly calls hand-cranked devices "chocolate teapots" and suggests "sustainable power will never reach the mainstream if people have to stop what they're doing every half an hour to get sweaty winding up their laptop, phone or media player. We all want to be environmentally friendly, but there are limits."

steelcase walkstation photo

I actually disagree with Matt here; I think there is a big opportunity. The Steelcase Walkstation sells for $6500 and they can't make enough of them; people want to burn calories while they work. Imagine if one integrated a recumbent bike with a generator and battery, designed to comfortably work at a computer; I suspect it would not take a lot of cycling to power a laptop all day long, and that there would be a lot of demand for such a device. It would make a lot more sense than the Walkstation, which just sucks power.


(here is a patent application for version of it that powered a desktop and CRT monitor)

shed installation of off grid power photo

Matthew concludes that " the hassle needs to be designed out of sustainable-power products. " certainly for portable products that is true, but for fixed sites, it is now pretty easy and not that expensive; Matthew wrote about a shed installation of an offgrid notebook setup earlier here.

inhabitat photoshopped macbook air photo

solar powered Macbook Air photoshopped by Inhabitat

He concludes:"Taking one small gadget off the grid may not seem like a big step, but it's the thin end of the wedge. In five years' time, let's hope people look back and wonder why that bloke from PC Pro thought it was such an achievement to never plug a gadget into the wall."

I suspect it may be sooner than that. ::PC Pro
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