It might seem trivial, but it's not. There are already nearly two billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide. And ninety percent of the world's population is expected to live in an area with mobile phone coverage by 2010. While individual mobile phones do not consume a great deal of energy, most of us consume more energy than is necessary by leaving our phone chargers plugged in. On average, only 5% of the power consumed by phone chargers is in fact used to charge phones, while the other 95% is consumed by the charger when no phone is plugged in. So what to do? Well, you can unplug your phone charger for starters. But that requires a good memory and a lot of bending over. I've come across a more convenient and even more sustainable option thanks to the solar bags produced by Voltaic Systems. Voltaic's backpacks and briefcase-like messenger bags all come with built-in solar panels and a small battery. They also come with a slew of adapters, including a standard car lighter socket, an iPod plug, a USB plug that can be used to charge cameras and Blackberries, and a whole set of mobile phone adapters. This past holiday, we gave everyone at my firm (GreenOrder, an environmental strategy consultancy) a Voltaic bag as an end-of-year gift. As pictured above, a small solar farm quickly sprang to life, with everyone hanging their bags near the window to capture the sun (the bags pictured are outside because it was one of those abnormally warm winter days, but they can be charged inside just as well). We found that with just a few hours in the sun, we could charge our phones over night at home.
As gratifying as it was do walk the talk at work, people's reaction to the bag on the street was even more remarkable. I've been stopped by everyone from Wall Street types, to taxi drivers, to tourists and street vendors. I was even "pulled over" once by the police. Everyone wants to know "what does that thing do?" and "where can I get one?" Somewhat surprisingly, the biggest fans seem to be the TSA screeners at the airport, who seem far more enamored with the concept than they are worried about the strange electronics embedded in my bag.
So in the end, taking my mobile phone off the grid has saved a little energy, sure. But what I've found most valuable is what it has revealed about people's latent desire to try something new and be more efficient and self-sufficient. My solar powered bag and phone (and iPod and camera) have demonstrated that more people than you might think want to know how to go green. I've even thought of putting a new signature line on emails from my Blackberry phone to help spread the word about what you can do "This Blackberry is solar powered by a Voltaic Systems bag." And as a bonus, when I'm in the airport and running out of juice, I don't need to vamp a plug anymore — because I've now got a truly mobile mobile.