Rosie Romero Special for the Arizona Daily Star
Q: I don’t have solar panels for my home, but I’ve heard about powering my small electronics with solar chargers. How does it work?
Reply: Yes, you can run electronics without a complete solar installation (system). Given the recent thunderstorms and power outages, it might be a good idea to pick up a few solar chargers and other rechargeable devices.
Here are some options, uses, and reasons why you’ll want to have them available when the power goes out.
These devices can turn on your mobile, laptop, camera and lights while the power is out. They are also useful when you enjoy outdoor adventures. Some can charge external batteries. Many are lightweight and can be folded up to fit into a backpack. Some are also waterproof. Price for $50 and up. Look for one with an automatic optimization feature that can recover lost power from shading. This way you don’t have to worry about your mobile phone staying charged.
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Speaking of a backpack, check out the Birksun Solar Backpack. With its built-in lithium-ion battery, it can charge your devices with an output of 2.4 amps, which is as fast as a wall charger.
There are small solar generators that can power small medical devices or a small refrigerator. Note that this type of device cannot replace your primary power source during power outages. If you have medical equipment such as an oxygen tank or CPAP machine, consider installing a complete solar system with a battery backup generator.
Solar powered radio
Solar powered radios are a must-have in case of an emergency. Solar eliminates the need to replace batteries. You must have access to up-to-date information when the power goes out.
Flashlights with a built-in battery can be charged using a solar panel. The Simpeak Hand Crank Solar Powered Rechargeable LED Flashlight ($23) lights up by absorbing light from bright bulbs or using a hand crank.
Portable table or desk lamp
Plug-in table lamps that use LED bulbs and are powered by solar panels automatically turn on when it gets dark and turn off when exposed to bright light. Look for models designed for reading or mood lighting on an outdoor table.
Sunnytech has a portable LED lamp with its own solar panel and a USB port to charge your phone if it needs power. The lamp folds up to form a flat pack for easy transport. It also has batteries for when the solar energy runs out. Some reviewers said the lights were dim and eventually died. This lamp and several similar brands are on the market. Prices vary. Check out the reviews if you’re looking at cheaper options.
By itself, a computer draws a lot of power. A solar-powered wireless keyboard, when fully charged, can last as long as three months. Logitech has a wide range of wireless keyboards that connect to a computer via a USB receiver connected to your laptop. Again, prices vary.
Look for models where the solar panel surrounds a pot with shiny flaps that focus sunlight on whatever is cooking. Solar parabolic cookers look like giant TV dishes on the roof.
Solar cookers work best in places with constant sunlight and hot, dry temperatures – like Arizona. Manufacturers of the various devices claim that you can cook, steam and even pasteurize using solar heaters. Some bake bread or pizza. Learning how to get the best results with a solar cooker requires patience over many trials. Better units can range from $150 to $300.
Solar powered lantern
Avoid tripping around in and out of your home with a solar lantern. With only two hours of full sunlight charging, a solar lantern with an LED bulb could last up to eight hours.
Solar landscape lighting
Do not grab while outside. There are countless solar landscape lights for walkways, bollards, flood and security uses on the market.
Solar pool pumps and filter
Monsoon dust can quickly turn a clear blue pool into something the Loch Ness Monster would find habitable. Let the pool pump and filter run on solar energy. While it can be expensive at first—starting at $1,500 for an in-ground pool—you’ll make that cost back in savings on your utility bill. Better pumps claim to have a life expectancy of 10 years. The filter and pump are connected to a separate solar panel in your yard.
Products with improved solar energy and rechargeable technology are continuously being added to the market. Read the comments of other buyers because some of these products may be limited in their performance.
Solar powered and rechargeable devices are not only useful when the power goes out, they can also save energy and thus save you money on your electricity bills.
An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie at the House radio show, heard locally from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KNST (790-AM) in Tucson and from on KGVY (1080-AM) and (100.7-FM) in Green Valley.