Falling solar technology costs increase charging options

For better or worse, falling prices for solar technology now allow outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy a sunrise, and get it to charge their phone at the same time.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

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or better or worse, falling prices for solar technology now allow outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy a sunrise, and get it to charge their phone at the same time.

Some explorers happily cut ties with their work, families and the grid while outdoors, but others prefer staying connected with tech gear like GPS devices, cameras and smartphones.

“The mobile recharging industry is on a hypergrowth trend,” said Bart Miller, senior vice president of sales for Goal Zero. Miller estimated that less than 1 percent of multi-day campers currently use solar chargers, but he believes that will change quickly. As solar chargers get closer to the price of standard chargers, he feels the market could grow 15 to 30 times.

Among the most popular solar chargers are the pocket-sized clamshell-style solar kits that include USB cords and multiple plugs for various devices. PowerTraveller recently debuted the Solarmonkey Adventurer (MSRP $130, photo, right) to the U.S. market. This kit includes a 3-watt solar panel and a 2,500 milliamp hour lithium battery. Goal Zero introduces a similar solar kit called the Switch 8 (MSRP $120, photo, left) that includes a 3.5-watt waterproof panel and a 1,600 milliamp hour battery. Wenger recently introduced the 2.25-watt Wenger Standard Solar Charger (MSRP $180), which has two flexible solar panels and a 2,200 milliamp hour battery.

Adventurers looking to purchase longer charges and their own portable wall outlet can consider the Goal Zero Escape 150 Adventure Kit (MSRP $360), which includes a 15-watt solar panel and a 12,000 milliamp hour battery, or the 60,000 milliamp hour PowerTraveller Silverback Gorilla (MSRP N/A), which has three DC ports and one AC out and is used by U.S. and U.K. Special Forces. For faster charges check out the Xcellerator (MSRP $50, photo, right) by Solio, whose battery pack can be fully charged by the sun in four hours, providing most smartphones with two full charges.

Solar electric isn’t all that the sun has to offer. Nemo brings the Circo (MSRP $80), a 2-3 minute solar thermal pump shower that collects heat from the sun to provide warm water. Survive Outdoors Longer offers up the Flash Signal Mirror (MSRP $9.50, photo, left), which reflects sunlight to alert rescuers.

Solar power likely will to continue to gain traction with outdoor consumers, not only because they’re outside with the sun, but also because they’re conscious of the benefits of clean renewable power.

“The two industries go hand in hand,” said Mary Kate Drew, social media specialist for Survive Outdoors Longer. “Outdoor people want to keep the outdoors pristine. And they love gadgets.”

--Yoon Kim



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