Tired of your phone going dead on you or, even worse, notifying you of nasty power bills? It may be time you took advantage of a free and inexhaustible source of power: the sun.
According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average household spent $114.09 a month in 2014 to pay its electrical bills. That's more than $1,300 a year, plus the costs of pollution if the electricity comes from a fossil fuel generator plant.
If you'd like to reduce that bill, consider investing in one or more of these awesome solar-powered gadgets. Sunlight is free and clean, and these devices can help you harness that free power to save hundreds of dollars over the next decade. You don't have to erect expensive solar panels or go off the grid to put solar power to work, and these gadgets will help:
Convert sunlight to battery power with a multi-panel solar charger. The better units store enough power to recharge a smartphone 2 or 3 times after being charged by the sun. Look for small units that can be positioned on a window sill or other sunny spot. The unit should have a pair of USB ports so that you can charge 2 phones simultaneously.
Peel-n-Stick Outdoor Solar Lights
All you have to do is peel off the backing and stick the light in a sunny spot. It charges during the daylight hours and then gives you nice illumination at night for increased safety and convenience. These work magic in the garden, and do a good job of lighting restaurant or store facades as well. Some will switch from dim to bright light when motion is detected, which makes them a practical and economic replacement for security lights.
Electric Solar Lantern
It's an 8-hour camping lantern powered by a solar-charged battery. The small built-in panel requires a couple of hours to fully charge the battery. For versatility, get a unit that can also be charged by a USB adapter plugged into a computer or wall outlet.
LED Reading Light
Perfect for your night table or tent. Look for one that includes adjustable brightness and a USB port so that you can give your phone an emergency charge. A folding unit makes travel more convenient and takes up less space in a backpack.
Solar-Powered Outdoor Speaker
Love music? This weatherproof speaker is powered by a built-in solar panel and battery. These units typically include Bluetooth connectivity so that you don't have to fuss with wires. A good unit should play music for up to 8 hours after the sun is gone, and should include a USB port so that it can double as a phone charger.
If you hate your phone going limp when you're out and about, consider swapping your handbag or fashion backpack for a solar backpack. This is just an ordinary backpack, but it includes a solar panel on its face which you can attach to a battery charger to charge your smartphone or tablet on the go. This also works great for outdoor buffs, as you can keep your flashlight or GPS charged long after the power lines fade into the haze.
Solar Bike Lock
This is an online bike lock that connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone. You use an app to unlock your bike as you approach, or lock it as you depart. Fancy models can detect crashes and notify members of your network. It can also function as an electronic tag if your bike is stolen.
A solar generator can store enough energy to power laptops, lights, smartphones and even small power tools. Get the most powerful unit you can afford, and don't forget to buy a matching solar panel. Depending on what you pay for power every month, it may even be worth considering generating most of your power using solar energy, especially if you live in a sunny state. Good solar panels and power storage units may be expensive, but tally up what you spend on electricity in 5 years and that investment begins to look like a bargain. Consider the 2014 average monthly household power consumption of $114, which adds up to $1,369 per year. In 15 years the average American household spends $20,535 on power, which is more than the $17,000 average cost of installing a 4 kW (based on 5 hours sunshine daily) or larger solar system powerful enough to supply your home. Many solar equipment providers now let you pay for the equipment in monthly installments. In our opinion, going fully solar only pays off fast enough in sunny states, but it can be a good investment, and you're also investing in the planet.
Solar Water Heater
These come in small mobile versions that can come along on a camping trip, and as full-scale water heaters which can be installed in your home. Since water heaters are one of the biggest consumer of energy in the average home, opting for solar can save you a bundle over the long term. Just be warned that, unless you live in Honolulu or Miami, you will have to be ok with warm rather than hot water for at least part of the year.
Image source: Voltaic Systems