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FEATURE ARTICLE - NOV/DEC 2005
Solar Gifts That Keep Giving
These nifty holiday gift ideas will please any gadget lover, while helping them save energy and money.
If you’re looking for some truly unique gift ideas this holiday season, look no further. While the latest gadget is often a popular holiday gift choice, consider putting a twist on this tradition by giving gadgets that are powered by the sun—and help your gift recipients save energy and money, as well as learn about the benefits of solar. To assist you in making your choices, Green America presents our top-ten list of sustainable solar-powered gifts—which are not only unique and fun, but help reduce our dependence on fossil-fuel-generated electricity and toxic batteries.
To get in the spirit of sustainability this season, you can start going solar today with your holiday decorating. If you love holiday lights, consider replacing your energy-intensive plug-in lights with strings of solar-powered outdoor lights. Not only will you save energy, but you also won’t have to string extension cords across your lawn and around the eaves of your house.
Most strings of solar lighting can run for around 30 hours on a full charge and have a darkness sensor to turn the lights on and off for you, according Gardener’s Supply, which sells three different types of solar holiday lighting, including an “icicle” version and a color-changing “starburst” version.
Read on for gift ideas, from $10 on up, that can help you and your loved ones celebrate a sustainable holiday season and a renewable-energy New Year.
1. Solar chargers—Ranging from around $50 for solar cell phone chargers or iPod chargers to $250 and up for solar laptop chargers, solar battery chargers provide a way to help everyone on your shopping list get more energy from the sun. Most laptop charger models come with a ten-foot (or longer) cord so you can sit in the shade with your computer while the charger soaks up the sun. And, they’re compatible with nearly all Macintosh and PC computers. You can also find solar backpacks and briefcases from around $200 that can help those on your list charge all their gadgets while they’re on the go. (See the resource box below for where to buy.)
2. Solar Toys—Help the young ones on your gift list grow up with a healthy appreciation of renewable energy. Available solar toys include LEGO sets with solar-activated moving parts, model solar houses and trains, and solar race car- and robot-building kits. Prices range from around $20 for a solar-robot kit to $175 for a complete model solar house.
3. Solar Outdoor Lights—Do you have a friend or family member who loves tinkering in the backyard or working in the garden until the last ray of sunlight is gone? You can help them extend that sunlight with outdoor lighting that charges itself during the day, then illuminates your workspace at night. Various sizes retail from around $30 to $150 and can be installed anywhere—including in the garden or as outdoor security lights—with no wiring or electrical outlets required.
4. Solar- or Water-powered Clock—Retailing for between $10 and $20, a solar- or water-powered desk clock can make an affordable gift for a coworker or friend. The internal converter on a water-powered clock extracts electrons from the molecules of ordinary tap water to provide a steady stream of electrical current, while solar versions simply need to be exposed to sunlight.
5. Solar Radios—With models ranging from the headset variety to larger portable models and even short-wave radios, you can find a solar radio for everyone on your list. Joggers will rarely have to worry about running out of power, and any solar radio can be important to have on hand in emergencies. Some models come with back-up hand cranks in case you have to generate your own power. Prices vary from around $25 to $100.
6. LED Flashlights and Headlamps—Providing around 10,000 hours of power, portable LED lighting devices could be a gift your friend or loved one will keep forever. LED stands for “light-emitting diodes,” which have long existed in colors like red and green (think of the lights on a digital alarm clock or VCR), but did not emerge in high-visibility colors like white and light blue until the late 1990s. Portable LEDs can often be recharged by shaking (which activates a powerful electromagnet inside), and non-shakable products like LED landscape lighting are often manufactured to run on solar. Plus, even LED products that run on batteries and resistors are far more energy-efficient than typical incandescent lighting. LED lighting produces very little heat (a huge waste when powering incandescent lights), ultimately consuming as little as one-fortieth the energy of incandescent lighting and lasting ten times longer. LED headlamps and flashlights can run from around $15 to $50. Users should note that their internal magnets are strong enough to destroy items like cassette tapes or floppy disks.
7. Solar Watch—A solid, old-school, wind-up watch makes an excellent gift idea also, but for your more absent-minded recipients who might forget to wind their watch, a solar watch is a great way to remove one more battery from circulation. Solar watches are now common enough to be found everywhere from discount department stores to high-end specialty retailers (basically wherever watches are sold). Like standard watches, they span the price range from affordable (under $50)
to super-expensive (hundreds of dollars).
8. Solar Cooker—Ranging from around $100 to $300, these cookers free you from the need to use propane, charcoal, or any other fuel for your cook-outs, camping trips, or anytime. Solar cookers work best when used for things like slow-cooking stews and baked goods. Sales from at least one style of solar cooker (the “Hot Pot” as sold by Real Goods) help subsidize distribution of solar cookers in developing countries.
9. Wattage Meters—Know someone thinking of converting his/her home to solar? S/he could use a wattage meter, a device that detects which home appliances are the most energy-efficient, and which are using more energy than they’re worth. Knowing how much energy particular appliances use can be helpful in calculating a homeowner’s energy usage, to plan for the number of solar panels needed to power the home. At-home wattage meters retail for as little $35, with more sophisticated varieties ranging up to $100. (For additional practical advice on how to go solar at home, give your friend a copy of Green America’s online guide to solar energy.)
10. SolFest 2006 Tickets—Both solar enthusiasts and solar novices can learn something from the Solar Living Institute’s annual SolFest in Mendocino County, California. Scheduled for the weekend of August 19, 2006, you could start planning now to give your loved one the gift of a solar vacation. Workshops at SolFest 2005 included not only instruction on the basics of going solar at home, but also how-to sessions on other renewable sources of fuel, like wind power and biodiesel. And, of course, there will be the latest in solar gadgetry on display. Tickets cost $25 for the whole weekend, with discounts for students and seniors.
Finally, you can always choose to channel your gift-giving resources into support for any number of local, national, or international renewable energy projects. For example, at the gift-giving Web site www.altgifts.org, you can purchase a share in a solar water heater or a solar photovoltaic project in the developing world, and the sponsor of the site, Alternative Gifts International, will send a card to your loved one with news of your gift. You can also make donations in the name of family or friends to Green America’s Solar Catalyst Program, which is working to make solar globally affordable to counter climate change and reduce poverty. Your loved one will get a gift card recognizing the donation.
Solar Gift Resources
The following companies are listed in the National Green Pages and offer energy-efficient gadgets and more: