Bruce Hathaway, an editor at Smithsonian magazine and eco-tech guru par excellence, wrote this guest post on cool home energy saving gadgets for Father's Day or any day (NOTE: add shipping & handling to all quoted prices). Thanks, Bruce!
Bogo (Buy One Give One) Solar Flashlight This well-made orange (or pink) light throws a nice even beam over a wide area, so it's better than most flashlights as a reading or task light. And if you buy one for $25, the SunNight Solar company will donate the same flashlight to someone in need. You even get to choose from a long list of charitable organizations and countries. Notes the SunNight Solar Web site, "Two billion people living in the developing world rely on kerosene lanterns, candles and single-use battery flashlights for light at night. [These] options are expensive, dangerous and harmful to the environment.” The Bogo light helps solve the problem. A new improved solar flashlight called the Super Bogo is also available, for $30.
Freeplay Summit handcrank/solar-powered radio I listen to the radio a lot, sometimes all day. Listening through our stereo system uses about 60 watts an hour, quite a bit of power. This little radio has terrific FM reception and excellent sound quality. And you'll get excellent upper-body exercise crank-charging it, especially if you hold it above your head when you crank. It takes about 45 minutes to achieve a full charge. I crank my radio while on my exercise bike and even carry one along and crank it while walking; it boosts my pulse rate by 15 beats a minute, often just enough to get up into all-important aerobic levels. This radio also has a solar panel on top so you can charge it in the kitchen window. Freeplay sells several radios; in my experience, the Summit offers the best reception and sound. $79.00, or $64.75 at Batteryjunction. By purchasing Freeplay products you’ll be supporting the Freeplay Foundation, which distributes radios and other hand crank devices to people in need in developing countries. Freeplay is also the company that developed the hand-crank power supply for the One Laptop Per Child program.
GSI Vortex hand-crank Blender Agent 007 would no doubt agree that a martini--or a magarita--made in an off-grid, hand-crank blender tastes a lot better than one made in an on-grid electric blender. And being out of breath from the cranking will heighten the booze buzz. The GSI Vortex Blender does the job, and again you'll benefit from good upper-body exercise turning the crank. It is noisy, though not much noisier than many electric blenders. You can buy the GSI Vortex for $79.95 at rei.com, or $59.95 plus at rvtoyoutlet.com.
Caframo 797 battery-powered Compact Desk Fan Ultra quiet, variable-speed, this fan runs on four D cell batteries. $28.50 at Wholesale Tool. I bought a half dozen of them for various places around the house; the nice breezes allow us to turn off the energy-hog AC when we don't really need it.
Rechargeable Battery Charger The off-grid way to use these fans is with rechargeable batteries, charged in a solar charger. My favorite solar charger is the Universal Solar Battery Charger, which charges multiple cells at once; it is waterproof and has a convenient carrying handle. $24.95. Several models of D-cell solar chargers are available, some with light meters and charts telling how long it will take the batteries to charge. See the options at batteryspace.com or Google "solar battery chargers." For rechargable batteries, go to batteryjunction.com and buy Tenergy D-cell 10,000 mAh Ni-MH rechargables; the more you buy, the better the price.
Kill-A-Watt Power Use Monitor You’ve likely heard of vampire power loss, the electricity that appliances like TVs, computers, plug-in blenders and fans, and remote controlled stereo receivers waste, even when you’ve turned them “off” with the remote. This little device will tell you how much that vampire is costing you as well as the planet. In our case, two TVs and a stereo receiver were draining away a total of about 75 watts a day, every day. My wife and I staked that vampire dead by putting the TVs and receiver on power-strips which we can manually turn off without losing station presets. Buy a Kill-A-Watt Monitor online for as little as $17.99.
Freeplay SherpaXrayLED Clear Body hand-crank flashlight In one respect, this is the geek-giddiest green gadget of all. The transparent case lets you see the crank gears, wires and generator circuit board in action. It also emits a nice even light, so it's good for various tasks or reading. It features both a high beam and a power-saving beam that will shine for 20 hours when the flashlight is fully charged. That takes about 40 minutes of vigorous cranking—another good upper-body workout. Available from batteryjunction.com for $22.95. For a more powerful hand-crank flashlight, try the Freeplay Jonta, $42.95. For a cheaper option, consider the Garrity Power Lite 3 LED Crank Light (Titanium Silver/Black). You can buy one at many hardware stores or at Amazon for about $9, and it has a lifetime guarantee. That’s important because several of the solar and hand-crank flashlights and radios on the market are cheaply made and likely to fail or break. REI and L.L. Bean guarantee the reliability of the products they sell.
Hollywood Moon Spot This is the niftiest little table spot lamp I’ve ever seen, and incredibly its LED bulb uses only 1.2 watts. That’s just another indication to me that LEDs, even more so than compact fluorescents, are the energy-saving lightbulbs of the future. Unfortunately, the Moon Spot costs $96. You can see it and other nice lights at coastportland.com.
Pedal Powered Prime Mover Remember how nutty it seemed when you heard about the guy who powered his TV and cooked his pancakes by a generator hooked up to his exercise bike? Well, nutty it’s not, although a very little girl once asked me, "When you’re watching a Western and you pedal a little slower, do the horses also run slower?" A very interesting inventor in Los Gatos, California, David Butcher, sells plans for a do-it-yourself, power-generating exercise bike. $50. (NOTE: If your browser has trouble with the link, search "David Butcher" or "Pedal Powered" on the Internet.)
Solar Powered Firefly Magic Firefly Lights These come on and go off slowly and really do look like fireflies. Seven electronic fireflies cost $67.95; get twelve for $87.95.
Does it make a diff? Even if hundreds of millions of people use all these off-grid gadgets, the resulting reduction in greenhouse gasses will only be a fraction of what it needs to be. But using them has raised my awareness of more important things to do. For example, each night before I leave my office I go around for one minute and turn off photocopiers and lights in the reception area and the office kitchen. During the day, whenever I leave the men's room or the printer room I turn off the lights. I’ve also pointed out to the manager of the ten-story building where I work that hundreds of lights burn unnecessarily evenings and weekends.
But more than that, I’m realizing that the most effective energy-saving gadget I have is my keyboard. I can use it to write to companies like Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) and L.L. Bean to let them know there’s going to be a huge market for exercise equipment that also generates power, or solar and wind-powered appliances. Most important, I can write to my U.S. Senator and Congressperson and ask them to enact legislation that will promote mega energy-saving technologies. That means more than solar and wind. Turning the wasted heat that comes out of industrial smokestacks in the U.S. into electricity could replace more than 400 greenhouse- gas-emitting coal power plants! Denmark already generates more than half its electricity by using this wasted heat. A big problem, however, is that complicated Federal laws stand in the way. For more information, see Recycled Energy Development.