Industrial Revolutions

Solar gadgets that could save the planet

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The world urgently needs to overhaul its energy policy, away from fossil fuels to renewables before 2050, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned earlier this month.

Furthermore, according to the World Bank, just under 20 percent of the world's population is still without access to electricity, most of them in Africa and Asia. Meanwhile, in the developed world, energy costs have soared, and cash-strapped consumers are increasingly looking to slash bills.

Some designers and manufacturers are starting to rise to the challenge presented by these problems by unveiling products that harness the power of the sun, making them not only clean but also a great way to save a few bucks. Here are some examples.

By CNBC's Alice Tidey.



In January, Ford announced it had designed the "first-of-its-kind sun-powered vehicle" which it subsequently unveiled at the Las Vegas Motor Show.

The power of the sun is harnessed by a special concentrator that acts like a magnifying glass and directs intense rays to solar panels on the vehicle roof.

For Rainer Mehl, head of manufacturing consulting at NTT Data, Ford is "the front-runner in solar-powered cars", as it is the first to unveil such a vehicle.

Mehl believes that a car solely reliant on solar power is theoretically possible but that many problems remain. Instead, he says, a car in which solar energy is treated as additional energy source is more viable.

For Sam Jaffe, principal analyst at Navigant Research, the likelihood of a car running only on sunlight alone is very remote. "If a Toyota Prius were to cover its entire surface area with solar panels", he said, "they would provide less than 5 percent of the power needed to move the car."



Samsung was one of the first to jump on the solar laptop bandwagon with its NC215S netbook in 2011.

Since then several manufacturers have followed and in 2013 Canadian-firm WeWi revealed its Sol laptop with the promise that it would only take 2 hours of sunshine to power a battery for 10 hours.

Running UBUNTO operating software, the manufacturer describes it as an "all-terrain, off-road, utility laptop"

David Snir, co-founder and CEO of WeWi told CNBC by email that the laptop will be available, in several markets, at the end of April and that the company has instructed distributors that it should not go over $500.


Tag Heuer

Once again pioneered by Samsung, which released its Blue Earth model back in 2009, the solar-powered mobile phone is gaining momentum.

Both watch luxury brand Tag Heuer and Chinese manufacturer TLC Communications will release solar-powered models this year.

But Daniel Gleeson, senior analyst at IHS told CNBC that it's unlikely solar power will be the next big trend in the smartphone market. The two biggest trends right now, larger screens and 4G, require significantly more power "which makes sating that power demand with solar exceedingly difficult.".

"I don't believe solar power phones will ever be mainstream as the primary charging method for handsets", Gleeson added, explaining that the cost required to equip phones with the right technology would be too high.

Wireless speakers

Wireless solar sound systems are the perfect accompaniment to any outdoor excursion.

Several models already exist, including the Devotec Solar Sound 2 and the Rukus Solar by Eton, going for $149.99.

On a sunny day, neither model will need to draw on the battery -- and if the party carries on into the night, both boast up to 10 hours of battery life. As an added bonus, the Rukus Solar can also serve as a solar charger to power your phone or tablet.

iPad cover

Solar cases to help charge your tablet computers are already on sale for a variety of devices, from Amazon Kindle's SolarFocus to Logitech's Solar Keyboard Folio Case for iPad.

But if sunlight is not enough, the KudoSolar iPad cover, made from photovoltaic ink can also convert indoor light. The manufacturer estimates that with this technology, the average user will only have to charge the iPad every 10 days.

Wireless keyboard


The K750 wireless solar-powered keyboard, made by Swiss manufacturer Logitech, promises to make "battery hassles a thing of the past."

Ultra-thin, the keyboard uses both sun and indoor light to charge and can connect wirelessly with several devices.

The Mac model, the K760 is equipped with an Easy-Switch option to allow the user to "type on your Mac and toggle over to your iPad or iPhone with the touch of a button" and can work for at least three months –even in total darkness.

Window socket

Kyuho Song & Boa Oh

Korean design students Kyuho Song and Boa Oh revealed their Window Solar Socket in early 2013 and the project is now in the concept stage phase.

The device, which can be stuck to any windows, from your house to your car or even on a plane, is more of a battery back-up than a standard plug.

So while it can recharge small appliances such as smartphones and tablets, it can't be used to power devices that require a high voltage.

Solar Impulse

The Solar Impulsion is the only "perpetual endurance" aircraft, able to fly day and night without any fuel, relying on solar power instead.

Piloted by aviation enthusiasts Bertrand Picard and André Borschberg, the project aims to culminate in the first round-the-world solar flight, scheduled to take place in early 2015 aboard the Solar Impulsion 2 plane unveiled on April 9, 2014.

In 2010, the first model of the plane was able to fly for 26 hours without interruption, flying through the night. Several other flights across Europe, Morroco and the United States were later made.