With Valentine’s Day approaching, the search for an eco-conscious gift is on many people’s mind.  Portable electronic devices become more prevalent everyday and the attachment some people have to their devices borders on addiction.  So what better gift for the junkie in your life than a virtually limitless free supply of juice, you know, electricity.

The amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth in one hour, every hour, 24 times a day, is roughly equivalent to the energy consumed by the entire planet in one year.  When looking into devices that use solar energy to charge portable electronics like an iPod, iPhone or other portable electronic item, it is necessary to establish what factors are important and compare them.  In the light of day there are really just two broad factors to consider.  First is the charging device practical: lightweight, sturdy, convenient to use.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, is the planet better off over the lifetime of the charging device: do you receive more energy from the charging device than it took to create it, don’t forget to include the emissions from production.

Slapping photovoltaics (PV) onto a device is all it takes for some companies to call it green.  Without knowing the production history of the device it is impossible to determine if using the device will be a net gain for green or a net loss.  In a vast oversimplification, if it takes 100 units of energy to produce the charging device and you get 80 units of energy over the lifetime of the device then even without considering the emissions from the original energy, perhaps it was from coal, and not considering the materials that may end up in a landfill, simple math shows a net green loss of 20 units.  A company that uses green as a marketing ploy is better than one that does not.  Best of all is a company that uses green in their marketing because they are truly green and they understand the triple bottom line.  The triple bottom line is the consideration of environment, economics, and social equity, not just considering one factor at the expense of the others.

Part one of this article introduces the use of solar energy for charging portable electronics in the urban jungle and beyond.  Part two touches on the inclusion of a battery and finds one company walking the talk.

The inclusion of a battery in a charging device adds to the environmental cost as batteries have a limited lifespan.  Devices without a battery must charge directly and limit mobility during charging.  Charging times vary from device to device but understand that it may take up to two days of direct sun to reach a full charge.  Depending on use and proximity to other energy sources, this may be less than convenient and even a deal breaker for some.  The inclusion of a battery allows the device to store a charge that can be expended later.  The ability to connect to multiple devices extends the useful life of a charger beyond the life of one portable electronic item.

Searching Amazon for “solar charger” brings up a diverse list of products including the Premium Solar Charger by XTG Technology and the ReVIVE Series Solar ReStore by Accessory Genie or possibly Accessory Power.  These two products appear to be identical except for branding which indicates that the product is made by a third party and resold under a variety of brands.  This hides the producer of the product behind a wall of resellers and insulates them from scrutiny.  One website, of the two resellers, is even coming soon.  The green glow desired from making this purchase is beginning to turn a confusing shade of brown.  Is there a company out there that is proud of their product and the manufacturing footprint of it?

Enter Solio by Better Energy Systems (BES).  BES appears to walk the talk.  The Solio website has a page dedicated to “Environmental Benefits” which mentions Solio recycling and battery recycling.  The third and second to last bullet points, buried entirely too deep, read:

“Solio is intended to achieve a net energy benefit over its lifetime. To reach this goal, energies needed for raw materials and production have been minimized.”
“Better Energy Systems, makers of Solio, has planted trees in a bio-diverse sustainable forest to offset the carbon dioxide produced in the manufacture of Solio.”

The next step beyond offsetting the carbon produced during manufacturing is to produce clean energy for manufacturing.  Since the business of BES is clean energy, it doesn’t seem too much to ask to take this next step.

Has a great company or product been overlooked?  As a consumer would you like companies to tell you more about themselves and the production of their products?  Please take a moment to share your experience with solar chargers and help us all move toward a greener tomorrow.

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