When’s the last time you used a solar-powered device that wasn’t a calculator? If you haven’t used solar power since math class, you might be surprised to learn how many amazing and practical products these days are powered by the sun. Solar panels work well to generate energy for a wide array of items, proving that solar is a viable alternative to traditional power sources when and where sunlight is readily available. And even without panels, the sun can accomplish some pretty amazing feats. After all, it is by far the most potent power source in the solar system, producing 5,000,000 tons of energy in the form of gamma rays per second.
Sunlight was the original power source for humanity, and it’s time to get back to our roots. The following are some surprisingly inventive or just plain practical uses for solar power. Which one do you think is most ingenious?
One Earth Design's solar grill
The SolSource Solar Cooker is an amazing solar stove that can get up to temperatures of 550 degrees Fahrenheit using nothing but sunlight. There are no solar panels used — just straight-up rays, cleverly reflected to concentrate on the cooking element. And while this might seem like it would take forever to get warm, the SolSource actually heats up faster than a regular oven. This feat of physics was demonstrated on Top Chef this season, where one contestant proclaimed it the "best stove ever."
The Skylock bike lock
Ok, we know what you're thinking: bike locks don't need power. Well, the Skylock does, and for good reason. It's a new, high-tech bike lock that doesn't use keys and alerts you if your bike is being tampered with. Powered by some tiny solar panels, the Skylock can be opened using an app on your phone, and it also has a built-in accelerometer, so if you crash, it can notify someone in your network. It will also send you an alert if someone is messing with your bike while it's locked up, so you may never have to worry about bike theft again. The lock is pretty efficient in its use of power — 12 hours of sunlight will power the lock for six months. You may never use an analog bike lock again.
Solar Impulse's airplanes
You may not be able to purchase this yourself, but the idea of solar-powered airplanes is too cool to leave off the list, plus it's an idea that could impact all of us. Airplane travel/transport is essential to our modern way of life, but airplanes are huge polluters, as well as guzzlers of fossil fuels. Solar Impulse have built a solar-powered airplane that they are flying around the world, to spread awareness of solar power and prove that powering the world with clean energy is possible. As their website states, "Solar Impulse wants to demonstrate that clean technologies can achieve impossible goals." Their plane has already done intercontinental flights, using no fuels and creating no pollution, and has even completed a night flight across Switzerland. Solar Impulse's achievements are impressive and inspiring, and hopefully they will lead to greater changes in transportation industries.
Cinch's solar tent
While some people consider it decadent, glamping is here to stay, so we may as well use the sun to power the hedonism. Besides, these days it's hard to carve out any amount of time when you won't need to use your phone — or at least charge your camera. Enter the solar tent. Known as Cinch, this tent has solar-powered LED lighting and a solar power bank. It's also extremely easy to set up, popping up and folding up in a manner of seconds, hence the name — it's a cinch.
If you find the other items on this list too high-tech, then maybe you should check out this solar-powered invention that you can easily build yourself. Moser lamps don't use solar panels — they simply reflect the sun's light using water. This incredibly cheap and simple invention has changed the lives of low-income people around the world, allowing them to light their homes during the day without bulbs. How it works: water and a little bleach are mixed in a clear bottle (the bleach keeps the water from turning green). The top of the bottle is put through the ceiling of a home or structure, and the sun's rays are focused by the water, delivering 40 to 60 watts into the home. The lamps only cost about a dollar to make, meaning their inventor, Alfredo Moser, hasn't gotten rich off his invention — something he's happy about. Instead of making him money, the lamps are improving quality of life for millions of people worldwide.
Eton's speaker system
Outdoor speakers are hard to come by. After all, there's a distinct lack of electrical jacks when you're out in the forest. Fortunately, Eton's Soulra sound system was created to fulfill your desire for outdoor jams. The unit has a solar panel that charges the battery for up to eight hours, and it has all the typical features you expect from a speaker system (an iPhone dock, aux inputs, strong speaker drivers), plus a carry strap in case you need to hike it out to someplace remote.
Logitech's wireless solar keyboard
The world is increasingly wireless. A lack of cables makes life convenient, but it also tends to require bluetooth, which needs power to operate. Fortunately, a Bluetooth connection between your computer and your keyboard doesn't require a lot of energy and can easily be powered using solar. Case in point, Logitech's wireless solar keyboard, a slick keyboard you'll never have to plug into anything. Say goodbye to the rat's nest of wires that lives on your desk!
Birksun's solar backpacks
Birksun has a whole line of solar-powered backpacks, from sporty to business-friendly. But wait, what does a solar backpack do? Basically, it charges your phone. Maybe it doesn't seem like a big deal, but think about the last time you had to leave your home when your phone was at about 5 percent. In our experience, this kind of thing happens a lot, so being able to leave home, put your phone into your backpack, and charge as you go seems gloriously convenient. The era of sitting next to your outlet and frantically checking your watch is over.
The Powerwall is just a huge, solar-powered battery, and yet it might be a revolutionary invention. As it stands, most homes that collect solar power actually create problems for a city's power grid, whose infrastructure can't handle the overload of electricity it encounters when homes generate their own solar power. This giant battery slowly collecting solar power and storing energy in huge quantities will solve that problem. Even more excitingly, it may allow homes to get off the grid completely, simply storing their own power rather than buying it from energy companies. It's also a great emergency backup power supply.
The Beast off-road scooter
The Beast manages to be rugged and eco-friendly, a scooter meant for off-roading but with lots of little refined touches. The scooter has an electric motor that can be charged by outlet or by solar power, and it can also get more power from the kinetic energy produced if you use the pedals. It has built-in USB ports and a powerful LED headlight, making it both tech-smart and road-smart. It's great for people who live in rural areas or on farms who need to get around and want to reduce their carbon footprint.