Green gadget challenge
Posted on 15 Jul 2008 at 16:17
Is it possible to run all your electronic gadgets - even your laptop - on renewable energy sources? PC Pro's eco-warrior Matthew Sparkes gets on his bike.
It's not unheard of for an argument to break out in the PC Pro offices. All manner of topics have been hotly debated within our four walls, but until recently sustainable power had never wound us up (so to speak).
Reviewing a small solar-powered charger was all it took to kick off a debate over green electricity, one which saw me heavily outnumbered. Is it really possible to reliably run gadgets on solar or wind power, asked my incredulous colleagues, or are they just a gimmick? The general consensus was that the technology wasn't ready, and that the UK was too grey and gloomy for a solar panel to keep even a mobile phone running.
Nonsense, I protested. Not only was it possible, but I could take it even further: I could power all of my everyday gadgets with solar panels and other sustainable sources, I boldly claimed, not wasting a second to conduct any research to back up my claim. Unfortunately my bluff was called, and my colleagues began gaffer-taping my plug sockets. The eco-gauntlet had been laid down.
Charge of the bike brigade
I decided the best course of action was to ease into this challenge slowly, and concentrate on just my phone to begin with. A morning's browsing revealed a bewildering range of sustainable chargers, but one product stood out as ideal for my needs.
The HYmini is a small wind turbine that attaches to your bike's handlebar, but can also be plugged into a small solar panel when stationary. This would allow me to collect power with the fan as I cycled to work, and continue to harness free energy once I'd arrived by placing the device in the office window. Like most sustainable chargers, it contains an internal battery. This is vital because the flow of energy you eke from the wind and sun is rather unpredictable, and needs regulating before most gadgets will charge. It comes equipped with power connectors that fit my phone and my iPod, and, as I ride between 15 and 20 miles a day, seemed like it could really work - as long as I kept up the exercise and stayed off the Tube.
The bright green device was quite conspicuous once clipped to my bike, but it didn't get in the way and turned out to be quite the conversation starter at traffic lights. Best of all, it worked. After only one trip to work (which is, bar any wrong-turns, around six miles), it had collected enough power to top up my mobile phone from empty to half-full. For the next couple of days it kept performing and supplied my Nokia E65 with enough power to do likewise, boosted slightly by solar power through the day. I'll confess I cheated slightly: I had scaled down the number of long calls I was making, but I was still sending texts and making the odd hurried call, all without having to plug my phone into the National Grid. An impressive achievement for only one gadget, and a good start towards humiliating the office naysayers.
Before I had a chance to get too smug, though, I accidentally proved just how precarious the process was by forgetting to switch the HYmini to its charge setting on the way to work. All my furious pedalling that day was in vain, and I was forced to go cold-turkey on SMS for the day. A text-book error, you might say.
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