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The future looks bright

The future looks bright
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First Published: Tue, May 10 2011. 08 29 PM IST

Solar power: Solmate is a useful device for frequent flyers.
Solar power: Solmate is a useful device for frequent flyers.
Updated: Tue, May 10 2011. 08 29 PM IST
Much to everyone’s annoyance, solar power hasn’t taken us to the promised land of renewable energy yet.
But that’s hardly its fault. The technology, in fact, has made enormous leaps in the last few years, constantly improving efficiency and reducing production costs (the two factors that work against it). The thing to remember is that solar power isn’t a magic bullet aimed at conventional forms of power generation. In its present state, it’s a useful addition, a slice that we can take away from polluting energy sources.
Solar power: Solmate is a useful device for frequent flyers.
Part of the lack of solar ubiquity in our everyday life is the limited number of clever designs. There are some noteworthy examples of products that use solar energy effectively, but not nearly enough. There is now, however, another addition to these growing ranks: the Solmate Fusion charger.
Shaped like a large USB thumb drive, Solmate Fusion is a fantastically engineered device. The top half is dominated by a solar photovoltaic panel and a little notification display, and on either side are connection ports—one for plugging the drive into a USB port, the other for plugging in devices such as mobile phones. The clever thing about Solmate is that it isn’t an out-and-out poster child for an all-solar future, but a clever workaround of solar power’s limitations.
For one, it’s not just a charger. It’s a USB flash memory drive with a capacity of 4 or 8 GB, depending on which model you purchase. That makes it a useful multifunctional device to carry around, and not just dead weight when you don’t need the extra power.
Solmate grabs energy from wherever it can. It’s intended to be attached to the outside of a backpack or bag, so it charges while one is moving about. It also charges when connected through USB, so it’s not completely reliant on sunlight. Remember that solar power is not a magic bullet, so don’t expect the Solmate to be your one-stop power source. What it can do, however, is act as an immensely useful backup in case of an emergency, or a quick top-up charge if you’re running low. The Solmate takes about 6-7 hours to charge fully on solar energy, or about 2-3 hours through USB. It can provide about 2 hours of talktime to a phone, or about 10-12 hours of audio to an MP3 player.
One minor problem with the Solmate is all the extra bits you have to carry. You can’t directly plug it into a USB port—you’ll need a small adaptor. Similarly, the charge-out port is a USB input, so you’ll need either your phone’s data cable or one of the many adaptor-tips (which has two parts) that the Solmate ships with. That makes two or three extra items you have to carry around apart from the Solmate itself to make it work. This isn’t a huge problem by any means (you probably lug around your phone’s charger anyway), but does lead to annoyance.
The Solmate is a useful device if you’re on the move often, and its price makes it an option even if you’re not sure you need a little solar on-the-go. The build quality is good (the panel is surrounded by a chunky slab of white plastic) and the components are well protected (the adaptors come in a little plastic pouch, and the USB nub is retractable). It can be bought at Getsolmate.com for Rs 995 for the 4 GB variant and Rs 1,495 for the 8 GB variant.
krish.r@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, May 10 2011. 08 29 PM IST