(hey, type here for great stuff)

access to tools for the beginning of infinity

A solar charger for pop celebrities?

The Solio is the iPhone of solar chargers. We talk to the brand’s head of environmental strategy about why solar chargers are a must have in our mobile world.

When those at Better Energy Systems (BES) conceived of the idea of a solar charger back in 2001, handheld solar devices were gimmicks or limited to solar calculators.

Today, their product, the Solio, is a mainstream success: it has been given away to world leaders by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), has been released in limited edition by the band Coldplay to accompany their X&Y album and is being used by the tv show American Idol to power all cellular phones and mobile devices.

A solution to the power gap

While the Solio has been embraced for its environmental benefits like the rest of the devices in the increasingly crowded field of handheld solar chargers (see our Guide to solar chargers), those at BES don’t see their device as just a solar product, but rather as a solution to the “power gap”.

We caught up (see our video) with BES director of environmental strategy Lorenzo Falzarano at the 3GSM conference in Barcelona, Spain where Falzarano explained why solar chargers are a natural fit in a world that has gone mobile.

“The world has gone mobile, but power hasn’t gone mobile. Now devices are becoming more and more power hungry: they have color screens, MP3s, cameras, but the battery technology can only increase at 5% a year whereas the rest of technology is increasing like this so there is this discrepancy for the power gap between the two. So what we’ve done is fill the gap with a renewable source of portable energy.”

“A lot of people don’t think that there’s a problem with portable energy. They just run out of power and they think, “OK, I just need to find a plug socket” Whereas we have a solution for that.”

One device for all your gadgets

“Solio is a hybrid charger. You can plug this into the wall and power the internal battery or use these three solar panels and plug into the sun.”

“It can charge cell phones, PDAs, iPods and similar multimedia devices, GPS systems, any small hand held gadget. To charge your actual device all we have to do is attach a cable and then we have a tip system; depending on the device you have you would change the tip.

We have arranged tens of different tips so any device that you have that you would normally charge by your laptop you can charge by now USB.”

“Inside here we have intelligence circuitry; it has like a brain and it will read the device that’s attached so if you’re attaching a Nokia 75 it will say, ‘OK I have a Nokia 75; it needs this much voltage, this much amperage.’ So your Nokia will think it’s actually being plugged into the wall.”

“Once it stops charging your phone will stop drawing power and this will switch off; everything switches off.”

30 minutes of sunlight = 10 minutes of talk

“It is charging from the sun. It has stored the sunlight power. We have an internal battery inside here, a lithium iron battery, a 1,650 milliamp powered battery; it stores power so if you had it in the sun for 10 minutes or 30 minutes it stored that 30 minutes of sun and it’s kept it in there and that power will last for up to a year within the battery.”

“A typical one hour of sunlight will give you one hour of music time in your iPod or 30 minutes of sunlight will give you roughly 10 minutes talk time for our satellite time depending on the device that you have and depending on how much sunlight.”

faircompanies: Where do you suggest people keep these to charge them?

“The car or the sunniest window in the house. For example, in South Africa right now there are problems with power. They can’t produce enough power so there are power outages every day so you would probably have this attached to the sunniest window in the house and just leave it there and then whenever power goes out you know you always have back-up.”

“In a natural disaster or risky areas, for example, when the power goes out here in the states or you’re flood prone you’d always have this as a back-up because power is normally the first thing to go and so this would give you communication which is great for emergency situations.”

Who is your target market?

“Anyone that has a small hand held device, anyone who has a mobile which is what the world is now will need back up power because your device is only as good as the battery life. As soon as the battery device is gone you just have a pile of microchips.”

“At the beginning when we first launched people were saying, ‘Oh, you’re an accessory, you’re an accessory.’ I’d say, ‘We’re not a necessity. We’re a necessity’, because without power this civilization or your phone or your Nintendo has no functional value.”

A product designed to be recycled

“We had a full system analysis done by the Frommer Institute in Berlin; they’re also a carbon neutral company. So from day one as soon as you receive your product you’re producing clean energy, a net producer from sunlight.”

“But what we’ve also done with our product is that it can be taken apart so things are not glued together. You can take these screws off so you can separate the plastic. The product was designed to be taken apart, disassembled, so each part can be recycled.”

Sourcing tantalum from outside the Congo

“In electronics you will always have some issues obviously with your precious metals, but we’ve designed it in a way where it can be melted down and those precious metals can be separated afterwards, low electronic use capacitors.

We realize that tantalum chips are a lot more efficient. They won’t give out on you in a product which is often put in heat which a tantalum chip doesn’t.”

“But tantalite all which tantalum chips are made from only come from two places on the planet: one is the African Republic of the Congo and the other one is Australia.”

“So I spent three months researching the whole supply chain of the companies to find out where the ore came from that supplied the ore for the tantalum chips because I didn’t want it to come from The African Republic of Congo because of the unsustainable practices, because of the genocide and because of all the other issues surrounding it and make sure it came from Australia.”

“We have proof that yes you can be ethical, you can be sustainable and you can be profitable at the same time and give a quality product and nothing really has to suffer for you to respect the environment and respect quality.”