The Latest Products in Solar Power
From outdoor lights and garden decor to rooftop panels and water heaters, find small and large ways to power up your life using the free energy of the sun.
By: Alyson McNutt English
Solar Cookers and Grills
When the mercury climbs and the sweat is never-ending, we’ve all heard someone remark that it’s “hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.” But with solar cookers, you don't need a scorching hot summer day to harness the sun to cook your food. You don’t even need summer … or above-freezing temperatures. You just need the sun’s rays and the right equipment. In as few as 20 minutes, solar grills like the GoSun Sport (pictured) will reach temperatures of 550°F / 290°C, cooking your meal through the power of the sun.
Inflatable Solar Emergency Lantern
Solar lights were some of the first photovoltaic-paneled products to go mainstream, so salute those small stake-lights that still stoically line garden paths all around the country. But that’s not all solar illumination can do. Inflatable solar lanterns offer an entirely different type of lighting and more versatility for the user. From functioning as lovely floating pool lights for evening swims to roughing it with campers who need some evening illumination to doing serious humanitarian duty and offering clean lighting sources where they’re desperately needed, inflatable solar lights are shining near and far.
Solar Garden and Patio Fountains
The relaxing streaming sound of water from a bubbling garden fountain is a joy to many outdoor-decor-minded homeowners; finding unobtrusive ways to power that fountain, however, can be a kink in the stress-free stream. A solar-powered fountain can go anywhere in the yard or patio, though (as long as there’s a conduit to a sunshine source!) without worrying about tripping over cords or surge-protection proximity. Some solar fountains have separate panels that stake next to the water feature, while others, like the solar fountain pictured, have an integrated solar panel in the top bowl to maximize ray-catching and minimize aesthetic distractions.
Solar Stepping Stones
Think outside the plastic PV stake-light! Your garden path can step into a whole new realm of style with sun-soaked stepping stones. These solar pavers and tiles come in a variety of different designs to suit your needs, and you’ll be glowing with pride as your guests “ooh” and “ahh” at your remarkably fashionable solar-powered outdoor path.
Glowing Garden Gnomes
Want a little solar whimsy in your garden? Try solar-powered glow-in-the-dark garden gnomes that double as daytime bird feeders. Your feathered friends get their nibble during the daylight hours while the gnome’s battery cell powers up, then at night, the bird-feeding figure decorates your outdoors with its (literally) glowing smile. And if gnomes aren’t your thing, you can find other sun-powered bird feeders to flock to, like this little lighthouse that, with its solar-powered evening light, really looks like a beacon in the night.
Artistic Garden Light Fixtures
Ditch your extension cords and tired trip hazards, and say so long to doing the electric slide over puddles with shocking wiring in your hands. The sun may have set, but it’s not done illuminating your yard for the day when you use solar-powered LED string lights to replace traditional garden strands. And get creative with your glow: try color-changing solar spheres (pictured) as a quirky and colorful lighting option, hang “mercury glass” Mason jars equipped with solar cells to make your trees shimmer, or get down-to-earth with glow-in-the-dark solar-powered LED planters.
Solar-Powered Outdoor Audio Speakers
Whether you’re camping, hanging out at the pool or working in your garden, it’s nice to have the sound and security of a radio with you. What’s not nice is having to worry about its battery life. Solar-powered speakers take that concern away, and many, like the Eton Rugged Ruckus (pictured) can even act as a portable battery and allow you to charge small devices like mobile phones.
A solar generator isn’t going to give you the same power, right now at least, as the gas-guzzling behemoths. But it is going to keep going … and going … and going … even when there’s no more in the tank for its bigger fossil-fuel-eating brother. And it won’t expel deadly gasses like potentially fatal carbon monoxide, either. Solar generators can be used to power multiple hand-held devices, a mini-fridge and other small but survival-necessary items. So for those who require powered devices to breathe or refrigerated medications, a solar generator could be the difference between life and death during an extended outage.
Solar-Powered Security Lights
Power up your motion-sensing security lights with solar energy and you’ll never find them dark in a power outage. With a 16-array of daylight LEDs, security lights like the Maxsa Bright from Silicon Solar will fill even large-coverage areas like driveways and yards with solar-powered illumination.
Solar-Powered Attic Fans
Your attic space is one of the hottest areas in your home, and your roof takes the brunt of the sun’s rays. Add those two factors together and suddenly it’s clear why a solar-powered attic fan makes sense for a lot of homeowners. Attic heat barriers and insulation are critical parts of energy efficient homes, but solar attic fans can further lower temperatures in your attic space, taking a load off your AC … and as a result, your pocketbook.
Solar-Powered Pool Heaters
For in-ground pools, solar-powered pool heaters are panels installed on the roof similar to solar panels. Water moves through small tubes in the panels and is constantly heated and redirected to the pool, and cool water is recirculated through the panel, keeping the pool warm via the solar array.
Solar-Powered Water Heaters
The two main types of solar water heater systems, active (which has pumps and controls) and passive (which doesn’t), both include the same basic parts, such as storage tanks and solar collectors. While active systems are somewhat pricier, they also allow for more flexibility in design, like hiding the storage tank. Because solar-powered water heaters have a variety of options and details, such as water needs, geography and aesthetic concerns, it’s best to research and then discuss your interest with a contractor experienced in installation and maintaining solar water heater systems.
Roof-Mounted Photovoltaic Panels
Roof-mounted solar panels are nothing new, but if you think your options are relegated to the same chunks of black photovoltaic cells from 20 years ago, here’s news to brighten your day: solar panels have come a long way, baby. Not only are the current thinner-profile residential solar panels less of an eyesore, they’re also much more efficient at soaking up the sun’s rays and converting them into energy, which means you’ll need fewer of them to meet your home’s energy needs.
If you still can’t see yourself as a solar panel person, but you live in a sun-drenched climate and love the idea of lowering your energy bills with solar technology, things are looking up for you. Literally: up on the roof! No, not PV panels, but photovoltaic shingles. That’s right: Solar shingles that double as energy-savers and roofing material could be the next big thing in rooftop solar savings. This low-profile, high-tech roofing option can typically handle between 30-60% of the energy consumption of the home it’s installed on.