Solar ho ho hos: Solar gifts for the holiday season

The original solar gadget, courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsJust a few years ago solar toys and tools were relegated to yard lights, waving cats and chirping crickets. However, as solar has gained popularity, the gadgets and devices that use solar—and their quality has increased significantly. So if you’re looking for a gift for a friend or a family member that likes solar, here are some great options.

First off is the original solar gift, the light mill or Crookes radiometer. This centuries old device uses sunlight to push a vane on a spindle encased in a partial vacuum. First created in 1873, light mills are a classic take that showed early uses of solar energy, great for any solar lover. You can find them online or at science stores.

On the modern end there are solar phone chargers. These are ideal for just about anyone, particularly those who are using their phone or smartphone all day. And, if you’re getting someone a nice new iPhone or smartphone like Galaxy, what better way to complement it than with a case like the EnerPlex cases made by Ascent Solar. The company also offers charging cases for larger devices like iPads. Or maybe you just want to buy them a solar powered speaker unit and dock. They’ve got those, too.

Perhaps you know a pro on the go, for them there are a number of larger charging units, like those built into a backpack or laptop bag with a battery that can be used to charge a laptop. Voltaic and other companies like FocusSolar have been making them for years now.

There are also charging units that are entirely separate from a pack or battery. Such units are ideal for campers or hikers that want to charge their electronics while on the go or at a base camp. A number of companies, including PowerTraveller, Goal Zero and Solio offer portable chargers for hikers, for example. These can range anywhere from $60 to $1,000s depending on the size and type you’re looking for.

Then again, not everyone’s a hiker, or at least not yet. For the scientist or engineer in your family, or the remote lover, there’s the H2Go Hybrid-Electric Hydrogen Vehicle. Significantly more advanced than the original version, which came out nearly a decade ago, the H2Go has a solar panel attached to an electrolyzer that produces hydrogen from water. The hydrogen is pumped into a balloon where it is used as a fuel and power source for the remote-controlled vehicle. The original had no remote and barely moved while this new one fairly whizzes around.

Also for the budding solar scientist or engineer there’s a host of solar kits, for kids of all ages, from solar-powered cars, to transforming toys and educational kits that allow them to learn about the power and benefits of solar. There’s a good listing at Edmund Scientific.

While the solar yard light remains a perennial favorite (no messy wires is one plus) They’ve changed significantly over the past few years. While they used to look just like standard garden path lights, now There are all sorts of solar garden lights, from the stunning, like solar flowers, to the plain old path lights that have been available for years. In the case of these types of lights the battery included is what differentiates cheap ones from expensive ones.  Look for lights that have replaceable batteries to make them last for a few years.