Making Solar Power Portable

By Liz Galst in the New York Times, February 8 2010

Last year, when Jonathan Smith was still the president of, a Web site dedicated to recycling, he said he would often board a plane after a speaking engagement or a day of meetings with a dead cellphone in hand.

With limited recharging options available, “it was really frustrating,” he said. “Having access to a working port or finding an open plug during layovers at the airport was just too unpredictable.”

Hoping to solve his problem, Mr. Smith bought a portable solar charger he could prop up in the window of a plane. “I’d plug it into my phone and when we landed, I was ready to go again.” The charger meshed well with his environmental values, of course. Still, “when I first started using solar to charge my devices,” he said, “it was out of convenience.”

In fact, Mr. Smith is one of a growing number of business travelers who, out of practicality or concern for the environment, use portable renewable energy devices — primarily portable solar panels, but also hand-cranked electricity generators known as dynamos or freeplay devices — to power up their electronics when they work in places that offer little or no access to electricity.

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