Solar Power Meets Social Networking: Changers Review

Kahuolfummi stands about four inches tall, has one fat leg and one skinny leg, and a single button eye on its white body like a tiny cyclops ghost. No, it’s not a cartoon character from the latest Miyazaki film; I’m actually describing the battery half of a new portable solar cell and chargeable battery duo from Changers (.com). Its partner device “Maroshi” may not be as adorable, but it’s lighter than most solar panels we’ve used, has suction cup feet, and is flexible so it’s hard to crush. The panel is also printed with a manifesto on the back (“This is your life, do what you love and do it often…” etc.) like an oversized refrigerator magnet.

image copyright EarthTechling

This points us to the most novel aspect of this new solar gizmo: conscientious social participation. Changers has created software and a social networking website that its solar charger and battery customers can use to track and share their solar-energy-making stats online. Credits and awards are earned, friends are made, and competitive urges between fellow sun harvesters play out in an earth-positive way. Then, if enough community gets going, it might even help this sunlight-instead-of-oil thing catch on a little better. Could Changers’ tiny twist on the old solar cell and external battery thing be a world-shaker? Let’s examine further…

De-boxing

Changers are no hypocrites–they use eco-friendly cardboard packaging all the way (well, okay, there was *one* ziplock cable accessories bag, but y’know–pretty good). “Make a decision, produce your own energy and change the world” the box implores, and the “Changers.com” logo in the corner lets you know that you’ll want to pay a visit to their web site soon after opening. A poster-shaped foldout instruction manual fans the flames of your abiding social conscience: “Now is the best moment…to make a change” it says in giant blue block letters, and after you finish excavating all the equipment from these boxes you’ll either be annoyed or riding high on the vapors of the company’s pervasive environmental ethos.

image copyright EarthTechling

I tried my best to obey Changers and “be the change I want to see” while giddily slapping the solar cell up and plugging in the little two legged battery. I strode unswervingly to my south window and stuck the solar panel to the glass. “Let the revolution begin,” I sighed.

Features/General Impressions

With the Changers system you charge the battery using sunlight and your solar cell as often as possible, then use the battery to recharge and power your phones and other portables as often as possible, and then periodically you log on to the Changers social network to upload your battery’s electricity-making stats and to compare yourself with other solar energy mavens. The more portable battery juice you squeeze out of the solar charger, the more likely you’ll be to earn credits on Changers’ web site. This gets you online social glory and, if all goes according to the company’s plan, it’ll also get you free or discounted goods or services at some point in the future.

The battery unit–little friend Kahuolfummi–has Lithium-ion cells with 16Wh capacity, puts out 5v DC, and weighs about 1/3 lb. A strip of green LED lights shows how much sun charge it’s getting when plugged in (faster blinking is better) and how much charge it has left (between 0 and 4 LEDs, from empty to full). The solar cell is flexible like a car’s mudflap is and about the size of one, too (but it can break, Changers cautions, so I don’t recommending using it as such).

As mentioned above, the solar cell has a bunch of advice printed on the back which we soon discovered is collectively called the “Holstee manifesto.” You’ll have plenty of time to read its exhortations while the solar panel hangs in your sun-facing windows throughout the day.

Stefan Durham came to Oregon in 1992 and got his first job in journalism 10 years later as a fact checker. Since those early vetting days he has been a contributing researcher, editor, and writer for a variety of online and print publications both in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

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      I think it is a really good idea what Changers has done with regards to giving you the ability to go online and share your level of energy savings. The only thing that concerns me with this product is what you mentioned about needing to have quite a bit of sun. It may not be worth the investment if you can only use it for half the year, but if you can utilize it all year round, then it sounds like a winner!

      • solard

        I recently(1 month ago) purchased the Changers solar battery charger, and I like it a lot so far. At first, I was using the single solar cell, but later upgraded to add a secondary cell, and spider to have both cells connect to the charger. My iphone and android phones are almost always at 100% charge now, as I make more power than I am currently able to use with my devices – I usually end up asking people near me if they need to charge their phone, so I can show them how it works :)

        It’s been about a month since my phones or tablet have used power from the utility  grid, and that’s with it being Monsoon season in the area. Despite being mostly cloudy – the device still charges, just not as active in charging when a large cloud is between the cells and the sun, but it’s still will generate some watts.