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.
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…
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.
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.
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.