Intelligent Energy

Charge your cell phone - with your backpack

Posting in Cities

Voltaic Systems has introduced a line up of backpacks that have integrated solar cells for charging portable electronics.

A New York City based clean energy start-up has devised a solution to that all too familiar predicament: When you leave home when your cell phone battery is dwindling down to naught, you usually don't have a charger handy before the screen goes dark.

Voltaic Systems introduced a new line of its "OffGrid" solar-powered backpacks last month. They are available in a variety of styles, with either built-in or detachable solar cells. The solar charger powers an internal battery that connects to devices via an integrated USB port.

The backpacks can output up to 4 Watts of power, charging an iPhone within 4.5 hours, said Voltaic spokesperson Jeff Crystal. I encountered the OffGrid at the "GreenLinks" green technology professional networking event in Manhattan last night.

The idea is not entirely novel. Other green-minded entrepreneurs, such as Suntrica, have been trying to get consumer to accessory with solar panels for several years now.

"Most solar chargers on the market have 1 Watt or less of cells and will take over 16 hours to charge an iPhone. We just don't see how this is practical or how people don't feel duped when they get the product home and try to use it on a daily basis," Crystal said.

OffGrid backpacks were inspired by the experiences of company founder Shayne McQuade as he packaged through Europe in 2004. McQuade's portable solar charger was underpowered and didn't work well, and he often forgot to take it out of his bag and set it up, Crystal said.

"The bag solved these problems by devoting a larger area to solar cells (more power) and by always being set up it catches whatever sun is available."

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure