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10/20/2011
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Mobile Device Solar Chargers, With A Social Twist

German startup Changers launches solar-powered charger for mobile phones and a community and marketplace for turning energy produced into tangible credit.

The basic formula is simple: Use solar energy to power our insatiable computing devices. The challenge, however, is getting enough people to do it, and Changers, a German-based startup, thinks it has the solution. In addition to creating a cost-effective starter kit that includes a very portable solar panel and charging device, it has created something of an energy exchange model that includes a heavy social aspect and potential rewards for those who contribute by using the product.

(Watch a video demonstration in the video player at the end of this article.)

The Changers starter kit includes a thin, light solar panel, the charging hardware, and connectors for a variety of popular mobile devices. For now, the target is mobile phones. Changers representatives said a fully charged system holds enough energy to recharge an iPhone two times. Although the device can also charge a tablet, it can only do so partially, and its success depends largely on the age and quality of the battery. About four or five hours of solid sunshine can charge the Changers device, which includes two Lithium-ion batteries.

Changers Kalhuohfummi and Maroshi Photoshoot

The Changers hardware includes a patent-pending chip that could find its way into phones and laptops, but also in jackets with solar panels, consumer-oriented miniature windmills, cars with solar panels, or even commercial grade wind-powered systems, a company spokesman said. But some of the chip's magic is more geared toward counting the energy it produces, and then transferring that data to software running on a computer and then to the company's communities site, where registered users can upload data and keep track of how much energy they produce and how much CO2 they've saved.

A mobile application would be a nice addition, as would the ability to transfer data wirelessly. A company spokesman said those capabilities are likely to come in future versions.

Users can see this graphically and cumulatively, and also see how it contributes to the overall community total. Individual totals create credits in the Changers system, and users will ultimately be able to apply those credits towards merchandise--for now, Changers is aiming for discounts on energy-saving goods from Holstee, which sells sustainable goods. Changers representatives called this "the only currency backed by the sun."

Changers energy marketplace2

The idea, then, is not only to make individual contributions visible, creating intrinsic value, but also to provide extrinsic rewards, company representatives said. But in this social age, it's no surprise that Changers also wants to make energy contributions viral. Naturally, then, users can share Changers data on Facebook pages and via Twitter.

Changers Facebook Share

The company is taking orders now, and will start shipping the product in mid-November. It will be available only in the U.S. for the first three months, and for now, buyers can only purchase the product on Changers.com. But a company spokesman said there are talks with potential retail partners. It will cost $149.

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