San Francisco - Startup company Regen is promoting solar-powered iPod-docking speaker systems and LED desk lamps as overcoming the practical drawbacks that prevent other solar-powered consumer electronics from gaining widespread appeal.
Solar power in consumer electronics "hasn't progressed far beyond solar-powered calculators," available since the 1970s, said Robert Brunner, one of the company's founders. Many of those products, which he called "geeky science experiments," were not useful because they took too long to charge or did not provide enough hours of usage on a charge, he said. "You can't slap solar cells on something and expect it to work," he explained. "You have to build the product from the ground up to be energy-efficient and useful."
With those goals in mind, Regen developed what is called a "Smart Architecture" platform that builds energy-efficient designs into the products and boosts usability in several ways. For one thing, the products plug into a home's power outlets when their internal rechargeable batteries run low. For another, a weatherproof 9-inch by 9-inch ReNu solar panel can be removed from some of the products and placed near a window, or outdoors, to charge during the day. The panel can also be hung on a suction-cup hook stuck on the inside of a window. For additional practicality, the devices feature a USB port to power USB-connected devices. To simplify usage, the devices feature a display indicating how much the solar cells are charged and the percentage of battery life remaining before the device needs to get power from the electrical grid.
In direct sunlight outdoors or on a window that lacks UV protection or is not darkened, the ReNu panel takes eight hours to charge its own battery, and when docked with the company's tabletop iPod speaker systems, it delivers four hours of playback time at moderate listening levels, the company said. A charged panel will also charge an iPhone in about 1.5 hours. The panel won the grand prize in CEA's recent i-Stage product-design competition.
"There has been a shift in consumer thinking about sustainability and energy conservation," but consumers have found it "difficult to participate unless they put solar panels on the roof," Brunner said. Regen will give these consumers other options in February, when the company's first products will be available through the company's web site. The company is also in discussions with a major on-line retailer and major national chain for February availability, said Brunner.
The products due in February are the $199 ReNu panel, the $149 tabletop ReNu Sound dock with small built-in speakers, and the $89 ReNu iPod dock, a charging stand without speakers. The iPod Dock will also be available with the ReNu panel in a $249 bundle.
They will be followed in March by an $89 LED desk lamp called the Side Light, which delivers up to four hours of light from a docked ReNu panel sold separately.
In April, a floorstanding iPod-docking speaker system, the ReVerb, is due at $2,299 with back panel covered with solar cells to deliver up to four hours of playback time at moderate listening levels after eight hours of charging in a sunny spot.
Around late spring, a boombox-style iPod-docking speaker system, the ReBop, will debut with carrying handle and solar cells, which will be embedded on its upward-facing back side. In late spring or early summer, another LED desk lamp will feature two independently swiveling leafs, one with LED light and the other with embedded solar cells.
All of the iPod docks and speaker systems are designed to work with iPods and iPhones.
The floorstanding ReVerb speaker system is 35.5 inches tall and 15.75 inches wide but is only 3 inches deep at the deepest point on top, where an iPod is docked. The device flares out at the bottom to about 7-inches in depth to accommodate a 6- by 9-inch woofer. Higher frequencies are produced by power-efficient exciters attached behind the device's vibrating flat front panel. The device is said to deliver the equivalent of a 60-watt conventional audio system.
The company plans to exhibit on the show floor at International CES in January.