Thanks to steeply falling prices, solar power keeps breaking records for new installations. But it still makes up less than 1% of total energy production in the U.S. The chances are good that you probably don’t yet have solar panels on your roof yet.
Now, however, you can run your gadgets on solar just by using a different outlet. Plug your laptop into the SunPort, and it will automatically calculate how much power you’re drawing from the grid–and “upgrade” you to solar instead of coal, natural gas, or whatever else your local utility happens to use.
“It’s all about the democratization of solar energy,” says Paul Droege, inventor of the SunPort. Droege believes that solar power is still mostly limited to affluent households (though President Obama’s new plan to install solar panels on low-income homes should help change that), and that others just don’t see themselves as likely candidates for solar, as much as they might like the idea.
As the plug calculates how much energy you’re using, it automatically purchases solar microcredits through a nonprofit called reChoice, which both handles renewable energy credits and helps build new solar panels. Your power won’t be coming literally from a solar panel, though that’s true even for most people with solar on the roof, since solar electrons are sent into the grid and indistinguishable from other energy sources. Instead, the plug just helps support solar production somewhere else.
Cost is one of the things that’s held people back from solar, and this is a cheap way to use renewable energy. “For a laptop computer, it’s probably in the range of $1-$2 a month, and it could be considerably less,” says Droege. “The cost is really very small.” He notes that college students love the idea.
Eventually, the startup may also offer customers the chance to upgrade an entire home to solar rather than just one outlet. For now, though, they’re focused on the plug. “The plug is more visible, more affordable, and it’s a little easier to spread the word with something so tangible,” says Droege. “If we just put some equipment inside your circuit breaker box, it wouldn’t be as easy to get the word out.”
And even a single outlet can have impact if enough people start using it. SunPort is launching a Kickstarter campaign next week, and calculated that if everyone in the Kickstarter community powered laptops for an hour, it would be the equivalent of shutting down an entire coal plant for an hour.