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Sun on the run: Solar power can be utilized anywhere

Sun on the run: Solar power can be utilized anywhere
Bring a portable solar panel camping to keep phones or GPS units charged and ready. (Shutterstock)

It turns out you can take it with you. Affordable and adaptable solar panels of all sizes make Southern California's outdoorsy lifestyle more convenient, comfortable and cost-efficient — all while minimizing our environmental footprint. From poolside to mountainside, solar is your sustainable friend.

Adventure time
Solar can help transform a humble camper van into a true off-grid adventure vehicle. While rooftop installation means set-and-forget convenience, most hardcore travelers need that space for storage. Lightweight and efficient semi-flexible solar panels can be mounted anywhere on a vehicle and, combined with appropriate batteries, can provide self-sufficiency and solitude miles from civilization.

On the trail
Purpose-built, lightweight reliable solar chargers are now available for hikers and backpackers to keep electronic devices, including that potentially vital smartphone, powered up. When shopping around, seek out weather-resistant panels with onboard batteries and more than one USB port to allow charging multiple devices simultaneously.

Poolside
Low-tech rooftop solar collectors – not panels that convert solar energy into electricity, but rather panels comprising tiny "veins" through which pool water is circulated, to be directly heated by the sun – can entirely warm pools here in SoCal, meaning balmy water at zero cost. Solar-powered pool pumps are also useful in suitably sunny locations.

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A sunny commute
There have long been ultra-lightweight experimental vehicles powered by the sun, but nothing resembling a practical daily driver. With advances in technology, automakers have begun augmenting some electric and plug-in hybrid models with rooftop solar panels, and Dutch startup Lightyear is promising a fully solar powered vehicle next year.

– Paul Rogers, Custom Publishing Writer