Fast Forward: Let there be light

We may not get enough sun to power a whole house economically, but many gadgets will thrive on just a few rays

Solar power has moved on from that tiny strip found on a calculator. Solar panels provide power for motorway traffic cameras, pollution monitors and even the track greasers that lubricate the paths of trains. On the domestic front, solar power isn't as big in the UK as it is in the US, Australia or even many developing countries. This, of course, has something to do with our weather; even a decent summer cannot be guaranteed. There are only about 100 completely solar-powered buildings in the UK. Greenpeace has installed solar units into three homes in London's East End to demonstrate how efficient this energy source can be. In commercial environments, British Gas uses small panels to power its latest gas meters. It is not cost-efficient for everyone to install solar panels in their homes, but some simple appliances make a start.

Captions: Citizen Promaster Eco-Drive Aqualand solar watch

The world's first solar-powered diving watch. The maximum-depth memory function tells you how deep you've dived when you're back on dry land. There is also a 50-minute stopwatch so you can keep an eye on how long you've been underwater. pounds 325. Available from Face for Watches on 0171-379 1179.

Freeplay S360 radio

This is a smaller version of the famous wind-up radio, but this one can also run on solar power. A rechargeable battery is incorporated so that energy can be saved for later, providing up to 15 hours of FM/AM listening time. Should the sun go in, you can simply wind it up instead. pounds 60. For stockists call 0800 7313052.

Milk whisk

For those who can't do without their cappuccinos on the beach. This solar- powered whisk will froth milk, mix salad dressings and thicken cream. pounds 30. Available by mail order from American Retro on 0171-734 3477.

Sun Mate solar address light

Used in the US to display a house number on a fence or mailbox; you can place up to five digits on the panel or order a customised version. The panel is lit at night, powered by rechargeable batteries. One hour of sunlight will run the unit all night long, and light sensors automatically turn the light on and off. $54.99. Available by mail order from www.sun- mate.com or on 001 818 883 7766.

Solar torch

A large solar cell means that just two hours' charging in sunlight powers the torch for two hours. Back-up batteries can be added if you're worried about being plunged into darkness. It is also water-resistant and floats. Very handy. pounds 19.99. Available from Innovations on 0870 9087002.

Excide BatterySAVER PowerPak

Now you can power up rechargeable batteries by solar power. The PowerPak will charge four AA batteries in 12 hours. The 6V/12V power socket can also recharge mobile phones and laptop computers. pounds 39.99. Available from LAE on 0181-852 3412.

Moonlight markers

Used to signpost paths or garden hazards, these markers charge up during the day, storing energy in NiCad batteries. A sensor automatically switches them on as night falls and each LED unit generates an amber glow for up to eight hours. pounds 24.99 (pair). Available from Innovations on 0870 9087002.

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