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Ingenious SunPort plug lets you use solar energy even if you don’t have solar panels

If you want to use clean solar energy in your home, your only option is to get some solar panels installed — right?

Wrong.

Contrary to what you might think, you don’t necessarily have to be a producer of solar energy in order to be a consumer of it — and there’s a brilliant new device on Kickstarter that makes it more accessible than ever before. We’ll get into the details of the device in a moment, but before we do, you’re probably wondering how the hell it’s possible to use solar energy without actually buying/renting a bunch of solar panels.

Well here’s the deal. Back in the late 1990’s, America’s interest in using renewable energy was on the rise, so the government devised a way to separate renewable energy from the non-renewable kind. To do this, it created these things called Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) — tradable environmental commodities used to represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity was generated by an eligible renewable energy resource.

In addition to regular RECs, the government also created a solar-focused variety called Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) so that consumers could buy power specifically from solar providers. Basically, the power that comes out of your outlet comes from a myriad of different sources (coal power, hydro electric, wind, etc), but when you buy an SREC, your money goes to a producer of solar power — even if it’s not the entity that’s directly providing juice to your outlets. Here’s a really helpful video from the Environmental Protection Agency that explains it:

SunPort, which recently launched on Kickstarter, is basically a smart outlet adapter that allows you to take advantage of SRECs in an effortless way. Once you plug it in, the device measures the electricity you take from your wall outlet, and automatically upgrades it to solar power by purchasing small fractions of a solar energy certificate.

That’s the magic of it. Certified SRECs generally represent an entire megawatt-hour of electricity (a sizable and relatively expensive chunk of power), so to make them more accessible to individuals, SunPort has developed an ingenious way to break them up into microcredits (called SunJoules) that you can use on a smaller scale.

When SunPort measures one kilojoule of grid electricity being used, it retires one SunJoule from the system and credits the SunPort’s owner with that amount of real solar use. It’s essentially a way to buy/use solar energy in tiny chunks, instead of buying/using it by the megawatt-hour, or installing your own solar panels.

To be fair, using SunPort doesn’t technically increase the amount of solar power being generated in the world. But it does something almost as good — it increases demand for solar power, which ultimately translates to more solar farms being built in the future.

You can get your hands on a SunPort adapter for a pledge of from 40 to 50 bucks on Kickstarter.