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CES 2010 preview: Green comes in many colors

Green tech will come in many guises at CES with solar chargers, in-home energy displays, vampire power slayers, and all sorts of energy-efficient electronics.

You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a single definition for "green" or "sustainable" in the context of consumer electronics. However, with green-themed gear touching on many areas, there will be more people trying at this year's International CES.

The Sustainable Planet zone will have more than 30 exhibitors, up from 20 in 2009 and nine in 2008. There will also be energy efficiency related goods sprinkled throughout the conference as makers of everything from TVs to laundry washing machines look to differentiate themselves on efficiency.

The Consumer Electronics Association is also taking steps to lighten the environmental footprint of the mammoth show by promoting recycling at the convention center and giving exhibitors an option to use eco-friendly wood and carpet at their booths.

A solar charger with integrated battery and charger for different digital cameras. Solar Technology International

From a product standpoint, here's how things are shaping up so far:

Alternative energy: Power-hungry gadgets are well suited to getting juice on the go. At CES, expect to see a number of solar chargers, such as the Surge from Novothink, which is a mini solar panel that fits onto a iPhone or iPod. There will also be more generalized and bigger solar chargers, such as Solar Technology International's FreeLoader, which has integrated batteries that can charge a phone or a digital camera.

Channeling energy data at home: There's been an explosion in all sorts of information in our daily lives, but we're still getting monthly electric bills that many of us can barely understand. At CES, several companies are attacking this problem in different ways.

Among the exhibitors are companies that make so-called smartplugs--essentially outlets with wireless communications chips. These let you see how much electricity your home entertainment system, for example, is using from a Web page. The PicoWatt from Tenrehte uses Wi-Fi to not only collect energy consumption information, but also to control the devices that are plugged-in. So you can program when TV and peripherals should turn off stand-by power, for example, to shave a few dollars from your bill.

There are also whole-house energy and monitoring system under development with at least three companies planning to show off their in-home displays, including the Electronic Housekeeper, Control4, and AlertMe.

Low power: No doubt, there will be manufacturers of all stripes touting how energy efficient their gear is. It makes sense, electronics are a growing chunk of household energy use and energy prices aren't expected to go down. There's also a niche of consumers who choose goods based at least in part on green attributes, like power efficiency.

TVs with LED lighting fit the bill when it comes to efficiency. But there is also room lighting, with a number of LED lighting companies planning to exhibit their wares.

Certainly, end-use energy consumption is not the only way to define "green" in consumer electronics. Other key pieces are the embedded energy that goes into the making of goods and materials that are used. Environmental watchdog Greenpeace last year gave consumer electronics makers a so-so report card at CES in 2009 in part because of the continued use of hazardous materials in many products. Will there be much progress this year?