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Energy savers rise above gimmick status, with smarter, cooler, greener devices 

Eton Rugged rukus
Eton's Rugged Rukus portable solar-powered speaker.Devin Coldewey / NBC News


Eton Rugged rukus
Eton's Rugged Rukus portable solar-powered speaker.Devin Coldewey / NBC News

Whether it's playing music, charging your phone, or automating your home, there's always a green way to to do it. And these gadgets spotted at CES in Las Vegas not only keep you off the grid, but they do it in style.

The Rugged Rukus from Eton (above) may be one of this year's "gadget spam," a wireless speaker, but this one has a few extra features. The whole top side is a solar panel, so it charges itself when you leave it outside. Then you can use it to play music via Bluetooth or cable, or plug in your phone to get a little extra charge. It's splash-proof and it looks great — for $99, it's a bargain.

Yeti
The Yeti 150 from GoalZero.Devin Coldewey / NBC News

If you need a bit more juice, GoalZero's Yeti 150 has you covered. Use their folding solar panel or just an outlet to store 150 watt-hours of electricity inside for when power isn't so easy to find. Then plug in your laptop, phone, or anything else. It'll take a while to fill via sunlight, but you'll be glad to have it when the lights go out.

At $400, it isn't cheap — if you don't need all that power, check out their smaller Sherpa 50.

Vera
Mi Casa Verde's Vera home automation unit.Devin Coldewey / NBC News

When the power's on, you can save a bit of cash by scheduling and restricting things like lights, security cameras, and so on. Home automation, they call it, and while it isn't new, there are always improvements being made. The Vera is the latest automation unit from Mi Casa Verde; It plugs into your router and then communicates with all kinds of wireless-enabled devices like smart light switches, garage doors, thermostats, and tons of other appliances.

It may cost you a bundle to buy and install all those smart doodads in your home at first, but the savings start rolling in right away, and you never have to worry about whether you left the oven on or not. Just check on your phone and unplug it from the office.

Solar bigbelly
The Big Belly solar compactorDevin Coldewey / NBC News

Now, if the city wants to save a little time and money by automation, it should consider installing a few of these smart trash bins. Sounds ridiculous at first — what's wrong with regular bins? Well, for one thing, garbage collectors have to be sent to empty them whether they're full or not. And if they overflow, they can't tell anyone.

The Big Belly solar compactor uses its solar panel to power a garbage compactor (as you might guess from its name), but it's also connected to a central hub via the cellular network. In a browser-based dashboard you can see which cans need emptying, where the most garbage is being deposited and other stats. They're installed in Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston, so don't be surprised if one shows up on your street corner soon.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.