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Public Works: Free, Solar Public Phone Charging Stations Hit NYC

Juice up your Apple in the Big Apple.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

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Image courtesy of AT&T

If your phone battery has ever died just as you’re about to about to see some kittens or hit “send” on an ill-advised booty text, you know how frustrating it can be. Well, a project underway in New York City may have the answer.

Designer Pensa, solar gear manufacturer Goal Zero, and telco giant AT&T have partnered on an initiative called Street Charge, a pilot project that has placed 25 solar-powered device-charging stations around New York. The catalyst for the idea was last year’s Hurricane Sandy, when AT&T delivered mobile cell towers and generators to blacked-out neighbourhoods around the city.

Charging units are located in various parks and public spaces. They’ve been changing locations about every four weeks since the project’s inception in June, and will continue doing so until it wraps up in September. Each station can charge six devices at a time using standard USB ports or dedicated connections for popular phones and tablets. The units don’t feed the phones directly from the solar panels, but instead store power in lithium-ion battery units, so the stations function at night—or during solar eclipses.

The time it takes to charge your device in an eco-friendly way is the same as if you’d plugged it in at home, so users may want to bring something to read while they’re waiting.

Maintenance, battery replacement, and inspection for damage or vandalism is handled by a third-party company.

The total cost of the project is estimated at between 300 and 500 thousand dollars. However, this isn’t strictly a charitable gesture on the part of AT&T—after all, every chargeless customer is a customer not being charged.

AT&T says that if the program is successful, it may be rolled out to other cities, which will not include Toronto, since AT&T doesn’t operate here. But by all means get in touch with your Canadian wireless provider and see if they want to subsidize some public eco-charging. And then please contact us and let us know how that went.

Hat tip to Gizmag.


  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Charging phones from a tiny panel is small-scale thinking. WIth all the wasted space given to parking in this city, what we should be looking at is something like this:

    • Lee Zamparo

      Do we get enough sun in Toronto to make this viable? It’s a good idea, which means it is likely never to happen in Toronto.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        Viable (which I take to mean ‘breaking even in costs’)? Maybe not, but useful? Undoubtedly.

    • Functionalist

      The parking should go underground, if kept at all. Those solar panels can go on the roofs of buildings. That’s space efficiency. It’s important for creating walkable and vibrant neighbourhoods.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        I don’t disagree, but this is Toronto.

        • Functionalist

          Toronto is quite metropolitan.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            Toronto is quite good at aiming low, changing its mind, and dragging its feet, which is why I don’t expect parks to replace parking lots any time soon.

            Solar panel parking shades would be expensive but rather simple to deploy. Much cheaper and faster than burying parking lots, any way.

          • Functionalist

            Developing parking lots is more lucrative and more logical for the real estate and property management firms that own these properties. In time, Toronto will start to aim high consistently for great results.

      • OgtheDim

        We are never going to put the parking lots of Yorkdale and other large malls all under ground.

        Time to deal with what we have.

        Unless, of course, you consider anything north of Eglinton the Wastelands.

        There is a HUGE opportunity being wasted here that, unfortunately, the provincial Libs ham fisted approach to Green Energy and forcing municipalities to take wind turbines has killed off for 20 years.

        • Functionalist

          I see malls like Yorkdale as excellent places for redevelopment. Condos, office towers and parks can be built where the parking lots are currently. Parking can go underground or be stacked higher. A lot of people and business would like such an amenity and high-profile location. As one of the leading metropolitan centres, we will probably make these things happen, and it will be great.

  • Ralph H. Lawson

    Solar public phone charging stations sound a great idea. It’s definitely an eco-friendly way. It’s good to know that they have already started placing 25 solar-powered stations. I think this is going to be successful.