July 22 - New Yorkers in need of a charge can now head to public spaces, where solar powered charging stations offer a free boost to mobile devices. Apart from providing everyday convenience, the stations could be crucial during devastating power outages like those caused by Hurricane Sandy last year. Sharon Reich has more.
It's a cell-phone friendly city already, but New York just became even more accommodating - providing free solar charging stations in public spaces. The pilot program is called Street Charge, a system of 25 portable stations that will charge electronic devices as quickly as any wall outlet. Brooklyn-based designers Mark Pronnell and Marco Perry devised and designed the stations. They considered several versions before coming up with the solar-powered prototype. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARK PRONNEL, PRINCIPLE PARTNER AT PENSA, SAYING: "In a way they can be seen as an eyesore if you don't really understand how beautiful what is happening is , which is drawing clean power from the sun. We wanted to create something that still looks industrial and rugged durable but had some organic elements the responded to and sort of were inspired by the beauty of solar power. And so that's how the design evolved into what it is now, which has these kind of petals that subtly tip toward the sun, has some curves to the details in the organic elements and at the same time is made of the materials that you often see in the spaces." In the course of one hour the panels are able to produce 45 watts of energy, continuously providing a charge to a battery stored inside the station - even when it isn't sunny. The batteries never get drained, a fact Perry says will provide major boost for the credibility of solar power. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARCO PERRY, PRINCIPLE PARTNER AT PENSA, SAYING: "I think the biggest environmental impact we get is driving more awareness. Certainly we're saving energy but it's so convenient that the people plug into it and it is solar powered and that's just … there has always been this sort of trade off about you being environmentally conscious versus making some sort of sacrifices for that. Here it's so convenient you don't have to think of it as a sacrifice and over time you know those of trade-offs they should fade away." And cell phones users in Union Square Park, seem to agree that stations have struck a chord. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MAN ON STREET DANIEL SHENK, SAYING: "I think it's fabulous. I only found out about it today and I think it's wonderful. I think the city is doing something right." (SOUNDBITE) (English) WOMAN ON STREET MISTY MATESIC SAYING: "I think it's a great idea. A matter of convenience and solar energy is the way to go." Solar has proved an effective energy source for New Yorkers in times of crisis - most recently in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. AT&T set up charging stations to help victims then and are sponsoring Street Charge hoping to harness solar capability in good times as well. When the pilot phase of the program ends in September, and all involved expect the city to roll out more stations and help New York do its part to lead the charge into the future.