On-the-go solar charging is coming to a street near you

It happens to all of us: you’re out and about and want to make a call when you realise that your phone is out of battery. Soon, however, this won’t be a problem – before long you could use Street Charge, a solar charging station designed to give you a burst of power while you’re out and about.

Street Charge is designed to give power to any electrical product with a USB connection, including tablets, cameras and mp3 players.

Each station features three micro USB connectors, which are commonly used in mobile phones and cameras, and three female USB connectors, which allow users to connect their own charging cables to the unit.

Street Charge solar charging

Launched in London, UK, yesterday by European suppliers Environmental Street Furniture, Street Charge features three 20 watt solar panels that power up an internal battery, meaning it can be used both during the day and at night.

It also means that Street Charge will work regardless of the weather – a vital feature in rainy countries such as the UK.

The charging station can be installed anywhere outside, and is particularly suited to green spaces, bus and rail stations and universities.

Street Charge also proved its value for public events at San Diego Comic-Con in July. Charging units set up for the event were very positively received by attendees and journalists alike, so we could see the station become a stable of festivals and large events around the world.

Street Charge solar charging

Street Charge was originally launched in the US back in June 2013. The first units were located in New York City, and there are now 25 across all five boroughs.

In the eight months Street Charge has been available for, the unit has spread across the US. There are now over 100 charging stations across several states, including Texas, Florida and California.

However the UK launch is one of the first times Street Charge has made it worldwide, with only a handful of places having already had units installed. The only places with Street Charge already in place are Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Dubai; Lima, Peru and Sydney, Australia

Street Charge might be effective, but as something located in public spaces it has to be highly robust to avoid damage from vandalism. The cords are covered with reinforced, industrial-grade material to make then highly resistant to abuse, and the tips are nickel and gold plated for extra durability.

Even if a cable were to be irreparably damaged, it is designed to be easily replaced, giving the station the best chance of surviving anything the public can throw at it.

All of this may be unnecessary, however. Environmental Street Furniture managing director Alan Lowry said that the company had any serious issues with sabotage or vandalism. “We thought that would be an issue in New York, but we didn’t see it,” he said.

Images courtesy of Street Charge.

Smart living: How integrated services are coming to your home

Smart meters are opening the doors to city-wide networked services that feed into individual homes.

The technology that makes networked smart meters possible could be expanded to provide in-home communication and monitoring by security or healthcare services, according to experts speaking about the future of smart cities.

In a talk at London-based green construction exhibition Ecobuild, Mark Atherton, director of environment for the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, explained how networked smart systems were already being used the supply air source heat to social housing.

He explained that by using an IT system to manage the supply enabled the organisation to find ways to “smooth out the demand curve” – to regulate supply to reduce spikes in use by controlling the amount of heat is supplied to individual households at a given time.

“These technologies won’t just be used to enable smart meters but can be used for security and health services”

Atherton also explained how this system could be expanded to other services, such as in-home health monitoring or support for the elderly.

Institute of Sustainability chief executive Ian Short shared this view of the potential for networks. “These technologies won’t just be used to enable smart meters but can be used for security and health services,” he said.

Individuals in need of assistance could simply push a button in their home to communicate with healthcare or security services. These services would have access to data to assist with their work, for example in the form of medical readings for a healthcare professional or live local crime data for a security expert.

While the system has some obvious benefits, it raises serious privacy concerns for individuals living in networked homes, summoning up an almost Orwellian image for some.

The example Atherton cites of an existing project is in social housing, where the local government has a greater right to add such systems than in private houses. This division could lead to a two-tier system where social housing is largely networked and monitored, while private housing is largely not – something that would be very concerning for some rights campaigners.

“A little bit into the future you might see electrical vehicles being built into the same grid”

However, the technology is not necessarily a bad thing. With adequate legislation and monitoring and use it could become a valuable system and an effective way to link homes together in a sustainable way.

The grid could also be expanded to include wider city services. “A little bit into the future you might see electrical vehicles being built into the same grid,” said Atherton.

For governments and organisations looking to get users to embrace these technologies, it will be a matter of trust. Short believes this is something that can be built by involving the community in the development of such systems.

For Atherton, explaining the benefits is central to such a system’s success: “It’s all about going in and explaining it to people,” he said.