NYC Solar-Charging Stations Perfect for Techies, Drunken Vandals and Hobos

While public solar-charging stations sound like a good idea, they may not pan out the way the companies behind the idea want them to, according to CIO.com's Al Sacco. Here's why.

Goal Zero, a company that develops solar-powered charging systems, and Brooklyn-based design firm Pensa this morning announced that they, along with wireless carrier AT&T, will be setting up a number of new solar-charging stations in select New York City parks and high-traffic areas.

Goal Zero, Pensa, AT&T NYC solar charging station

The stations, called Street Charge, will be rolled out starting on June 18th at Fort Green Park, and the project will be funded by AT&T. As such the stations will be AT&T branded. And additional stations will be set up around New York this summer in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Coney Island, Riverside Park, Rockaways, Summerstage in Central Park, Randall's Island, Governor's Island, Union Square and Hudson River Park.

From a related press release:

"Street Charge features a modern design and is powered by the latest in solar panel and battery technology from Goal Zero. People will be able to conveniently charge their phones and hand-held devices using built-in USB ports and charging tips. Solar panels and lithium batteries are elegantly incorporated into each station to ensure that there is juice for people to power up – day or night."

You can read more details and watch a quick video demo of one of the stations on Engadget.com.

Sounds cool enough, right? And maybe I'm just being negative—I am admittedly in a foul mood this morning. But I just don't see these charging stations catching on. First of all, there's the tech side. Different phones require different charging cords/connectors. (Thanks Apple.) According to Engadget, "[e]ach solar-powered pole, designed locally by Pensa, sports six USB connectors: for iPhones and iPads, there's 30-pin and Lightning plugs, Android and Windows Phone users can hook up to micro-USB, and everyone else can use their own cable with one of three female USB connectors."

So there are a total of six possible connections. This is New York we're talking about, so every other potential user will be toting an iPhone/iPad, and most will probably have new-ish devices with Lightning ports instead of the older 30-pin connections. That's a total of just 4 possible connections for those iOS users—and that's assuming nobody else is using the three customizable outlets to charge other devices.

And New Yorkers are expected to share these connections? Yeah right. Some hipster will camp out at the station with his overpriced salad for an hour every day, during lunch, and disputes over the appropriate amount of charging time per person will result in fisticuffs.

Then there's the fact that these stations will be left out, presumably unsecured, at night, in public parks. That's an invitation for drunken bar hoppers to yank out charging cords, scream "Whooooo!" at the top of their lungs and claim the broken parts as trophies, which will later be left on trains as they doze off while on the way back to their studio apartments.

The charging stations could also easily be mistaken for restrooms by these very same drunks and lowlifes, as well as hobos. Which raises the issue of cleanliness. I try not to touch anything at all when I'm in New York. I can only image that Street Charge stations will be germ magnets, and it seems unlikely that they're have dedicated cleaning crews. I don't even like using the public charging stations in airports for this reason.

So, while the idea of solar-powered charging stations sounds like an environmentally-friendly way to help busy New Yorkers power up while on the go, I just don't see it panning out the way Goal Zero, Pensa and AT&T do. I think I'd rather just sit in a Starbucks for an hour with a latte while I power up. There's certainly no shortage of 'Bucks in that city.  

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