How solarbox is turning London's red phone boxes green

Earlier this month solarbox launched its first free solar charging station. The green phone box is on Tottenham Court Road and has been funded under the Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur Competition. Solarbox co-founder Kirsty Kenney spoke to pv magazine about how she hopes to give the red phone boxes a solar re-birth.

Why do you think that the iconic red phone booths present an opportunity for phone charging stations?

Unfortunately, red phone boxes have become synonymous with anti-social behavior and largely they no longer represent a positive addition to our public spaces. Solarbox is about reversing this trend and bringing something that is so quintessentially British up to date. We spent a lot of time researching what the demand for the service was as well as perfecting our design through a series of focus groups.

How many red phone booths are there and how many do you think you can convert into PV phone charging stations?

There are about 65,000 telephone boxes in the UK and 8,000 in London. Around two thirds of the booths are no longer commercially viable. We are looking at scaling across London first and would like to open 6-10 by next Spring. Beyond that we will be looking at cities across the UK and introducing alternative products to the public charging market.

How long does it take to charge a phone? Or is it more to get a user through a low-charge pickle?

Our charging points offer the maximum charging speed that you can get – but the actual speed depends on the make, model and how many apps you have open. For example if you put your phone on aeroplane mode it will charge almost twice as quickly.

The idea is that people use solarbox in the ‘low-charge pickle’ situation (or put ‘help I’m on less than 10% situation’ or use it as an oppourtunity to get some free charge while they are in the area. The location is a very busy throughway and as it’s located right next to a tube station and a theatre there are often people waiting around.

What is the cost of making a conversion, from red booth to green?

Unfortunately this is commercially sensitive information.

What is the solar technology that use atop the green booth?

The solar panel is supplied by solibanflex and as the name suggests it is a flexible panel. For this solarbox we used the SP 112 W Q model.

What kind battery technology do you use?

We are using an integrated battery, this means that solarbox can charge phones all year round. We are also able to power the advertising screen, sensors and LED’s using this energy.

How concerned are you about component theft and vandalism?

We have worked very hard to ensure that we minimize the risk of theft and vandalism. We are using a panel that can withstand the force of a crow bar; it’s also been tested with golf balls flying at 300km/ph. We have also placed a shatterproof protector over are screen. The box is locked from 11:30pm-5:30am to ensure that we minimize the risk of vandalism or theft. In the long term, we will be looking at ways to make sure the box can be safely left open 24 hours a day.

What are the next steps for solarbox?

Following the launch and the phenomenal amount of media attention and support that we have received, we would really like to launch box number two as soon as possible. We are currently working on launching a crowd funding campaign and are also looking for investment to ensure we can scale for next Spring.

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