Solar station charges cell phones in downtown Cedar Falls

February 2, 2014 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

CEDAR FALLS | Pedestrians shuffling through the cold on Main Street may notice a relatively new addition to the downtown landscape.

In front of Cup of Joe’s protrudes a slim pylon, triple flanged and studded with emerald LEDs. What appears at first glance to be a post-modern sculpture of a helicopter is in fact a solar cell phone charger, deployed for outdoor field tests by Waterloo Tent and Tarp.

The product, called Street Charge, was developed in partnership between solar power company Goal Zero and PENSA, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based design studio. While few will take the time to charge a cell completely, users can partially juice up a flagging device in a few minutes.

Goal Zero provided the technology, three 15-watt solar panels, a 168-watt-hour lithium battery and 6 built-in charger cables. PENSA provided the sleek design that houses the hardware.

Pete Downs, president of Waterloo Tent and Tarp, is a potential third partner, acting as one of many distributors for a product that has taken root in 17 cities, mostly in the United States. There are 25 Street Charge stations in the plazas and cafes of New York, while others appear in Boston, San Francisco, Houston, and Tampa among others. Dubai, Amsterdam and Lima, Peru, all have Street Charge stations as well.

Downs’ company has a history of experimenting with solar technology. Flexible solar materials are stitched into the fabric of some of his tents, allowing the canopies to act as their own energy sources.

“I’ve always kept my eyes open for more product innovations,” Downs said in a phone interview.  

“Solar is a smart thing,” Downs said. “It’s very efficient. It’s something we should be doing.”

Downs’ first came across the Street Charge station at a trade show in Houston six months ago. The promise of providing a way for pedestrians and urbanites a way to charge their cell phones outdoors enticed him.

After a dialog with the folks at Goal Zero, he agreed to take one of their stations to Cedar Falls. The idea, Downs said, is to test how the solar charger holds up under the harsh winter weather conditions of Northeast Iowa.

“I’m convinced it’s a viable product in the best conditions, but I wanted to see if it’s a viable product in the worst conditions,” Downs said. “And I think we’ve proven that.”

For the last month or so, the Street Charge station in downtown Cedar Falls has been exposed to ice, snow, salt, punishing 50-mile-per-hour winds and below-zero temperatures blown on the frigid shoulders of historic arctic storms.

“It’s come through 100 percent, though the metal tips of some of the chargers become corroded by salt,” Downs said. “I’m very satisfied with the testing.”

Whether or not the station gets much use from passersby under such harsh conditions is another matter.

“I wouldn’t call it high volumes, because of the weather,” Downs said.

His spirits aren’t dampened. The Street Charge at the corner of Main Street will be taken down in the first few weeks of February, but will be rolled out again some time during the summer.

Having already sold four units to amusement parks across the country, Downs hopes to market the units to local businesses. The solar charging stations could be fitted with revenue-generating ads from area sponsors, and might serve as an attraction to local storefronts some day.

“As long as people are going outside downtown it’s an opportunity to stand and charge your cell phone,” Downs said.

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