When winter finally relinquishes its stranglehold on Boston, the city’s spring, summer and fall afford residents beautiful weather in which to enjoy the outdoors. Nobody wants to soak up the sun or catch a cool breeze off Boston Harbor while having to worry about whether or not their phone is fully charged in order to move on to the next activity. One Greentown Labs startup has the answer.
Greentown Labs is a hardware-based incubator located in neighboring Somerville which houses next-generation green tech and clean energy startups. One of those is Sol Power LLC, which aims to bring secure and sustainable cell phone charging to an open space near you. Simply hook up your phone, lock it up and be on your way.
Ryan Wright, founder and CEO of Sol Power LLC, came up with the idea for solar powered cell phone stations while taking part in a leadership development program for a defense contractor. This afforded him the opportunity to pursue Babson’s MBA evening program in which, by a trick of fate, he turned his sights on harnessing solar energy.
“The final project was to create a sustainable business model and feasibility analysis,” he told BostInno over the phone. “It gained support from faculty who thought it might have some legs.”
One full business plan and a stint in Babson’s venture accelerator later, and Wright is already working on the locker-type stations.
As you can see in the photos, the charging stations are comprised of 15 lockers, each complete with chargers for various types of devices. The top-sitting solar panel allows the stations to run completely off the grid, which not only affords Sol Power to offer their lockers up free of charge, but also makes it possible for them to be deployed anywhere.
And don’t think that cloudy weather, fog or nighttime hours can keep you from juicing up your phone. There’s a backup battery system that allows the stations to operate around the clock.
You may have heard about innovations like seat-e, which sprang out of the MIT Media Lab, that offer a public rest area and outlet for charging. Sol Power’s product takes that concept one step further by giving the user the opportunity to roam freely without having to worry about guarding their device.
“People stay with the device for fear of theft, and there’s not a lot of charging capacity per station,” continued Wright. “Our stations can charge 15 devices simultaneously. You just plug into a station and can continue to enjoy the outdoors or grab a bite to eat. You can lock up your wallet and keys, too.”
Each lock box is outfitted with re-settable lock combinations so that there’s no need to worry about losing a key. But if the combination you set somehow slips your mind, there’s a master key available.
I know what you’re thinking. A no-charge, worry-free charging station like this has to be too good to be true, right? Wrong. There are no hidden charges or fees. It’s Sol Power’s business model, Wright tells us, that helps to set it apart even further.
“[We’re] figuring out the best way to monetize the stations. We’ll sell ad space for companies to sponsor each charging station, similar to the trash compactors in Boston,” he notes.
Boston is likely to be the lucky recipient of Sol Power’s charging stations once they officially launch, but they’ve already attracted interest from cities with more temperate climates. After all, “It’s a bit of a seasonal business up in Boston,” Wright reminds us.
But Boston is the best laid launching pad for now, due to the company’s proximity in nearby Somerville. The likes of Florida (chiefly South Beach), California and southern states are ideal for public charging, and it can occur year round. But island communities like Hawaii and the Caribbean which, on top of their tropical weather, are embracing sustainability more so than most.
Keep an eye out for Sol Power’s charging stations as the harsh weather continues to lessen. Wright didn’t clue us in on a hard launch date yet, but after touring Greentown recently alongside state Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman back in March and seeing the stations first-hand, it looks as though they’ll be taking in the rays alongside us in no time.