Telecomms provider AT&T has partnered with portable solar power systems developer Goal Zero and Brooklyn design studio Pensa for the roll out of Street Charge public solar charging stations in New York. Each station is topped by PV panels that charge up a powerful internal battery to provide smartphone and tablet users with a free juice up. The first units debuted at Riverside Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Fort Greene Park and Governor's Island on June 18, and will be followed by another 20 or so stations in the coming months.

The original Street Charge station concepts were designed in early 2012 by Pensa as, according to the group's Marco Perry, "an elegant all-in-one community solution for solar charging of mobile devices." Development sketches then became working prototypes. One sported an LED street lamp with a PV panel on top, and another was created in collaboration with the Dumbo Business Improvement District with solar panels above sun umbrellas for use in a cafe setting. Perry told us that the umbrellas are still in use today.

Pensa teamed up with Goal Zero for the final design, which has an aluminum facade with a steel core. At roughly standing height, small wooden-topped shelf tables fan out from the center like leaves from a flower stem. Sprouting from underneath a lip at the inner edge of each table are USB and micro USB cables, along with charging tips for popular specialist connections like Apple's 30-pin and Lightning. Three 15 W microcrystalline PV blades sit at the top of the unit, and included Lithium nickel manganese cobalt (or Li-NMC for short) batteries mean that the station can be used day or night.

The unit is completely stand-alone, so there's no sneaky leeching from the grid, and the developers reckon that the charge time from a Street Charge station will be about the same as when plugging into a wall socket.

"Users' devices are not pulling direct from the panels, the panels charge a 168 Wh Lithium Ion battery which then charges smartphones and tablets at the same rate as a wall outlet," explains Goal Zero's Mark Olson. "The panels are constantly charging that internal battery."

AT&T has committed to install a total of about 25 Street Charge stations across all five boroughs in the next few months, including Hudson River Park, Coney Island, La Tourette Golf Course, Rockaway Beach, Socrates Sculpture Park, and Orchard Beach.

Olson told us that Goal Zero will be partnering with third party maintenance companies, with personnel taking care of regular battery swapouts and monitoring for vandalism and repair. The company is also currently in talks about future Street Charge deployments in other municipalities, universities and outdoor spaces.

The charging station design is modular to fit the needs of local architects and developers, and also has the potential to host lighting, Wi-Fi hotspots or signage for directions or advertising. Units are best positioned in bright sunlight, but can still harvest energy on cloudy days.

Sources: Goal Zero, Pensa, AT&T