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Solarbox: Greening London’s Red Phone Booths

By Adriano Pilloni | Energy, Urban Design

Manufacturers continuously work to create innovative solutions that benefit our lives and shape our surroundings. It’s a rare occurrence however, when a business succeeds in developing a service that gives a new purpose to an iconic but rarely used symbol, such as the London red phone boxes, reshaping it’s function altogether.

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Solarbox in green compared to London’s iconic red phone booths. Image via Huffington Post.

Harold Craston and Kirsty Kenney, graduates of London School of Economics, did exactly that with Solarbox. Solarbox looks like a traditional English phone booth but instead of being red, it’s green and most importantly, it can be used by Londoners to sustainably recharge their smartphones for free. In fact, the solar panel mounted on its roof generates all the energy it needs to work, and the advertisements displayed on the inside screen fund the business.

Solarbox: Solar Powered Phone Booth

The solar powered phone booth service is open between 5.30am and 11.30pm and it can charge up to 100 phones per day. It’s capable of delivering a 20 percent battery boost in 10 minutes.

As runners up in Mayor’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur competition, the two inventors received £5.000 ($8.000), which they used to fund their startup costs, plus a mentorship placement which helped them launch the project in the streets of London.

The first Solarbox solar powered phone booth was unveiled in early October in Tottenham Court Road in central London. Presently six old phone booths are receiving a makeover to become new Solarboxes. This product is also appealing for investors who highlighted how it has low operating costs and the initial investment can be recovered shortly (within approximately three months).

This wasn’t the first time someone found a new use for phone booths. For example, few years ago Spectrum Interactive converted 1,800 of them into wi-fi hotspots that provide a free internet connection. But what differentiates the innovativeness of Harold and Kristy’s solution is the use of clean technology to improve London’s urban sustainability.

Innovation and Sustainability: Key Elements for Success

According to Kristy’s interview on Wired UK, their idea “was born out of our interest in the use of public space and renewable energy and is all about providing a service that people really need. We’ve all been caught out — phone battery life just can’t keep up with the pace of our modern lives.”

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The solar panel roof of the Solarbox. Image via Inhabitat.

Even the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, appreciates their innovation. “In our modern world, where hardly any Londoner is complete without a raft of personal electronic gizmos in hand, it’s about time our iconic phone boxes were updated for the 21st Century, to be more useful, more sustainable, and just as striking with a marvelous new green makeover,” said London’s Mayor on Wired UK.

It’s important to remember that Solarbox is just one of many examples that show of how it’s possible to innovate and develop sustainable solutions. Contests oriented to promote the sustainable entrepreneurship, such as the “Mayor’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur competition”, provide economic boosts to these innovations through mentorship, funding, visibility and support. Moreover, these competitions are important because they raise awareness for future entrepreneurs about these issues, encouraging them to think about innovations that provide benefits for people and for the planet. Furthermore, the high visibility of these sustainable innovations can motivate people to create innovations that matter.

Feature Image: London’s traditional red phone booth compared to Solarbox solar powered phone booth in green. Image via ValueWalk.com

About The Author

Adriano Pilloni
Adriano, 25 years old, is a Master Graduate in Environmental Economics and Development from Rome Three University (Italy). During his education he developed a deep knowledge on Economics and a keen interest on Economic Theory with particular regard to energy markets, sustainability, environmental and agricultural issues. He has been proactive during his university time doing many projects and being elected by the students as Advisor of the Economics Dept. of his University. With two other students he developed a project on Food Sustainability which has been selected in the top 30 of the international Barilla contest "BCFN YES! 2013". He did the 2014 European edition of Extreme Blue, IBM's premier internship program for both graduate and undergraduate students. Now he is working as Junior Power and Gas Analyst at GDF SUEZ Italy.