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Classic red phone boxes solve modern dilemma for mobile users

SolarBox-overview-140pLondon’s disused red phone boxes will be given a new lease of life thanks to a novel idea by two enterprising LSE students.

Kirsty Kenney and Harold Craston have been awarded £5000 by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to fund a pilot study transforming the boxes into free, solar-powered mobile phone charging kiosks.

The solarbox initiative could solve a modern day dilemma for thousands of Londoners who frequently find themselves with a dead mobile battery on a city street with no means of charging it.

It will also give the iconic phone boxes a new practical function, while promoting the value of renewable energy and hopefully reducing existing vandalism of the boxes.

The proposal was awarded runner-up this month in a mayoral competition attracting more than 200 applications from young entrepreneurs to find the best low carbon initiatives and help reduce London's CO2 emissions by 60 per cent before 2025.

Harold-and-Kirsty-140pKirsty and Harold, both final-year BA Geography students, will supplement their prize winnings with an existing £4000 grant from UnLtd to trial a solar box in Camden this August.

Based on intensive tests carried out by an engineer, it will take users only several minutes to charge a mobile phone battery by 10 per cent (slightly longer for iPhones). The solar panel will be able to charge up to 100 phones a day, all year round, as well as provide electricity to the screen.

The venture will be funded via advertising and short film viewings within the phone box interior, with the cost of installing the solarbox expected to be recouped within three months.

“The actual charging process will be free, but advertisers will have a captive audience for several minutes so it is a win-win situation for both parties,” Harold said.

In terms of the environmental cost, the technology will be carbon neutral within four years.

The students pitched their concept to a high profile judging panel at London City Hall in late May after reaching the final 10 from an application pool of more than 200 projects. They were narrowly beaten by a team from Imperial College who have developed an online electricity marketplace that connects producers and consumers.

“We know our concept will work because we have done our homework and tested both the marketplace and the practical application of solarBOX,” Kirsty said.

The duo has worked closely with Camden Council, British Telecom, an experienced engineer and investors to get the wheels in motion. They have also received extensive support from LSE’s Entrepreneurship team, including being mentored on legal aspects of the project.

“LSE Entrepreneurship have been fantastic and assisted us with so many issues. The networking events in particular have been a brilliant opportunity to meet new, like-minded people and take advantage of free legal expertise,” Kirsty said.

Follow the duo’s journey @solarboxlondon .

Additional notes

Both Kirsty and Harold are Honorary Students (the highest award that the Student Union can bestow for outstanding contribution). Harold is the outgoing Athletics Union President and Kirsty has been involved in four societies and runs an LSE-funded programme with former youth offenders. 

June 6 2014