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Free Solar Electricity Service Could Unplug Electron Thievery

Coffee shops and retail stores still tolerate one of the last forms of socially acceptable stealing, to the relief of mobile users everywhere: electricity theft

More than half of Americans have smartphones, and many are as dependent on them as Caitlin MacCrate, 24, a student in New York. "I use it for everything, from my alarm clock, to my calendar, social connectivity, assignment tracking, to my to-do list. It's my all-encompassing tool," she said.

So when that battery indicator is close to empty, most of us wouldn’t have any compunction about plugging in at the next available socket, wherever we might find it. "It kind of defeats the purpose of being a mobile phone because it's no longer mobile,” MacCrate said. “It needs a wall.”

Electricity in the U.S. is just too cheap for electron-bootlegging to weigh on the conscience of the urban polite, or on the energy bills of global retail franchisees. A project unveiled yesterday in Brooklyn’s Fort Green Park would improve this informal culture of power sharing by giving away solar-generated electricity for free.

The park’s new Street Charge tower stands 12.5-feet tall and offers six USB charger ports and cables that allow mobile users to charge up as quickly as if they were at home (or at Starbucks).

The station’s three solar panels collect sunlight and hold enough charge to last three cloudy days.

The Fort Green Park charger will be followed this summer by others around New York City. Sponsored by AT&T, the tower was designed by the Brooklyn firm Pensa and Goal Zero, which makes portable solar-power systems. AT&T may expand this trial that ends in the fall, said Marissa Shorenstein, New York president of AT&T.

The towers will stay in place through the summer in high foot-traffic areas like the Brooklyn Bridge Park, Coney Island, Riverside Park, Rockaways, Summerstage in Central Park, Randall's Island, Governor's Island, Union Square and Hudson River Park, according to Goal Zero.

AT&T began working with designers on the project after its success offering mobile charging to people living in shelters after Hurricane Sandy, Shorenstein said.

Melanie Seastone, 32, dance teacher, eyed the Street Charge tower warily on Monday afternoon, as she considered the tower’s potential enabling of a less tolerable kind of thievery: "I would probably use it, but I'm a bit worried about someone trying to steal my phone."

Visit www.bloomberg.com/sustainability for the latest from Bloomberg News about energy, natural resources and global business.

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