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Austin's Solar-Powered Kiosk Charges Phones, E-Bikes and Cars

The kiosk provides the city with a physical place that showcases how a smart city can assist different modes of transport using clean energy.

A solar-powered kiosk in Austin is more than just a place to recharge your cellphone. The charging station, known as Electric Drive, in Austin’s Seaholm EcoDistrict, is also a stop for bike-sharing, car-sharing, an access point for hiking trails and a place for giving your electric bike or scooter a boost as well.

“The kiosk is frequently used as a resting place in a busy part of town and provides outreach and education,” said Karl Popham, manager for Electric Vehicles and Emerging Technology at Austin Energy. “There is no fee to plug into the kiosk, and all power is generated from its rooftop solar panel, and stored via batteries within the kiosk.”

The Electric Drive kiosk also includes electric-vehicle charging capabilities, which can get EVs charged “in minutes as opposed to hours,” according to an Austin Energy project summary statement. That power, however, is generated from Texas wind farms.

The project is largely geared toward education and raising public interest about new forms of transportation and renewable energy. The kiosk joins Austin Energy’s Plug-In Everywhere network, an expansive infrastructure of more than 600 electric vehicle charging ports in the city. EV drivers can use these for only $4.17 a month. All of the charging ports are powered by wind energy.

“The bigger goal is to give a physical place where folks can see electric vehicles and charging, and how it plugs into a cleaner future,” said Popham. “The vision is to migrate the transportation section from fossil-fuel-based to renewable electric energy.”

The kiosk’s solar panels store power in a 300 amp-hour battery bank, which resembles a vintage gas pump. The kiosk station also includes bike racks, seating and tables built from reclaimed wood, lighting, and represents what officials call “an example of urban resiliency.”

Austin, with its significant tech industry employment base, is often seen as a leader in the smart city movement. Austin was selected as one of five cities during last year’s Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge, and became eligible for a host of products and services to help it grow its reach in areas such as Internet of Things technology, mobility and other areas. 

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.

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