Operator? Charge My Car Please.

So electric cars may be just around the corner -- but would you have guessed that we will be charging them at phone-booths?

There is a major push on now for countries and companies to corner the market on what will be a key part of tomorrow's mobility. Most recently, last week Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (who has recently taken over the EU's rotating presidency) announced that creating a unified EU strategy for the development of electric vehicles was going to be a a key economic and industrial priority during his term.

Now I've got to say that I'm not one hundred percent convinced by electric cars. They seem a bit like "light" cigarettes to me; no matter how you refine a car, single occupancy vehicles it will never equal the efficiency of public transportation. The type of fuel you use also has absolutely no impact on how long you get stuck in traffic on the way to work. But that said, I think they have their place – in particular for communities that are difficult to service with public transit.

But the car itself is only one half of the equation. For electric cars to be a viable option, cities will need to install charge-points. If you've ever watch a crew open up a city street to fix a broken pipe, you've seen the tapestry that's woven underneath the asphalt. Cutting into that mat of conduits for water, sewage, electricity, heat, and telecommunications to run new lines is expensive. Zapatero's announcement reminded me of an innovative Spanish plan to cut those costs in Madrid and other Spanish cities. Instead of building a charging network from scratch, the city of Madrid has teamed up with phone company Telefonica transform phone booths (underused since the transition to cellphones) into charging stations.

Telefonica alone has 60,000 telephone booths in Spain. If the trials in Madrid, Barcelona and Seville go well, the model could be easily applied to other cities both in Spain and abroad. It's a cool Dr.Who meets Back to the Future Moment, and a particularly nice example of the old technology shaking hands with the new.


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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

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