UNC students are using umbrellas to charge their phones

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – Umbrellas have a few different uses, charging a phone has never been one of them – until now, thanks to students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Much like the flowers found throughout the university’s campus, the umbrellas students have been working on are also powered by the sun.


Unlike flowers, umbrellas are not commonly seen dotting college campuses.

“It’s something out of the ordinary. It’s very new, especially to the area,” said Charlie Egan, a UNC senior from Raleigh.

Solar collectors line the ribs on top of the umbrellas, eventually bringing the power of the sun to your phone.

“The eight different solar panels are all wired together to connect through the center of the pole,” Egan said. “The electricity generated by the installation from the sun will then be stored…in [a] battery charging station and allows you to plug in your USB port right there.”

Students are just beginning to learn about the existence of the umbrellas.

“I did not know about these,” said UNC junior Elizabeth Parry.

As students find out about them, they also realize how useful they are.

“It’s really helpful when you’re in between classes and I have to charge my phone,” said Morgan Newell, a junior at UNC.

“If I had my charger with me, I’d probably go inside somewhere and it’s great to be able to stay outside when it’s nice out and be able to charge your phone,” Parry said.

Egan led the project to bring 18 of the umbrellas to campus as part of the Renewable Energy Special Products Committee.

The group paid a company that makes them about $17,000 using student fees dedicated to green uses. The money covered about 75 percent of the total cost and various organizations paid the rest.

“They’re about $1,275 each, which is a little on the high end for an umbrella, but it’s paying for the little bit of electricity that you generate and really, it’s an investment for energy awareness,” said Egan.

The umbrellas have definitely brought some awareness to green energy on campus.

“I’m always for cleaner energy. I know that I’m giving back to the environment by not using fossil fuels, so that’s really nice,” Newell said.

In the future, the umbrellas could be found all over the place and not just on UNC’s campus, Egan said.

“I also could foresee it in public spaces, public areas in cities, anywhere where people are congregating, it’s a great solution.”

Newell agreed and said she sees a future where the umbrellas go beyond just charging a phone.

“[The umbrellas could be used] not for just charging your phone, but for everything – dorm rooms, classrooms, everything.”

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