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Solar-Powered Fixtures Are a Reliable Source of Community Lighting, Safety Monitoring, and Emergency Response Support

Image courtesy of Recovered Energy Technologies

The phrase “solar panels” likely brings to mind an array spread across a residential rooftop, or a larger one deployed in a sunny field. Photovoltaic (PV) systems have been in use for decades, and can provide electrical power for a home or business, or contribute to the energy supply needed to power an entire neighborhood. These deployments represent a significant step in reducing reliance on fossil fuels on a macro level.

Now some companies are providing fixtures that run on solar energy on a more micro level, such as streetlights and municipal monitoring stations for air quality, traffic patterns, safety tools, and water filtration. These companies work with governments, utilities, and developers to provide a number of benefits, including the potential for operation 100 percent of the time, eco-friendliness, and support for efficiency standards.

How a Solar-powered Streetlight Works

Most solar-powered streetlights are simply designed with a solar panel, a battery, a luminaire, and an electronics package that supports the software that regulates the amount of light produced. For example, if the software senses the battery is less than 100 percent charged, it may reduce the lighting to 94 percent to ensure the battery retains enough charge to keep the light on continuously. With this process, the streetlights are completely autonomous.

The software also provides updates via Wi-Fi to a management system, which notifies the vendor if there’s a problem with the fixture.

To ensure the streetlights can get enough sun in shady areas, the poles must sometimes be built to a height that’s above the tree line, according to Brad Carlson, Principal at Recovered Energy Technologies. He notes, “Solar-powered streetlights can work anywhere, including snowy climates and those that experience extreme heat, as long as we engineer the battery to work with it based on the number of solar hours the location gets during the day.”

Solutions for Utilities, Developers, and Municipalities

Utilities benefit from this technology because it enables them to build lighting in areas where they might not be able to otherwise, such as college campuses, or rural places where it’s harder to install wired infrastructure. Additionally, utilities can offer leasing programs so developers and municipalities can pay for the lighting fixtures on a month-to-month basis rather than taking on the burden of installing and maintaining them. Utilities can also use solar lighting technology as a backup for wired streetlights, to avoid blackouts.

Developers and other entities, such as governments and commercial operations, can independently install solar streetlights as well. Carlson observes, “Developers’ biggest complaint is the length of time it takes to get photometric studies done. We can help them move construction forward more quickly, and avoid the costs of underground electrical infrastructure.”

The Future of Solar-powered Fixtures

The technology used in solar-powered streetlights can be deployed for other uses, including monitoring traffic or pedestrian patterns within a smart city platform, aiding in water filtration, and maintaining equipment health within a variety of industries. Essentially, the combination of solar power and Wi-Fi access can turn these fixtures into communication hubs within a community. With any of these uses, the system provides regular information updates to a central maintenance facility that users can monitor via smartphone.

Carlson explains that the technology can serve to improve not only convenience, but emergency response. “After Hurricane Maria,” he says, “solar-powered lights were the only ones still working. This technology can be used to set up emergency lighting and Wi-Fi hotspots following a natural disaster. Then, when power is restored, you can take down the equipment and store it or deploy it for other uses.”

What is your experience with solar-powered fixtures? Please share in the comments.

Karen Marcus's picture

Thank Karen for the Post!

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