Big and small, municipalities of all sizes are eyeing solar-powered LED lights, enticed by savings plus added safety and security. The lights are being utilized in a variety of settings, from pathways, residential roadways, public shelters and bikeways to parking lots and bus stops.
Philadelphia, Pa., recently installed flood-tolerant solar lighting on a boardwalk extension of the Schuylkill River Trail, used by tourists and residents alike for recreation. On a smaller scale, the hamlet of Swan Lake, N.Y., installed solar-powered LED lights in a popular pocket park to enhance security at night.
“We started Swan Lake Renaissance in 2004. Across the street from the park, there’s another project that we did by the waterfall and then we did the park the following year. The park was a success. Everybody uses it, it’s beautiful,” Nancy Levine, Swan Lake Renaissance officer, told the Eneref Institute, a research center that studies and reports on successful green building projects with the mission of helping advance socially responsible sustainable development. “People would go there at night, but it wasn’t lit. We have a boardwalk along the lake, and we have a gazebo near the lake. The only light we had was along the road — the light post along the road … that was it.”
Now that the lights are in place, Levine described the appearance of the park to Eneref Institute as “Oh, it’s gorgeous, it really is!”
Ilze Greene with SolarOne — a company based in Needham, Mass., specializing in commercial-grade solar lighting systems — noted the company sees municipalities turn to solar lighting for many reasons, including security.
“We see municipalities using solar lighting to enhance security in several ways. Solar lighting can be installed quickly in a remote or complex environment. Because of this, a dark corner or dangerous intersection can be illuminated with limited design work and with a minimum traffic and site disruption.
“As we have seen with recent storms, power outages can be a real threat to safety and security in an emergency scenario. Of course, solar lights stay on when the grid goes down. The lights provide welcome illumination to area residents or, as is the case for Harley Davidson in Ohio, they can be used as a rally point when buildings are evacuated.”
Greene stated they are particularly popular at unlit transit shelters, trails and recreation areas, which can act as magnets for non-riders and unauthorized activity. “Lighting, motion-activated or continuous, helps riders feel safer, discourages vagrancy and can help law enforcement identify suspicious behavior.”
Forks Township, Pa., population of about 8,419, is in the final stages of completing a $5.8 million public works facility. Director of Public Works Mark Roberts said it was decided to use six solar panel LED lights to illuminate the driveway and parking area.
“In the design of the facility, Forks Township wanted an environmentally friendly building. That was accomplished with a green roof, geothermal piping for the entire administration side and mechanics area, underground tanks for water runoff to be used for truck washing (and) water gardens that retain water on site for vegetation growth and LED lighting,” Roberts said.
With this in mind, it was a no-brainer for the township to go solar with LED lights. “The main reasons the township went with (solarpowered) LED lights along the driveway and parking areas was the initial cost savings in not (having to run) electrical lines for over 900 feet, less maintenance, the longevity of the LEDs and the bright lighting that they offer for driving and security reasons.”
The lights were installed in the fall of 2012, and to date no maintenance has been needed on the six fixtures or the solar panels.
“They come on as needed every evening at dusk and at day break. No timer is needed.” Even though construction on the public works facility took longer than expected. Roberts noted during the process no issues of vandalism occurred on site. He believes that was due to the lighting system in place.
For Parkland, Fla., it was all about the savings.
“We have them at our public works facility, Station 42 and Station 109,” said Director of Public Works Brian Archer. The lights take residence in the parking lots, with the city also using solar walkway lights in one of its parks.
Archer noted the startup cost might be higher than with regular lights, but solarpowered LED lights make up for it with energy savings. Greene noted on average each solarpowered LED streetlight avoids 175K WHRS per year. As far as maintenance goes, Parkland has only had to change out batteries.
Some municipalities, as was the case of Forks Township, can see savings in the install.
“Installing underground electrical for outdoor lighting equipment can cost more than the equipment itself,” said Greene. “The most obvious costs are trenching, conduit and wire but, depending on the project, costs can quickly escalate beyond those basics.” She said additional costs can include transformers, switchgear, deflection/expansion couplers, hard rock trenching, soil remediation, damage to other underground infrastructure, repaving and re-stripping and landscape repair.
Like with most things, it all comes down to location and circumstances where savings is concerned; however, the possible applications of solar-powered streetlights are multiplying. “Using advanced solar lighting controls and LED luminaires, solar lighting can provide solutions for a wide range of applications, including pathways, residential roadways, public shelters, bus stops and bikeways,” said Greene. “Lighting can be geared for the location, including using energy saving profiles that dim the lights late at night, brightening them if a motion sensor detects activity in the area.”
For additional case studies and resources about socially responsible sustainable development, visit the Eneref Institute website at www.eneref.org
Somerville, Mass., goes high-tech solar
Somerville, Mass., is partnering with SolarOne to execute a Massachusetts Clean Energy Center Grant project to expand the use of wirelessly networked solar lights. These lights, according to Ilze Greene with Solar-One, can be controlled wirelessly and send alerts for energy issues and/or if an alarm or sensor is triggered.
“Sensor alerts can protect the lighting system itself or can be used to alert authorities to activity in a specific area,” Greene said.
The lights can be brightened in groups, allowing more reliance on motion sensing and less on energy. Greene noted the site for the lights was intentionally shady. “SolarOne will deploy algorithms to orchestrate the usage of each light according to activity and available energy supply.” The lighting project was intended to be installed in January.