New technology turns streetlights into mini power plants

New technologies are available to save money and help build a sustainable future with off-grid, wind and solar powered streetlights.

When most people think of energy efficiency and reducing their carbon footprint through lighting, they often think of converting to LEDs and utilizing occupancy sensors and timers. These modifications not only reduce costs, they are more environmentally friendly.

But there are even better options available. Because of the time and expense involved in underground trenching and wiring, many situations can arise where installing new LED lights would still be cost prohibitive and energy intensive.

However, a new technology is available that requires no exterior wiring and runs entirely on renewable energy—releasing no carbon emissions whatsoever. It is a hybrid wind and solar powered streetlight and mini-power plant, also known as a remote power unit. Because the small wind turbine and solar panel with battery backup typically produce more energy than is necessary to light the LED lamp, this new off-grid technology is able to put that auxiliary power to use in other ways.

The RPU powers its own internet connection, for example, allowing for remote monitoring and control. USB charging stations can also be installed on the unit. Security cameras and weather sensors are also in development.

The RPU can be installed where there is no grid—underground or overhead—so it can be viewed as a totally independent system. When the grid goes down, the RPU stays up.  So not only can the RPU help its customers avoid trenching and reduce their carbon footprint, it can also serve as a meeting point in case of a blackout. It could become a security muster station in the event of a disaster and provide people a well-lit place to congregate.

Another top benefit of the RPU is its optics. When a major technology college in Chicago needed to light one of its walkways, it turned to the RPU because of its conspicuous green energy look. In fact, behind the walkway on the campus is a net-zero gymnasium whose roof is covered by solar panels. The school wanted its sustainability efforts known but the unseen panels were not helping to achieve this. Today, the college’s visitors comment on the RPUs before realizing the rooftop solar is also in place.

Off-Grid RPUs have recently been installed in five Chicago area public schools, as well, a project that was driven by Commonwealth Edison. Commenting on their performance during some harsh Chicago winter conditions, it was noted “…the RPUs operated through the frigid polar vortex without any problems, it was business as usual.”

With other major installations in New York school districts and hospitals such as Dobbs Ferry Middle School/High School, Jacobi Medical Center and Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, companies that sell this technology are now ramping up efforts with New Jersey businesses and are actively pursuing public-private partnerships. One corporate client was Avalon Bay Communities, in Washington D.C.; and currently an international bank is exploring a public-private partnership that would place RPUs in several prominent New York waterfront locations.

The off-grid RPUs can be applied in many different lighting venues: parking areas, walkways, parks and recreation areas or where gaps exist in current lighting patterns.

Other cutting-edge renewable energy technologies that can help reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions are advanced micro combined heat and power solutions to power buildings using both solid oxide fuel cells and reciprocating engines. On the fuel cell side, the lead supplier of the SOLIDpower BlueGen fuel cell in the U.S. recently launched an aggressive outreach program in New York and New Jersey.

“The BlueGen represents next generation fuel cell technology, bringing a modular distributive energy resource to the market,” said one long-time industry veteran, “It also brings a unique diversity of applications spanning from residential, small to medium businesses, to multi-family, Class A commercial real estate and niche applications like data centers.”

Because the SOLIDpower technology is classified as a renewable resource, it is eligible for the federal solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which is 30 percent in 2019. Utilities are now offering their own financial incentives to deploy CHP & fuel cell technologies because they can reduce demand and carbon emissions, while offering reliable power to customers. The BlueGen achieves net electric efficiency of 60 percent and its ability to recover the heat enables overall energy efficiency to reach 90 percent. BlueGen is already a proven technology across Europe and Asia, with over 20 million safe and reliable operating hours across over 1,000 installations.

With the RPU, BlueGen fuel cell, and Yanmar CHP, companies are advancing their mission to build a sustainable future through a multi-pronged approach that includes reducing greenhouse gases, shrinking consumer energy bills and protecting our natural resources for future generations.

By Jake Whitney, Northeast Regional Business Manager for Aris Energy Solutions and Sandy Stead, Sales Representative for Aris Energy Solutions     

Aris Energy Solutions was launched six years ago with an ambitious mission: help build a sustainable future. Founded by executives from the distributed power, logistics, construction, and electric utilities industries, in 2013 Aris unveiled the Remote Power Unit (RPU) — an off-grid, wind and solar powered streetlight. The RPU is not only capable of sustainably powering its own light but is also able to host other features, such as USB charging stations, security cameras, air quality sensors, and M2M communication.  

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