Portable public solar power's future

Skagit Valley Clean Energy Collective


November 22, 2023

The ongoing emergence of low-cost energy technologies is leading to the development of a host of interesting systems that aren’t directly related to the large-scale electric grid. Read this asking yourself if and where the Town of La Conner might be able use the following.

It’s become possible to use a solar array (or a solar panel mounted on, or even wrapped around, the light pole) to charge batteries mounted in a street or parking lot pole during the day. This can provide enough energy to power an efficient LED light at night. LED parking lot and streetlights use up to 90% less energy than sodium vapor lights. They also provide better color rendering and don’t need to be replaced as often. However, their largest advantage can simply be that they can be positioned almost anywhere, without requiring underground wiring. Each situation requires its own financial analysis, but it’s becoming more common to find that a LED/solar/battery combination has a lower first cost than wired lights, in addition to lower ongoing energy and maintenance costs.

This concept can be expanded to small buildings as well. It is possible to build public bathrooms in remote locations, with lights and hot water, without having to extend electric wires hundreds or even thousands of feet from nearby roads.

Off-grid solar/battery combinations can be used to power other devices. Wireless Wi-Fi access points can be used to provide public internet in remote locations, without either power or communications wiring. This capability can be used for payment for parking; provision of always-updated maps and business directories for visitors or even powering a virtual visitor center. Information for tourists can be provided in multiple languages via a dedicated app or landing page which can showcase landmarks, tourist attractions, businesses, or even public restrooms. Bluetooth connections between power poles and roofs, along with occasional installation of signal boosters, can extend such a network to a whole town.

Universal public wi-fi access can also facilitate reporting of public service requests, ranging from street maintenance to emergency service calls. Smartphone apps can be set up to log on to the public Wi-Fi, with provisions for people using the app to call for fire, police or ambulance service, or to take and send a picture of something requiring public works attention, like a burned-out streetlight or a pothole.

Solar-powered public trash cans can be used to compact public garbage, minimizing the number of trips garbage trucks have to make to serve specific locations. Park benches can even be created with built-in solar panels, batteries and USB ports, to offer park visitors cell phone charging without having to run and maintain wires throughout the park.

Even public art installations can benefit from small-scale off-grid energy. Visual art displays, including paintings, photographs, sculptures and water features in public spaces can be lit or powered by solar energy during the day and by stored solar energy at night. Solar panels and batteries can also support lighting and sound systems for outdoor events and performances. At large-scale venues like The Gorge, large, completely silent, lithium-ion battery systems (sometimes charged at a different location before the concert) are starting to replace noisy fueled generators.


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