City seeking feedback on solar project
El Camino Real, a historic road that runs nearly the full length of California’s coastline, is making history again for its role in a six-month pilot project being conducted by the City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU). In partnership with energy technology provider Petra Systems, CPAU recently installed a string of nine smart solar streetlights along “The Royal Road.”
The installation is testing the potential to generate renewable energy on streetlight poles. Solar photovoltaic, or PV, modules placed high on the poles capture the sun’s energy and send it to the city’s electric grid. The technology could help transform ordinary streetlights into a network of distributed solar power generating assets.
Taking community’s pulse
The PV-fitted streetlights are located along a well-trafficked mile of El Camino Real. Interpretive signs in the area educate passers-by about the technology. “The pilot project area runs right by Stanford University, as well as soccer fields and parks, so residents will see what we are doing and be able to form an opinion about it,” noted CPAU Communications Manager Catherine Elvert. “We are encouraging community members to provide feedback through an online survey.”
The survey asks questions about residents’ support for CPAU increasing the use of solar power, and allows them to express concerns about aesthetics, light quality and other issues. “The customer response to these modules can help us gauge how aggressively to pursue this type of local generation,” Elvert added.
CPAU is engaged in several local solar initiatives as part of its ongoing commitment to invest in clean energy resources.
Innovating through partnership
Through its Program for Emerging Technologies, the municipal utility is able to “test drive” systems that may improve operations, create jobs and boost the sustainability of CPAU’s generation portfolio. Launched in 2012, the program seeks out and nurtures creative products and services that manage and better use electricity, gas, water and fiber optic services.
Partnering with high-tech companies keeps the cost of innovation down. The El Camino Solar Test project will increase Palo Alto’s renewable energy production at no cost to the city. Petra Systems offered CPAU the solar modules to evaluate their performance over the six-month pilot duration. The nine units are estimated to have a total nameplate capacity of about 2.25 kilowatts, with each solar module expected to produce 374 kilowatt-hours per year. That electricity is enough to power the equivalent of two streetlights, making the LED, or light-emitting diode, streetlights net producers of electricity.
Improving service, lowering costs
Project Manager Lindsay Joye pointed out that generation is just a small part of smart solar technology performance. “The technology goes well beyond self-powering to give the city greater control of its streetlight assets,” she said.
The modules are equipped with an LED light controller that allows the city to remotely turn streetlights on or off. The brightness of individual lights or groups of lights can be adjusted to accommodate the traffic levels in different neighborhoods, as well. On a citywide scale, the dimming function can provide even deeper energy savings from the already-efficient LED lamps, Joye noted.
The system offers additional features that can streamline maintenance and enhance public safety. The controller can flicker specific lights to help direct emergency response personnel when needed, and can notify the city immediately of a malfunctioning light, including the failure type and exact location. Elvert said, “If the city decides to expand the project, high-traffic roads and expressways would be good candidates for installations. With the smart-grid and remote control capabilities, there would be less need to put our crews in harm’s way.”