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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Don't Blink: There's a Whole Lot of Solar Lighting Going on

Last week, I spoke with Moneer Azzam, president and CEO of SolarOne Solutions in Needham, Massachusetts. SolarOne makes solar powered street lamps and other solar powered outdoor lighting. Every SolarOne lamp is a self-contained lighting system that functions independently of electrical grids.

Developing Nations/Rural Communities Will Leapfrog. As with cell phones, the lamps allow communities and regions with minimal or no grids to leapfrog over the “grid-wired” stage of technological development. I’ve spoken with former Peace Corps workers in rural Mali who described the life style revolution ten years ago from no phones  to cell phones for almost everybody. Truly empowering. Will SolarOne and its direct competitors effect a similar sea change in lighting? Prepare for transformed nightscapes and accompanying changes in life style—from predominant darkness to illumination—in places like rural Africa. In many ways, it's a new-tech recapitulation of the Edisonian liberation  of nighttime over 100 years ago in the Western world.

SolarOne style lighting is just as timely for green-minded developed nations. The company's streetlamps employ efficient white LEDs that illuminate desired areas without spillover (i.e., wasted light) into undesired areas. Their reduced energy requirements (no secondary lenses) allow for smaller solar panels and need fewer batteries. Each lamp's performance is "metabolized" by proprietary technology that uses tracking and algorithms to manage the fixture’s light output. That allows for adaptation to low-power input conditions, including cloudy days and sandstorms.

Light in the Desert.The company's lamps recently passed muster in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates. Masdar is touted as the world’s first zero-carbon footprint city. The SolarOne system won the day after a sandstorm followed by several cloudy days knocked out the rest of the solar-powered competition under evaluation. The company's self-contained street lamps kept on shining.

Such lighting also has security cred. Knock out a grid and you deep-six a community’s lights. Knock out a gridless street lamp and you knock out a gridless street lamp.

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