Sci-fi street light
But new Buhr Park fixture, powered by wind and solar energy, is anything but fiction

Monday, May 26, 2008 [pp. C1 et seq.]
The Ann Arbor News

The gizmo atop the utility pole near the Packard Road entrance to Buhr Park looks more like something from science fiction than a commonplace utility device.

It's a hybrid solar-wind-powered streetlight, which the city installed last month.

It's topped by a wind turbine and two solar panels, and contains a battery to store that energy, said city Energy Coordinator David Konkle.

The streetlight was installed after Mojtaba Navvab, University of Michigan associate professor of architecture, contacted Konkle in March to discuss installing the light which a Jackson company had made using plans from Navvab's Sustainable Design Research Lab.

Navvab said he immediately thought the city might want the light after his lab determined it functions properly.

"In architecture these days, sustainability is a very hot topic,'' Navvab said. "We're trying to demonstrate to the public at large that there is a very strong possibility of utilizing not only wind but also solar (power).''

The Buhr Park location was chosen because of its public visibility and its need for more illumination, Konkle said.

"We've got these really strong renewable energy goals here at the city, so ... (the streetlight) was certainly of interest to us,'' Konkle said.

The 70-watt, 24-volt light can store 100 amp hours at 24 volts in its two batteries. It only turns on at night and is as bright as a normal streetlight, but more energy-efficient, Konkle said.

The light uses induction technology, which means the power needed to generate it is transferred from the outside of the lamp via electromagnetic fields. Its life expectancy is about 22 years, Konkle said.

Navvab, who has been working for years on renewable, alternative light sources and using natural resources for energy, said an added advantage of induction lighting is that it's easier on the eyes at night.

"It's not only environmentally friendly, but you have to think of the human aspects of it in terms of vision,'' said Navvab.

Full Spectrum Solutions, which manufactured the light, donated it to the university, which in turn gave it to the city at no charge, Navvab and Konkle said. It cost the city about $1,800 to erect.

"Other than the cost of putting it up there, it's not going to cost us another cent for a long time,'' Konkle said.

The streetlight allows the city to take another small step toward its renewable energy goal, Konkle said. Ann Arbor aims to have municipal operations running on 30 percent renewable energy by 2010 and about 20 percent of the entire community on renewable energy by 2015.

It's not yet clear where renewable-energy streetlights will fit into that picture, Konkle said.

"Right now, we're in the learning stage,'' he said. "We haven't even looked at the economy of it. We just want to see if it's a reliable form of lighting.''

Reporter Amanda Hamon can be reached at 734-994-6852 or

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