Marshall News Messenger – Celebrating the Sun 6/20/2010

Terri Richardson <trichardson@marshallnewsmessenger.com>
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Solar power continues to grow in popularity and using solar energy is a mainstay for products created at Marshall’s Electrotechnics Corporation (ELTEC), 1310 Commerce St., which manufactures a variety of traffic systems.

“We have been working with solar for 20 years. In 2000, we probably sold 100 systems compared with the 600 sold this year,” said ELTEC President Bill Marshall.

This weekend, businesses and individuals across the nation are celebrating SolarDay, which was founded in 2009 to increase awareness of the benefits of solar energy. Benefits include creating sustainable lifestyles and businesses as well as the adoption of green and clean-technology.

“The premise of SolarDay is simple: a national day of recognition for solar, energy independence and protection of the planet,” according to the SolarDay Web site.

A young holiday, SolarDay began in 2009 and is celebrated the weekend before June 21, the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year. This year it was celebrated June 19, according to www.solarday.com.

The popularity of solar power is evident from its growth and the diversity of its uses.

ELTEC uses solar power in its traffic lights, warning beacons, school zone flashers, pedestrian crossings, industrial traffic lights and as a creative solution to virtually any other power requirement in remote places.

“Our solar business grows 10 to 20 percent over the previous year, and that’s not price appreciation affecting this,” added Marshall.

The cost for building these solar systems fell in some areas as the technology of the lower power LEDs (light emitting diodes) improved. The amount of solar and battery power needed to run the systems decreased.

“LEDs draw less power. I need less batteries and I need less solar panels,” explained Marshall. “The little LEDs are five watts, the bulbs used to be 30 watts, which used to be a lot of power consumption. Now it is down to five.”

ELTEC uses Kyocera solar panels, which come in different strengths measured in the number of watts they can generate. During the daytime, the solar panel powers the lights and also charges a battery for use at night.

Knowing how much solar power is needed for a system is as easy as running some figures through a computer program. The program was developed at ELTEC so that their solar systems could be made to handle most remote power needs.

“It’s a computer based program with the parameters. It allows us to design a system that will perform without failure,” said Marshall, who added that solar systems can use as many panels as needed to charge the batteries or to power the.

He displayed a photo of a system with eight, 135 watt panels, powering a series of traffic cameras, as an example.

“We just shipped an interesting system to the city of Philadelphia, Pa., where they had a faucet for sampling their water system and needed to power heat tape 24-hours a day in the winter time,” said Marshall.

ELTEC offers creative solutions to municipalities.

“If you tell us what the load is, we can size the system to determine the correct number of panels and the number of batteries,” said Marshall.

Marshall said the solar units are popular because their cost is all up front without the need to continually pay for powering them. Paying to extend conventional power lines is expensive and even more so when needed in remote places.

“Ease of installation is another reason people choose solar. The system is a pole with a cabinet and the area light. All you have to do is erect that right there, and you don’t have to worry about getting power run to it,” said Marshall. “There is no maintenance or utility charges.”

Solar systems are applied to “load operating beacons” which alert people to certain traffic conditions or traffic cameras, traffic counters and feedback speed limit signs.

Also included is a device, the brains, that control the charging of the battery. It is programmed to know when the sun is out, when to engage the solar panels.

“At night, it keeps it from trying to charge the battery from the solar panel,” said Marshall. “We could run these 24 hours a day if we wanted to.”

The batteries are made with a sealed gel absorbed into a fiberglass material with “no loose liquid in it” so does not spill if the battery is damaged.

Solar systems like this can run 24-hours a day and are generally sold for $3,000 each. Marshall began with the systems in the early 1990s and said there have been systems, built in Marshall, installed in cities in all of the lower 48 states, Hawaii and Canada.

“We’re increasing our distribution throughout the U.S.,” said Marshall. “We have added distributors in Utah, Alaska, Nevada and Minnesota.”

Some systems are self contained on a timer, but others can be managed from a control area for warnings.

“They use them in Wyoming when they have winter storms and they want to close the mountain passes,” said Marshall. “From a central location it can be radioed to activate the beacon saying ‘Road Closed’ and it will also close the gate. These have some conventional power and some solar power.”

One of ELTEC’s newest products is an Internet-based school zone time clock that is networked to radio signals to the flashers as to when they should be off or flashing.

“We think that is going to be really innovative technology in this industry,” said Marshall. “At a school zone, the clock turns the lights off and on. If it’s a Saturday or a holiday, it says ‘don’t come on’ or is on at the right time for an early dismissal.”

The new time clock is important for managing the power load and being able to activate the light systems for just the right amount of time each day.

They can be also found at pedestrian crossings, 24-hour warning beacons.

Another place ELTEC’s solar and light systems are useful is in industrial traffic where trucks and heavy equipment operators may have to wait in line. The signals reduce accidents and set expectations on the yard.

“At one steel mill, we went up and installed this system, and they called and said they needed another,” said Marshall.

At a waste management yard, the bulldozer operator controls a traffic light for those dumping from the bulldozer, Marshall said.

Discover more about solar energy and SolarDay at www.solarday.com, and for more information about ELTEC and its systems visit www.elteccorp.com