March 16 – The University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus will be on the cutting edge of sustainable energy technology come Wednesday, when it is to unveil its new solar-powered outdoor lighting system, university officials and energy experts said on Tuesday.
The 72 self-sustaining outdoor lights require no outside wiring or energy source other than the sun — and could save UVI thousands of dollars in electricity costs, Patrice K. Johnson, UVI public relations director, said.
"We expect that this is just the beginning of great things to come," Johnson said, alluding to recent UVI research into wind-powered technology.
Onaje Jackson, spokesman for Sustainable Systems and Designs, a St. Croix-based company that consulted with UVI on the project, said the solar lights should pay for themselves in two years. "You never see an energy bill for 28 years," he said, putting the life span of the lights at 30 to 40 years.
Solar power is erroneously characterized as being nice for the environment but not cost effective, and the program at UVI will prove that assumption false, Jackson said.
"You have plenty of sun [to run the lights] almost anywhere," he said. "These things would run in Seattle" — a city which averages more than 200 cloudy days per year.
The lights utilize a 26- or 48-watt fluorescent bulb surrounded by reflective material that produces light equal to a 120- to 150-watt incandescent bulb, Jackson said. They are powered by a small battery charged by a solar panel. Bulbs last four to nine years and cost about $30.
Similar lights have been in use in a parking lot in Christiansted's historic district and outside the Sunny Isle shopping center. Jackson said the Sunny Isle location has become a meeting point for emergency personnel in the aftermath of hurricanes because the lights do not rely on the transmission of electricity by the Water and Power Authority.
Jackson also said the lights are designed to withstand winds up to 170 miles-an hour.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Kristen Casper said by moving to clean, renewable energy sources, the university joins the ranks of the nation's most progressive schools, including the huge University of California system, which has pledged to use renewable energy for 20 percent of its needs by 2017.
"It's not about the size [of the school]," Casper said. "It's about the commitment."
She predicted that in 10 years every college and university in the nation will utilize some sort of renewable energy.
"I think UVI is cutting edge going ahead with this, but it's a growing trend," she said.
Peter Abrahams, director of UVI business and facility services, said the project fits perfectly with the mission of the V.I. Energy Office. "One of the benefits is to show people what solar power can really do in a large institution," he said. "When you actually come out and see what our solar lights can do, you're surprised."
The lights were made possible by a $275,575 grant awarded in October 2002 from the U.S. Department of Energy through the Planning and Natural Resources Department.
Victor Somme III, director of the Energy Office, said the project is exactly the sort of project his office looks for: something that promotes energy efficiency in an area that benefits the public.
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