Nature Lights the Way

The students in Anna Loeb’s sixth grade science class squinted up at the high-tech turbines in John Jay's lower lot, carefully sketching what they observed in their notebooks. Each of the eight poles was topped with a fan and a solar panel as well as a streetlight.

Where did the energy go, the students wondered. The day was sunny and still. Why did some of the windmills turn slowly, and others not at all?

The new installation in John Jay’s transportation lot is the most recent step in KLSD’s commitment to renewable energy. The district bought the units from Aris Wind—a purchase that will pay for itself with the savings in energy. Each consists of a 30-inch wind turbine and an 80- by 40-inch solar panel on top of a 30-foot pole. The energy is stored in rechargeable batteries located in the poles.

“The new lights are completely independent from the power grid,” said Paul Christensen, director of facilities for KLSD. “Each pole’s solar panel and wind turbine charge the batteries that power its LED streetlamp. The result is improved illumination with zero increase in our electric bills. An additional safety feature is that during a power outage these new poles will provide light for our school bus drivers and our crew.”

Prior to the new lamp posts, an evaluation by the KLSD facilities department showed that not only was the lower transportation lot reliant on the spillover from the lights in the lot above, the upper lot was illuminated in an uneven manner. Correcting the lighting in both areas was the goal. Doing it sustainably created the teachable moments.

Anna Loeb’s sixth graders will return to John Jay’s new installation during their renewable energy unit later in the year. Jim Panzer’s Environmental Physics class at John Jay High School discussed the new lights as soon students as saw the wind turbines spinning. He plans to incorporate the design of the new lights into his class—specifically, how the arc of the sun and measurement of wind direction informed the lamp posts’ placement.

“Our parking lot lighting project will fit into larger energy reduction build-outs in the future,” said Christensen. “While we prepare for those bigger projects it is comforting to know that we have provided safety lighting where there was none and reduced our total energy use.”