Susan Levi & Associates is a consulting firm specializing in the formation and administration of Business Improvement Districts (BID’s) throughout the City of Los Angeles
Ms. Levi presented to several BID Board of Directors the idea of installing gateway signs for identification in 3 areas: the Hollywood Media District, The Northridge Oasis, and Encino Commons BIDs. Each sign is of its own variation in scale and design. These signs are to be installed in the public right of way with only the Encino Sign encroaching on private property, for which permission was granted. Ms. Levi strictly adheres to the City codes and regulations regarding BIDs, which must spend all funds to benefit the entire district and only in the public right of way.
After researching several sign companies, Ms. Levi found Ultrasigns to be the most experienced contractor in this area and each aforementioned Boards of Directors approved of the project(s). Ultrasigns then conducted a feasibility study for locations with the typical issues, such as underground utilities and primary power access to the sign for evening illumination. It was found that running power to the signs was extremely cost prohibitive so Ultrasigns recommended the facilitation of solar power as opposed to direct power. Unfortunately, the scale of the Encino Commons sign does not allow for solar power and will be hardwired into existing electrical with the consent of the property owner.
In these two cases, Northridge and Hollywood, the solar energy solution has three separate advantages that are completely non-related:
One advantage will be the energy savings by using low energy consuming LED’s and hence avoiding maintenance costs and power consumption. This would result in approx. $2,500 in yearly savings, due to the size of this job and the low amount of footage. In a larger type project there would be substantially more savings.
The second factor is the major undertaking to run Electrical power:
The Hollywood Media District sign was a challenge in many areas. The bureaucracy associated with permits, approvals from all entities involved, traffic control and coordination of sub contractors has been a long and tedious process. Once a location was determined, locating underground utilities was arduous due to poor records and an overall non-interest attitude from the various utility companies.
Due to the sign being illuminated, one of our concerns was getting primary power to the site. The sign is located in a sidewalk on public right of way. Our clients were determined to stay on budget, and the expense associated with tearing up sidewalk and trenching from the nearest transformer would have been approximately $35,000 dollars. Location of a meter pedestal and control panel was of concern for aesthetic and safety reasons. Our decision was to turn to solar collection panels and batteries for illumination. With everyone’s concern for energy conservation being at a peak and with today’s technological advances in this area, it was an easy decision for us to make. Cost of the of the solar system is about $5,990; about $30,000 less than going with conventional power, and still will save in electrical costs.
Also many of the California Power companies, publicly or privately owned, are giving incentives back to users who are utilizing energy conservative equipment or systems. For instance, in our own building we are tied to the power grid and by adding power to the existing power grid, we receive a major tax break on the property.
The third and most important advantage is the savings (or lets say the reduction) of use of electricity to avoid the need for more power. In reference to the greenhouse effect that Mr. Al Gore is talking about www.climatecrisis.net according to this documentary the more our appetite for energy grows, the more polluted the air will get, polluting the atmosphere, and in return creating the greenhouse effect that will warm the earth and melt the Glaciers world wide, leading to flooding and major catastrophes on earth.
Construction of the sign was not an easy process either. Engineering required a steel column with a caisson footing, but the cantilevered arm and cabinet needed to be aluminum. Aluminum was chosen for this part of the structure for several reasons. One was the decision to use the solar panels and batteries. The properties of aluminum are more suitable due to corrosion issues where the batteries are stored. The retaining method and framing of the solar panels are aluminum thus eliminating the dissimilar metals issue. Aluminum is lighter and eased some of the weight and moment issues from the point of attachment due to the cantilever. Rust issues in the future are eliminated as well.
Many different factors dictate the type of system needed for the job.
For instance, what part of the USA the project is going to be located, as some area don’t get as much sun as others, the frequency of bad weather, the duration, etc.
This project is in Southern California, obviously one of the best conditions for a solar driven unit.
By researching the net I found many useful sites that will show the location and it’s respective data; Latitude to decide on the mounting angle of the panel, as well as data and formulas that can help research and find all the needed information.
In this case, I used an existing solar energy calculator and integrated as a fill in the blank type questionnaire on our web page, under Solar @ www.ultrasigns.com
That will help anyone interested in a quick and simple calculation to know what size solar panels needed and how many batteries will be required to power and run a lighted sign for a specific application.
In bright, high-traffic areas of Los Angeles, such as Hollywood, the total footage required to light the letters and the logo was about 60 linear feet, or 200 modules @ 4 per foot. Each LED units draw about .36 watts for a total of 80-100 watts.
Basically the following are the variables one needs to research when finalizing the system needed.
- The Solar collectors are mounted on top of the sign facing south and tilted about 33 degrees (refer to chart)
- The solar collectors are collecting energy until the system uses them as a photocell to turn on the sign.
- The batteries are charging constantly until the time the sign lights up. They will start draining the energy measured on an hourly rate.
- The controllers will usually use the solar collectors to detect the light. When down to a certain output, the controllers assume that it’s night time and start lighting the sign. Some controllers are very elaborate and some are very simple in the sense that you can control the amount of hours you want the sign to stay on or off.
The chart in our web site will give you a fairly good idea of what you are going to need when designing a system.
For instance, in this project we had to make the side view of the pipe coming out on a more of an oval than round to create a platform for the solar batteries and the letters as shown in enclosed illustration.
The Solar panels come in different sizes and different power output.
The amount of hours and the days you require the sign to still light up in case of a major storm in the winter time will automatically increase the need for more batteries. Keep in mind additional batteries are not a simple solution, because hours and power per day are the only inputs you will be getting from your panels. For example if you are only adding 200 watts into the system and consuming equal amount, additional batteries will not help maintain black outs due to the anemic amount of energy coming in.
Throughout the web many sites help design and even recommend units in order to purchase the complete systems. My source was from a company in Colorado, Colorado Solar Electric. Eric Wahl, was very helpful. We paid about $ 2,150 for two (2) 110 w collectors made by Mitsubishi, Solar controller by Prostar and 4 batteries with 110a/h by Powerup Dry type one.
I personally like to know more about what I am dealing with and what we can provide to our clients. At the end of the day, say 10 years from now, we will still need to service and maintain our signs.
I started researching until I came up with my own combo type formula.
It simply gives a good starting point before designing a system, because physical constraints on each job will dictate where the panels are going to be mounted, how many batteries you will need and other relevant technical details.
For more information about SOLAR lighting solutions and your sign requirements, call us today.