When James Meringer’s commercial contracting business experienced a rapid increase in solar projects, he also saw an opportunity to extend the benefits of solar by using the bifacial solar panels he’d become familiar with in new ways. Bifacial solar panels enable sunlight from both sides of the panel, making it a more efficient harvest of solar power.
Seeing the panel’s power, James and his team set out to use the same technology for street lighting. Until now, solar street lights have served as utilitarian solutions that force designers to choose between form and function. The Mira Bella Energy team has changed that.
Mira Bella Energy had a unique panel designed to be mounted to street lights. The bifacial solar panel is mounted vertically, instead of being mounted to the top of the light pole as it is traditionally. Vertically mounting the panel allows it to capture both day and evening sunlight. The 5-foot panels look like fins and are designed to be wind-tolerant. Each has a lithium-ion battery stack in that pole for night. The batteries are good for 3,000 charging cycles, or around 8 years of use. This means that lighting can be completely removed from the grid, or a hybrid approach can be used.
To make the solution as smart, efficient and scalable as possible, Mira Bella Energy created an intelligent, bifacial solar powered lighting system by putting Internet of Things technology to work. To do this, each street light panel is also equipped with Digi XBee RF modules
, a X2/X4 gateway
and a connection to Digi Remote Manager
. The XBee collects and communicates information from the street light solar panel to the gateway, which sends the information to the cloud where it's accessible via a web dashboard.
“Our Santa Cruz solar street light product utilizes the Digi XBee module, a Digi gateway and Digi Remote Manager for control and communication. That’s what enables our product to participate in the Internet of Things,” said Mira Bella Founder James Meringer. “We used Digi products years ago with another company and always knew Digi would be one to watch for communications devices.”
This connected intelligence enables Mira Bella to put the Internet of Things to work with remote monitoring and management. Remote monitoring and management allows Mira Bella and end customers to utilize motion detection, manage light brightness, monitor the charge of batteries and to have a complete view into what type of solar harvest is being pulled from the panels at any point in time.
“With this technology were able to turn a panel into an intelligent solar panel system without adding a great deal of cost and complexity,” explained Mike Meringer, Mira Bella Energy.
Today, Mira Bella’s “Santa Cruz LED solar street light” is part of a pilot program for the Green Wharf initiative in Santa Cruz. The mission is for the whole initiative the wharf to move off of the grid and go to 100% sustainable, renewable energy.
“Initially, the thought was that solar wouldn’t work because of the birds. As the case with traditional solar street lighting solutions, they’d sit on top of the light poles and would need to be continuously cleaned,” Meringer said. “The vertical installation of the panel makes it much harder for that to happen. Mounted it on the Wharf, and it turned out great.”
The Mira Bella team sees how this system could be used for municipalities, commercial developments, corporate and college campuses.