March 07, 2018

Eastern Michigan University installs solar lighting panels at bus stops

New feature at AAATA stops promotes safety and security while saving energy
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YPSILANTI – Bus riders on the Eastern Michigan University campus will enjoy a new level of lighting at ten public bus stops as a result of installation of solar panels.

EMU’s Physical Plant is installing the panels at the various AAATA (The Ride) bus stops that line the perimeter of campus in order to provide better lighting during the evening hours.

The University has already installed panels at seven locations, and plans three more. The cost of the solar panels is $14,000.

Dieter Otto, director of grounds, custodial services and parking at EMU, says the panels offer improved and more direct lighting around bus stops, creating a more inviting environment at night while preserving EMU’s ongoing goals of being cost efficient and reducing its carbon footprint.

The bus stops serve a variety of AAATA routes that pass by or through campus, including the Route 41, the shuttle between campus and the College of Business, along with several routes that connect Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. Those include Route 4, which runs along Washtenaw and Cross Street; Route 3, which runs along Huron River Drive; and Route 5, which runs along Cross Street.

Solar panels use the sunlight as a source of energy to generate electricity.

According to Bilal Sarsour, EMU director of facilities, here is how they work:

• The solar panels are actually comprised of small units called photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight (photons) to electricity (voltage). Each PV cell is basically a sandwich made of two slices of semi-conducting material, usually silicon, that create an electrical charge when exposed to sunlight.

• Solar panels work by allowing photons or particles of light to knock electrons from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. The energy is stored in the battery assemblies, to be utilized at night. Occupancy sensors on the bus stops help use the stored energy efficiently.

The panels complement the University’s continuing sustainability efforts, the most recent of which is the activation in February 2018 of the new energy saving, 55-ton cogeneration system, which will supply approximately 98 percent of the heat and 93 percent of the electricity to Eastern's 800-acre campus.

Cogeneration is a combined heat and power system that uses one fuel source, in this case natural gas, to simultaneously produce electricity and steam heat. 

At a project cost of $19.6 million, the new cogeneration system replaces a 29-year-old co-generation unit that ceased operations in April 2016. The older, less efficient unit supplied about 50 percent of EMU’s electricity and heat.

The project will achieve annual net energy savings to the University of more than $2.8 million, or more than $50,000 a week, creating a return on investment in just under nine years.

The new panels are also the latest addition to a variety of new lighting projects completed in recent years around campus in order to continue to improve safety and security.

Those enhancements include lighting along Huron River Drive, on the north end of campus; lighting on Oakwood Street, on the western border of campus; and a variety of interior lighting projects, including the main campus mall sidewalk that runs from Cross Street to the Pray Harrold hill.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest university in Michigan. It currently serves 20,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

Contact Geoff Larcom, glarcom@emich.edu, 734.487.4401

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