Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Solar power provides safe Steinbach crossings

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The sunny side of the street just got a little sunnier in Steinbach thanks to solar energy.

The City of Steinbach unveiled the newest of its four solar-powered crosswalks this week, just in time to help usher kids as they return to school.

Besides stealing the sun's rays to generate free electricity, the system costs just $14,000 per crosswalk, versus $75,000 to $80,000 for electrical systems. The latter include the cost of overhead mast-arms while the Steinbach systems use tower posts.

However, Steinbach's systems are completely wireless. That's where the real savings come in. There's no breaking up concrete to install underground wiring.

The lights communicate with each other via radio frequency. A single solar panel generates about 20 watts to power lights on a pedestrian corridor.

"It's an evolution in thinking," said Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen.

Steinbach is growing rapidly at a rate of about 750 people per year, and its population now tops 15,000. Two crosswalks went up this week along McKenzie Avenue to flank Steinbach Regional School to the east and west. The school's population of 1,200 students will swell to 1,600 once an expansion that's underway is completed. The crosswalks span a divided four-lane thoroughfare.

"We're looking for innovative ways to cut costs and improve safety. This is one of those little things," said Goertzen.

Use of solar power in lighting isn't new, but developments in recent years have boosted power output, making systems more applicable to colder Prairie climates, said Valerie Foster, sales manager of JSF Technologies, which manufactured Steinbach's systems.

JSF is based in Victoria. B.C., where about 300 of its solar-powered crosswalks have already been installed. About 90 per cent of its sales are to the U.S., which has adopted solar energy more quickly than Canada, said Foster.

All of Winnipeg's pedestrian corridors are powered by hydro only, a city spokeswoman said.

The city has 161 pedestrian corridors that light up when a button is pushed. It has another 80 standard pedestrian crosswalks and nearly 300 school crosswalks that do not have lighting. Winnipeg is not looking at installing solar-powered crosswalks at this time, the official said.

Steinbach first tested one of the crosswalks 18 months ago. "It still has the original battery in it," said Randy Reimer, director of public works. The pilot project stretched over two winters without incident, except for a vehicle that slammed into one of the poles. Autopac covered the replacement.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2013 A7

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