Solar Panel Use Spreading

By Chris McLoone, Associate Editor

More cities are enacting environmental ordinances to try to control pollution of all types and get “greener.” Lawrence, Kan., is one. It implemented a citywide policy that allows emergency response vehicles to continue idling only when necessary.

An example of an installed solar panel on a medic unit.“We would like our program to eliminate any idling directly related to the mobile data computers (MDCs) or the idea that the truck may not start when needed,” said Division Chief Bill Lark with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical.

His department is experimenting with solar panels to address the idling issue. Its program requires documented results before outfitting all apparatus in its fleet.

“Our central maintenance staff identified panels it felt would be best to install and maintain while keeping costs in line,” he said. “It is responsible for installing the solar panels and monitoring their performance.”

So far, the department has panels installed on three medic units and one fire apparatus. The primary reason for using solar panels is to reduce idling time and related fuel costs incurred in allowing MDCs to remain connected.

There is plenty of real estate to install solar panels on medic units. Fire apparatus roof real estate is at more of a premium.“If the rig was shut down, typically the MDC would reach a low-voltage condition, disconnect and shut down,” Lark said. “In order to keep the voltage up and ensure a reliable start, the rig was allowed to run.” The solar panels provide electricity only to the batteries to help maintain minimum power requirements.

Department officials are not yet designing solar technology into their apparatus. Although they installed panels on two medic units, when they took delivery of two more, they only installed a panel on one because they want to compare the results of matching units. They did the same with two quints. A solar panel went on one, but not the other.

Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical personnel handled the installation of the panels.Because panels were not specified in the apparatus design, department officials have to find places to put them. “Medic unit panels are easy to locate, but it is difficult to find enough real estate to locate panels on our fire apparatus with light towers, air conditioning condensers, and so on,” said Lark. “As solar panel technology continues to improve, we believe this will be an easier task to accomplish.”

The department is still waiting for quantifiable results. “The most important thing we are trying to determine is if the panels will help extend the life of the batteries and alternators,” Lark said. While department officials want to compare the results of matching units, call load variability may make that task difficult. However, Lark is optimistic. “We believe our program will be successful in reducing idling of apparatus over time,” he said.



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