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Off the Grid: UML Installs New Solar-Powered Streetlights

Lowell Green Community Partnership Grant Helps Fund 8 Lampposts

People are a blur walking under two solar street lights Photo by Ed Brennen
Students walk at dusk under new solar-powered streetlights that the university has installed along the Northern Canal Overlook.

10/18/2021
By Ed Brennen

The days are getting shorter, but a busy stretch of campus is staying well lit at night, thanks to the installation of new solar-powered streetlights.

The university has added eight solar battery lampposts along the Northern Canal Overlook, the recently completed plaza at the corner of Pawtucket Street and University Avenue — diagonally across the intersection from University Crossing.

The project was funded in part by a $10,000 grant from the Lowell Green Community Partnership, an alliance between UML and the city to provide leadership, resources and expertise for sustainability initiatives throughout greater Lowell.

“We’re hoping that this can be a model for street lighting on campus and across the Commonwealth,” says Ruairi O’Mahony, co-director of UML’s Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy (RISE). 

Because electrical infrastructure was not available along the overlook to install standard streetlights, campus planners elected to purchase solar-powered lights that can operate off the grid.

Each lamppost has a south-facing photovoltaic panel mounted at the top, along with a battery to store the captured solar energy. 
Two people walk down a sidewalk lit by solar street lights as car headlights blur past on their right Photo by Ed Brennen
Without electrical infrastructure in place along the new Northern Canal Overlook, campus planners turned to a solar-powered alternative.

Adam Baacke, executive director of planning, design and construction, and his Facilities Management team “did a great job with this to overcome difficult infrastructure challenges at the site,” O’Mahony says.

According to Baacke, this stretch of sidewalk has the heaviest volume of pedestrian activity in the city, with more than 7,000 people passing through each day during the academic year. Most of those pedestrians are students coming and going from residence halls on East Campus.

The stretch of sidewalk is part of the “Pawtucket Greenway,” a collaboration between UML and the city to create a protected, shared-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists along Pawtucket Street between South and East campuses.

A key part of that stretch — the Northern Canal bridge — has been undergoing a complete overhaul for the past three years and is in the final stages of construction.

UML’s Office of Sustainability and Facilities Management Department helped fund the $150,000 solar streetlight project.