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Natick lets sun shine in warehouse with solar light pipe system

Tue, 08/28/2012 - 12:00am
U.S. Army

NATICK, Mass. (Aug. 28, 2012) -- Consider it the difference between night and day.

At least that's the way environmental engineer Rich Valcourt looks at the new solar light pipe system that was installed recently in a warehouse at Natick Soldier Systems Center.

"There are no lights on in this building -- zero," said Valcourt early one weekday morning as he stood in the brightly illuminated interior. "Yesterday morning it was cloudy. Eight o'clock, sun still low in the sky, we came in and took a reading with our light meter, and we were at 12 foot-candles (5 foot-candles is the minimum intensity for warehouses). Is this unbelievable?"

On the ceiling above, sunlight streamed down from the four solar light pipes adjacent to four inefficient mercury vapor lights that are no longer needed during the day.

"It actually took a whole minute to two minutes for the room to be lit," said Valcourt of the old lighting system. "You walked in our building, you (held) your hand in front of your face, (and) you (couldn't) see it. It's that dark. So if I could install instant lighting with no use of energy, it was a win-win situation."

Valcourt had seen the system displayed last fall at the GreenGov Symposium in Washington, D.C. He thought it might have application at Natick.

"For me it was a way to just (stop) wasting energy in lighting," Valcourt said. "It just takes sunlight and enhances it."

With funds from Natick's recycling program, Valcourt bought the light pipes and had them installed in the 2,250-square-foot building for a total cost of approximately $3,100.

"It's a highly polished aluminum, and it has a convex ring of glass," Valcourt said. "You can take a sledge hammer to (the acrylic dome). You cannot break this."

As Valcourt pointed out, that was important, since the domes rest on the roof to collect sunlight, and this building's roof is situated just over the outfield fence of NSSC's softball facility.

"I was more worried about the softballs," Valcourt said. "That was my main concern. So I researched, 'how rugged are these?'"

Not only were they rugged, they produced plenty of illumination.

"At noon when the sun's high in the sky," said Valcourt, "you can't look directly at these things."

Valcourt assured that this is just the beginning for solar light pipes at Natick. He already has other buildings in mind.

"It's all about the sustainability question," Valcourt said. "What can we do to save energy?"

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