Flying above Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, the replica of the giant flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem still looks great by the dawns early light. But now Old Glory also looks pretty terrific at night, thanks to an ultra-high efficiency bank of LED lights powered entirely by the sun.
According to the National Park system, which maintains the historic site, the LED system “produces a brighter light that enhances the color of the Star Spangled Banner.”
What’s more, the old incandescent flood lights needed 700 watts to illuminate the massive 30-by-42-foot flag. The new systems uses four small Light Emitting Diode (LED) canisters to do the job, consuming just 118 watts — all from electricity generated by photovoltaic (PV) panels.
The solar panels systems are manufactured by Florida-based Solar Electric Power Company, or SEPCO, one of the largest companies of its kind.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know the name — SEPCO designs systems for government and large businesses, not residences. Their clients include the EPA, the Kennedy Space Center, the Port of Los Angeles, the Pentagon, and international projects in Latin America and Africa.
For the Ft. McHenry job, the National Park System wanted a set-up that was energy efficient, self-contained, required no visible wires, and kept the panels themselves out of view, to preserve the integrity of the historic fort.
SEPCO’s panels are mounted on two nearly-flat roofs using horizontal guide rails, and store their energy in small 12-volt gel batteries — also out of sight from the ground.
Each of the twin-arrays powers two small canisters that illuminate the flag.
The LED lights, made by Beacon Products, also in Florida, comprise the other half of this green-tech system.
Each of the four luminaires (the industry name for the canisters) have six inches diameters, and contain just 18 small LEDs.
In addition to high light intensity and low energy needs, each luminair has a 50,000-hour operational lifetime — far longer than even equivalent CFL lights.
The luminairs are made from marine-grade aluminum and have fins to dissipate heat — the key to assuring LED longevity.
The bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore, the 1814 event that inspired Francis Scott Key to write his famous ode, is in September of 2014 and NPS officials wanted to ensure that the new lighting system was up in time for the commemoration.
In fact, it went into use ahead of schedule on June 1, 2010 — in time for last year’s Defenders Day celebration (seen in the picture at the top of the page).
Look for more solar/LED combo projects in the future, as both fields continue to make great technological strides.