Solar-powered, City-wide WiFi

Expanding on Friday’s DIY post about solar-powered WiFi extenders, St. Louis Park, MN is implementing a solar-powered, city-wide wireless network (link):

Unlike any other community wireless system in the nation, the St. Louis Park Wi-Fi network is powered by the sun.

ParkWiFi will provide wireless Internet coverage across all 10 square miles of the city, using about 400 wireless access points. Each access point will have a battery to supply electric power and a solar panel to keep the battery charged. Several miles of fiber optic cable will tie it all into a network.

Unlike non-solar projects in Madison, WI and Philadelphia, ParkWiFi will not primarily use existing utility poles (likely because of solar-panel placement) — a move that caused some contention:

Council members and city staff grew concerned after beginning installation of the poles in mid-April and receiving feedback about the locations and aesthetics of the solar equipment and poles. It is also clear that many people believed that the equipment would be installed on existing utility poles as was done during the pilot project. The pilot project did not include the use of solar power technology. Hearing the concerns, especially about the location of poles, staff stopped installation of the poles and brought the discussion before the council.

In some cases, pole color and height were changed and mid-size lot placement were moved to property boundaries and alleys. But, "Council also directed staff to not compromise on performance of the system while finding new locations."

The project is a private – public partnership between the City of St. Louis Park (which will own the network), Unplugged Cities (which will operate and maintain the network and provide subscriber services), and ARINC (which will build the network).

The city challenged proposal responders to be creative. ARINC delivered:

The novel solar approach eliminates the need for the City to pay the local electric company monthly fees for per-pole attachments and electricity usage, a projected savings of $200,000 to $250,000 over the course of the five-year project. Service to the existing pilot areas will continue as ARINC completes the phased build out citywide. It is anticipated service to most of St. Louis Park will be completed by fall, except for some residential units in the largest buildings and some commercial buildings.