Jacksonville police cars charge on solar power
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is letting the sun shine in, and some of its officers are getting a charge out of it.
Solar charging panels on some police cars allow officers to take advantage of sun power.
The average police car drains two 12-volt batteries a year due to all of the electronics and lights it has to operate. The solar panels help save gas too, said Assistant Chief John Lamb, in charge of the Sheriff's Office's logistics and general support division.
"We wanted to look for alternatives to combat the problems and solar is free," Lamb said.
The basic Chevrolet Impala police cruiser packs a 230-horsepower V-6 gasoline engine with a heavy-duty 12-volt battery. Add spotlights, flashlight charger, radio and emergency lights as well as laptop computer, and that can tax the battery. Replacements can cost hundreds of dollars including labor.
"Even when the car is off, it drains the batteries," said Anthony Turley, fleet coordinator for the Sheriff's Office.
Chevrolet doesn't offer the solar panels as a factory option on its police cars. But other police departments nationwide have added them aftermarket, including Kingsland, Ga., which installed 5-watt solar panels on its 45 patrol cars in 2010. They cost $60 each, funded with seized drug money.
Turley checked out Kingsland's cars, and the decision was made to add solar panels to the equipment installed on the last 90 Jacksonville patrol cars purchased, as well as on some unmarked cars. They cost $311 for a smaller unit atop a patrol car's light bar and $275 for larger ones put on the unmarked car's trunks.
"We were trying to see not just what was cost-effective but also gave the most solar energy," Turley said.
The solar chargers gave the car's 12-volt battery enough juice to run emergency lights for three hours with the engine off and still have power to start it, he said. But when cuts had to be made to the 2012 Sheriff's Office budget, the solar chargers were deleted from the next round of police car purchases.
Turley still found another way to cut back on battery costs. A $65 PriorityStart! module automatically disconnects a cruiser's 12-volt battery if voltage drops below 11.2 volts. Tested on a cruiser parked for four months, it still started, Turley said.
"We took such a hit with the budget," Lamb said ". It made sense to cut the solar panels and make up some of that difference."
Solar power hasn't set totally yet. Lamb said smaller solar chargers that can be put on a dashboard and plugged into the cigarette lighter are being used to trickle charge batteries.
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