After thousands of hours and dollars invested in a prototype, brothers Morgan and Grant McKee were all set to begin producing their mobile solar lighting system.
But a couple of weeks ago, the company that was going to buy their trailer-mounted light towers backed out because of the slumping Alberta economy.
Overnight, a very big Plan B was needed.
“That was kind of a gut punch,” says Grant. “Suddenly, we have to do sales and distribution on top of everything.”
“It left us scrambling,” admits Morgan.
Setback aside, the brothers are determined to get the word out on their Lamplighter Solar Trailer, which offers a dramatic improvement in the way construction, industrial, or even recreational outdoor venues are lit.
Portable trailer-mounted lighting systems have been around for some time and the brothers had experience repairing the fleet units for another company.
Where their light tower shines, is its combination of powerful tower-mounted lights (31,200 lumens each) powered by the sun, backed up by a small diesel generator.
Unique to their unit, is an automated tank-turret style solar tracking system that ensures the three-panel solar array is always in the perfect position to maximize the output from the sun’s rays.
“It’s all self-starting. The whole thing is autonomous,” says Morgan, who grew up with his brother in the family-owned business W. McKee Manufacturing Ltd.
It has operated for decades in a shop that was surrounded by Lancaster subdivision but has now closed and will be reopening soon in Olds. McKee, a talented jazz musician, is also involved in information technology and recording through local music publishing company Themes and Variations.
Grant has a business, Fringe Robotics, where he designs toy protoypes and offers electronic consulting.
The brothers’ mechanical abilities and ingenuity were well suited to the solar light tower project. The sun is tracked with three sensors that triangulate the source so the solar panels are always pivoted in the perfect direction for maximum exposure. The multiple sensor system can’t be fooled by reflections or other light sources.
Ideal positioning is critical when trying to harness the sun’s energy through solar panels. It only takes a small shadow cast across an array to significantly reduce the amount of power produced.
By using the sun, the units dramatically reduce energy costs. On standard light trailers, it’s not unusual for work crews to leave their diesel-powered lighting arrays running constantly, which carries heavy financial and environmental costs.
“The environmental footprint on that is shocking,” says Morgan.
Having clever technology is only part of the job though. It has to get to the site. That’s where the brothers could build on their experience manufacturing farm equipment at the family business.
The trailer design is rugged and portable, with both light tower and solar panels cleverly collapsing and folding away for travel. Future options will include security cameras, GPS location, weather station and cellular control.
Most of their light system is Canadian made. Oasis Trailer Manufacturing out of Lethbridge provides their product, Ontario-based Canadian Solar supplies the solar panels through its Edmonton distributor and Red Deer’s Lasermann Cuts Ltd. fashions components to size.
“Everything we can source from Canada we do,” says Morgan. The lights are an exception, coming from a U.S. manufacturer.
Now, their biggest challenge is getting the word out to potential customers. Oilpatch buying is in a slump, but there are plenty of other applications. The lights can be used at construction sites, infrastructure maintenance jobs, forestry, even at music venues or any gathering where light is needed, such as weddings.
For the company website go to www.lamplightersolar.com