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Co-op student ‘lights up’ Charlotte airport

Last fall, Divyanshu Kamboj, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in energy systems, was charged with finding a new location to test Lumi-Solair’s solar-powered streetlights. He was on co-op with the New York-based company, which manufactures off-grid lighting products.

Kamboj recalled the effort of Charlotte, N.C., to become a global model of environmental sustainability and then reached out to Cheryl Richards, the CEO and regional dean of Northeastern’s graduate campus there.

Richards connected Kamboj with Robert Phocas, Charlotte’s energy and sustainability manager, who suggested a test site: the parking lot of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

Divyanshu Kamboj helped his co-op employer, Lumi-Solair, find a location to test its off-grid, solar-powered lighting units.

Lumi-Solair’s project in Charlotte, said Phocas, is “an example of how government and industry can partner on sustainable initiatives that benefit the entire community.”

Sustainability has emerged as a key area of focus at Northeastern’s Charlotte campus, which dedicated last month’s “Local Leaders, Global Impact” speakers series to the topic. The university hosted the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association in February and scheduled a second conversation on energy for May.

“Working through one of our co-op employers to facilitate this program demonstrates our support of the Charlotte community’s adoption of renewable energy solutions,” Richards said.

Though Kamboj’s co-op with Lumi-Solair ended in August, he has remained with the company to measure the reliability and performance of the streetlights. Should the Charlotte project be deemed a success, the small-scale installation could serve as a blueprint for further deployment at more locations in the airport and throughout the city. There is good reason to believe the project will succeed, according to Kamboj. Similar devices in New York survived superstorm Sandy and work even after a week of consistent cloud cover.

“This is not work that limits itself to one Charlotte airport,” said Kamboj, whose Northeastern research focuses on bringing sustainable technologies to countries with unreliable power grids. “This provides an ideal platform for projects, whether they’re somewhere else in the city or on the other side of the world. If we can develop systems that can reliably work outside of a power grid, we can change the way we consume energy.”