Over the years, the ATON program has worked not only to preserve and care for these iconic structures but also to implement new technologies ensuring the best return for the taxpayer and for the environment.
One of the first initiatives undertaken was to convert the more than 17,000 lighted aids from primary battery power to solar power.
“Using solar power on our lighted aids is one of many significant advances that I have witnessed in my 25 years of service in the ATON community,” said Lt. Dave Lewald, Aids to Navigation Specialist with the Coast Guard’s Marine Transportation Systems Directorate.
Solar power not only produces less hazardous waste and saves money (hundreds of thousands annually), but it is also less resource intensive because crews are no longer maintaining heavy and burdensome batteries. The original dangerous and laborious maintenance process required crews to remove a roughly 500-pound battery rack for recharging or replacement every 24 months. Now, that same aid is powered by a 35-watt solar panel and two 60-pound secondary batteries, which only need replacing every five years.
“To date, all 4,902 lighted buoys and more than 93 percent of lighted structures have been converted to solar power,” said Lewald. “The remaining seven percent are being preserved for historical purposes in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act or are being evaluated for solarization as technological advances are made and mariner requirements change.”
Taking it one step further, the program is now converting the lighted aids from incandescent light bulbs to light-emitting diodes. The smaller, more durable LEDs are significantly more energy efficient and longer lasting – up to 10 times longer – easing the maintenance and labor burden on ATON crews.
“Each commercially powered lighthouse using a modern LED could see its monthly utility cost go down by about $500 while at the same time providing mariners a more reliably lit aid and freeing valuable Coast Guard resources for mission execution rather than maintenance,” said Lewald.
Beyond these advances, the ATON program is continuing to implement environmentally-friendly and cost-saving strategies like a self-contained LED where the battery, solar panels and optic are all contained in one piece. Additionally, where the navigational need is no longer justifiable, the program is working to reduce the number of sound signals and fog detectors that may contribute to noise pollution.