Norwalk, Conn., Company Hopes to Shed Light on its Solar Illuminating Product

Tucked into a corner of The Golf Training Center in Norwalk is the humble beginnings of Atlantic Daylighting.

Dec. 14—NORWALK, Conn. — Tucked into a corner of The Golf Training Center in Norwalk is the humble beginnings of Atlantic Daylighting.

The one-room office of the Norwalk start-up company has no windows yet is drenched in sunlight. For many hours during the day the office is perfectly lit from overhead without using a single kilowatt of electricity.

This small office is the only space on the Eastern Seaboard lit with a SunPort lighting system, the trade-marked product for which Atlantic Daylighting has exclusive East Coast rights. SunPort, a through-the-roof daylighting system, uses up to 85 percent less electricity over the course of a year than tradition lighting systems.

"We take the sun — a free source of energy — and bring it into the building," Westport's Robert Zincone, a founding partner and former CEO of Sikorsky, said. "You can't find a negative. If you can take 85 percent of your electric bill off (for lighting), you can become free of the (proposed electric rate) increase. Also, the utilities love us because we take demand off the grid."

Daylighting has been utilized on the West Coast for about seven years, but Atlantic Daylighting has improved the product and has several patents pending. The company is also hoping for state and federal grants as it prepares for its initial installations in the spring. It has met a measure of resistance because utilities and state governments do not consider solar power as a renewable source of energy. The federal government does.

Atlantic Daylighting officials are scheduled to meet this week with Congressman Christopher Shays and already has the endorsement of state senator-elect Bob Duff, D-25, and other local politicians.

The company has also started another company, Zamp, which is developing a traffic light that would run on solar power.

Atlantic Daylighting was formed six months ago by four businessmen, but the company had been reluctant to reveal too much information about its products. With the patent requests filed, including those for the traffic lights, the company is ready for the public to be aware of its products and the potential benefits they will provide.

"Our goal is to go to a company and have them turn off their lights for an average of eight hours per day, a little more in the summer and a little less in the winter," Norwalk's Don Andersen, another founding partner, said. "It's a win-win for everybody."

Andersen is also the general manager and a partner of The Golf Training Center, where Atlantic Daylighting has its office.

Norwalk's Mat Pugliese and Long Island's Robert Levin are the other Atlantic Daylighting partners. The company is also working closely with former Norwalk resident James Massey, a professor emeritus with the University of Southern Maine and a well-known expert in photonics.

The SunPort is similar to a skylight, but generations ahead in efficiency and technology. The systems are manufactured in Bethpage, N.Y. and will be installed by Tremco, one of the country's top roofing companies.

The system collects sunlight through an outer lens and disperses it as cool, natural daylight. Tubular fluorescent bulbs within the system automatically supplement the daylight to maintain the desired light level on cloudy days or at night.

"Sharp people are dumbfounded to learn that no lights are on in this room," Zincone said while sitting in the Atlantic Daylighting office on Main Street.

Zincone and Andersen refer to the office as the Alpha site. Pending approval of grants, they plan to fit The Golf Training Center, a high bay facility, with SunPorts soon. That will become the Beta site, they said.

The system can be used only on flat-roofed buildings or factories with one, or possibly two, stories. Those types of buildings, however, are commonplace in Fairfield County and throughout the U.S.

Zincone said the controversial proposed upgrade to the existing power grid in southwestern Connecticut would be unnecessary if every flat-roofed, one-story building in Fairfield County used the SunPort system.

Summer afternoons, when the power grid is at its most stretched as heat from lights make air conditioners work harder, is when the SunPort system is at its best. It eliminates the use of electricity for lights and therefore reduces the demand on air conditioners.

"Our system generates no heat whatsoever," Andersen said.

"From nine to five, the lights are off," Zincone said. "We solve brown outs. We eliminate the need for kilowatts when the demand is at its highest."

On sunny summer days, the lights would be off from about 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and very little electricity would be needed until well after 7 p.m. In the winter, very little electricity would be needed for lights from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Because it reduces consumption of electricity, Atlantic Daylighting has earned the endorsement of the Sierra Club and environmental-minded politicians.

"We had a meeting and they introduced me to the concept," Duff said. "It's something that is innovative with a smart approach. It's needed, especially here in southwestern Connecticut where we rely heavily on the power grid. I think we should get behind it because they are trying to take consumption off the grid."

Levin, who lives on Long Island, called the product a "plus for the planet."

"We're excited about potentially making money, of course, but we feel comfortable that we're doing it in a way that's good for the environment and good for people," Levin added.

Zincone and Andersen also referred to a study by Heschong Mahone Group that monitored the performance of more than 20,000 students in California schools with a daylighting system. The study showed that test scores were higher, reading levels increased and attention span improved. The study also showed health benefits.

"The study just validates that there are no negatives. Outside light includes the full spectrum of light," Zincone said. "The eyeball is a perfect responder to every frequency of natural light. Natural light and the body are friends."

Andersen added that the system filters out the harmful radiation.

"The colors are 100 percent true," he said. "It gets rid of ultra-violet radiation. The lens lets in no radiation."

With the system having been on the West Coast for seven years, Atlantic Daylighting is out to penetrate the untapped East Coast market.

Atlantic Daylighting has at least five "good potential" installations scheduled for the spring, all of them in New York, according to Andersen. He is hoping Connecticut sales follow shortly.

Zincone and Anderson predict that it will take about five years for a system to pay for itself in terms of saving on electric bills. The money saved after that point would be a good stimulator of the economy, Zincone suggested.

"If you spend $25,000 a year on electricity and now you're only spending $15,000, that's $10,000 of disposable income that back into the economy," he said.

Zincone added that the technology used for the solar traffic lights could have ramifications in Third World countries or even middle America where there are no powerlines.

"You can have light where there is no electricity," Zincone said. "It stores energy during the day and uses it at night. That's 24-hour lighting with no powerlines."

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© 2004, The Hour, Norwalk, Conn. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.