JUPITER (a play about power) 
Presented by La MaMa, by Superhero Clubhouse and Kaimera Productions

Solar Experiment

Superhero Clubhouse received an Off-Off Broadway Greening Grant from the Broadway Green Alliance to experiment with a solar-powered lighting system that will illuminate a portion of the stage. The experimental solar system cannot light the entire production; much of the playing area will still be connected to the NYC grid, which is fueled predominantly by non-renewables. Just as the content of JUPITER challenges audiences to consider how fossil fuels are connected to their personal lives, the play’s lighting design will challenge them to consider how fossil fuels are connected to their experiences at the theater.

Set and Lighting Design By David Bengali & Anshuman Bhatia
Solar Lighting System Engineered by Jay Maury

Experiment log

Week Two

Weekend Two of performances proved to be a great success for our experiment! We ran off solar power for four performances in a row. The decision to move the panels inside to a warmer location, seems to have been the right call. Though, by the end of the matinee on Sunday, our battery was decidedly tapped at 0%. 

In contrast to the ~20W we were drawing before moving the battery inside, now 12 hours of February sun in NYC is giving us ~300 watt-hours to get through the show, definitely above 25W from the solar panel now!

Our director and ASM noticed the show has been getting dimmer towards the end. The designers stepped in and clarified the pre-show battery reading needs to take place with the dimmers on the pod lights it will power at 75%. Our Stage Manager, Keith wonders if this is a subjective opinion, as he has not noticed the show becoming significantly dimmer towards the end. 

David Bengali noted: "If the show has been consistently looking dimmer, Anshu and I would prefer that we get two days of solar chargning per battery and/or always top up the batteries from the wall charging for a few hours before they go into the show." He brings up an interesting point about the tension between the integrity of the design and the integrity of the experiment.

Week One

Week one of our experiment with a solar power experiment for JUPITER was full of surprises and successes. Here’s what went down:

Day One: Load-In + Tech 

Snow! Just our luck. The weather’s throwing us for a loop, with many set pieces and materials to transport to the space. The installation of the solar panels on the roof will have to wait until tomorrow, when the sun is out and the snow clears a bit.

Our experimental lighting grid involves a solar panel, batteries, ultra-efficient 'constant current' dimmers custom designed to run off the 12 V battery, and LED instruments designed and homemade by Jay Maury, technical director of the Bushwick Starr. The solar panel will charge the batteries, which will plug into the custom-built grid that lights a portion of the stage.

Instead of using the panels today, we’ll have to plug batteries into the theater’s electric grid in order to focus and program the lights for the pod. The pod that Joe lives in on stage is the only part of the lighting for the show connected to the solar grid--which is both a part of the experiment and an element of set design.

Day Two: Tech + Dress Rehearsal 

A historic day. Superhero Clubhouse and Kaimera Productions joined forces to install the first ever solar panels on the roof of La MaMa, directly facing Ellen Stewarts old apartment window, a poetic tribute to the innovative artistry the institution has always championed.

Our designers are focusing the LED pod lights. Other stage lights will be focused shortly. We will begin battery testing before noon!

Time tests take place in the afternoon, and the designers check the heat of the system and ensure all connections are functioning.

The solar panel had to be brought inside this afternoon, as snow and heavy wind are forecast for tonight. It's a portable panel, so we're worried the rough weather will sweep it away or knock it over. Funny the week we’re opening a show is one of coldest, most overcast, and snow-ridden we’ve had this winter. We’ll reevaluate tomorrow to see if we can bring it back up to the roof.

We’re using a meter to gauge our energy use during each performance, so that we can get an understanding of how much power is provided by our solar grid and how that compares to a typical show run at La MaMa. We checked the meter about every hour tonight, while cueing the show. When we started the evening, the meter read 5581 kWh; at 7pm: "5582"; 10pm: "5583"

There was another group in the building tonight, which may have contributed to the pace of energy-use increases. But we did only have one break when most stage lights were off.

An interesting note: The LED lights are significantly brighter when plugged into the solar powered battery versus the wall. Power of the sun.

Day Three: Preview Performance

We charged the battery all day today - and what a sunny day it was! Although that was the case, we only gained back 20% of the charge that had been lost yesterday. Meaning that by the time the show ended, the battery was at 0%. This was visible on stage, as the pod lights were so dim by the final scenes of the play. I wonder what the audience made of this (if they noticed).

Yesterday, in our last day of tech, we charged the battery off the wall, and the battery still had some juice in it after last night's run. Does this mean that charging the battery off the solar panel is less durable/substantial?

To give you a clearer picture of what we’re working with: Know that the solar panel we have is rated as 160W. That’s a best case scenario; what we would get in  July, with no clouds or haziness, at noon, in Arizona.  The hope is we’ll get half of that in NYC in Feb. The whole LED rig draws 230W at full;  less than 200W at show levels.

Originally, we thought 4+ hours of sunlight would give us one show. If 10 hours is < one show, we're only getting ~20W out of that solar panel; 1/8th of the rated power.

We may need to double or triple the solar panels for the next leg of the tour. For now, we may need to use wall power for 2-3 shows before we get a full solar charge.

The plan is to try two days of charging. We made a battery meter we can take to the roof to monitor. 

Opening Weekend

After some calculation, we've decided this is the best way to go with battery management:

Battery (A-Solar), Gets 4 Days of Sunny Charging, with the Battery inside the window sill. At the show following that 4th day of charging, the battery is plugged into the trickle charger, if by showtime it says it's full (no longer blinking). Then it goes on. If not, put back on solar charge and repeat.

Battery (B-Wall), Gets trickle charged every night on the wall, overnight and is used for every show where the solar battery does not go in.

For the Sunday matinee, We ran off this solar-paneled battery for the entire show!!!! Meter readings: 14v to start; 11.3v by the end, at 28%

We took the battery to its warmer charging place after the run, and hopefully we'll get enough of a charge for Thursday's show.

The solar panel was still upright, albeit rained on heavily, this evening. The wind appeared to have done nothing to it. We haven't checked the charge on it, as it's only been a couple of (gray) days since it was brought back to charge. Fingers crossed for our first performance of the weekend on Thursday!