Sunlit sign welcomes drivers to Pine Island

The new entrance-to-Pine Island sign looks professional.

But most of the work has been done by volunteers; that includes large rock donated locally. Now, the sign has been illuminated with lights powered by the sun — and even the moon.

"We wanted to make sure that Pine Island had preferential treatment. We know that they're up-and-coming and they're also thinking about the environment." said Curtis Shaddox of Kansas City, Mo., co-inventor and president of Mankato-based Sun Power Sign , which has an office in New Ulm.

Sun Power was born in Minnesota, but the company has now expanded to become nationwide and hopes to begin work in Canada as well.

The company works to bring lighting to signs that might not have access to electric power, or where electricity would be cost-prohibitive.


For Pine Island planners who wanted an aesthetically pleasing sign at the north and south entrances to the city, the goal was an illuminated sign that will be off the electric-power grid — and they succeeded.

There are many signs across the country like the new one in Pine Island that could be powered with solar energy, Shaddox said.

"They're just energy hungry," he said. "If we can just get those off the grid, there's a lot of CO2 that's not being put int the atmosphere."

The Pine Island sign on the south side of town welcomes drivers just before the planned Elk Run biobusiness park. It's lit up for all to see at night, but it now costs nothing to stay lit. The sign uses an "amorphous silica panel" to capture light and produces power at just 4 percent ambient light. That, Shaddox said, means that "by the moonlight, you're producing power."

Shaddox said his company uses technology that basically ekes out "as much sun power as we can" from the sun, so that solar power becomes more affordable.

Pine Island will only have to replace the rechargeable batteries every seven years or so.

"We feel like Minnesota's the birthplace of this technology," Shaddox said.

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