New solar panels allow IU Light Totem to replace energy it burns

  • Feb. 23, 2016

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.

By Michael Reschke

The Light Totem outside the Indiana University Art Museum is a little more green, thanks to the installation of a few solar panels.

“We’re really excited about the project,” said Abe Morris, spokesman for the museum. “The Light Totem is one of the most visible works of art on campus.”

Installed in 2007 by Rob Shakespeare, a former professor of lighting design, the 70-foot-tall metal tower projects changing light patterns onto the wall of the art museum. Originally intended to be a temporary installation, the Light Totem has become one of the most unique and celebrated fixtures on campus.

Morris said it’s hugely popular among students who like to lie on their backs, put their legs on the wall of the art museum and look up at the light display.

“It’s unofficially part of the IU bucket list,” Morris said. “Almost any night there’s not rain or inclement weather, you can find students there.”

While the light show is pretty, having it on display every night eats up a lot of electricity, so the museum’s Green Team came up with the idea of using solar panels to offset the energy consumption. The Green Team got a grant for about $5,000 from the IU Student Sustainability Council. Installation estimates came in as far more expensive than expected, Morris said, but IU facility operations, a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Capital Planning, liked the project and kicked in about $10,000 to get it done.

The solar panels, which have been up and running for about a month, are expected to generate 5,083 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The Light Totem’s annual energy consumption is estimated at 4,700 kilowatt hours annually.

“We will be able to track actual energy production to see if the system performs as expected,” said Eric Goy, senior electric engineer for facility operations at IU, in a statement.

Morris said he hopes the change will inspire people who enjoy the light show to look for ways to be more green in their own lives.

“It’s a great art object, and now it represents something of a little greater meaning,” he said.