It’s an iconic landmark that dominates New York’s Coney Island skyline—the world famous Wonder Wheel. The 150-foot-tall, 90-year-old Ferris wheel at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park will be going solar this summer with the installation of two, 30-watt photovoltaic panels atop each of its 16 swinging cars. Each car holds six passengers and will have eight, 60-lumen solar-powered light-emitting diode (LED) exterior lights. The solar panels are connected to a wireless charge controller, which regulates a lithium-phosphate battery in each car.
“In the early ’80s when our family first took over the wheel, the car lights were connected by commutators, so when it rained, it sometimes sparked. My father disconnected them for safety concerns. The cars have been dark ever since,” said Deno Vourderis, whose family has owned the amusement park for more than 30 years. Because the Wonder Wheel is a designated New York State historic landmark, the LEDs had to be amber to conform to the original design.
“I have to stick with original color because it’s landmarked, and I can’t change the original look. We wanted to do RGB lights, and we are still working with the landmark commission to see if we can do it,” Vourderis said.
Coney Island was a major seaside resort and home to several amusement parks that peaked in attendance during the early 20th century but began to decline after World War II. In recent years, however, there has been renewed interest and investment in the area including the opening of KeySpan Park, home to the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team.
Last year, Vourderis switched his rides from being powered by an on-site natural gas generator to Con Edison utility power and replaced the incandescents running around the circumference of the wheel with LEDs. It is still illuminated with neon lights on the wheel and incandescent floodlights that Vourderis plans to eventually power with solar.
“I’m really saving about 10,000 watts with the LEDs compared to incandescents, and the 960 watts of solar power on the cars draws nothing from the grid.” Vourderis said.
He estimated that he only needs one sunny day every few days to keep the batteries charged to operate the lights at night or when it’s cloudy.
“Electric consumption is a big part of our overhead costs. We are actually trying to power all the lighting throughout our park with solar by next year and hopefully generate more than enough power during the day that we can feed into the grid for net metering,” he said.