|Rick Hall with his children at the Penn State Student Farm. A Solar Hybrid LED light tower can be seen in the background.|
When Rick Hall worked for a national‑based company that sold mobile LED light towers, the type used in outdoor situations like construction sites and large parking lots, he heard from frustrated customers who weren’t happy with the product—the towers weren’t durable for long‑term use and didn’t cast enough light. With a Penn State degree in agricultural and biological engineering, Hall knew there was a better way to create bright lights that not only saved money, but also reduced the harmful emissions produced from traditional lighting sources.
“For the past 50 years, the mobile lighting industry has been stagnant, offering only one solution for off‑grid lighting—the diesel powered light tower,” Hall says. These towers produce light from continuously‑running diesel engines, which require frequent refueling and emit an average of 20 pounds of CO2 during each hour of operation.
Consider the scale of a large operation like a Penn State home football game day—the university currently uses 101 diesel‑based towers to provide light in tailgating lots and around the stadium. With a 12‑hour runtime on game days, these lights produce over 250,000 pounds of CO2 each year. “Not only are they costly in terms of labor and refueling,” Hall says, “but they are a relatively unregulated producer of greenhouse gases, which are costly to our air quality.”
Recognizing that solar energy could be tapped to effectively power light towers, Hall left his job in 2013 and spent a year developing a prototype for what is now the Solar Hybrid LED light tower. Hall established his company, Dominight, in 2014 and reached out to Ben Franklin Technology Partners at Innovation Park for funding assistance and business support.
“Ben Franklin provided Dominight with a market scan that gave us valuable insight into the trends of the mobile light tower industry,” Hall says. “I also received one‑on‑one consulting that further strengthened my business plan and marketing tactics. It allowed me the opportunity to delve into the fine points of the business while receiving insightful feedback throughout the process.”
Even more beneficial to the long‑term development of Dominight was the funding partnerships that Ben Franklin helped facilitate. One such partnership with the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County (CBICC) provided early funding that allowed Dominight to construct a solar hybrid demo tower.
“Rick saw the unmet need in the market for a high‑quality, safely operating solar light tower, so he came out with a completely new design and produced prototypes,” recalls John Rodgers, chair of CBICC’s loan fund. “He was in the position where he had his product ready to go to market, and he needed funding to buy the inventory, pay the workers, and get it shipped.”
The solar hybrid light towers that were created with the help of this funding are now being battle‑tested on the grounds of Penn State. Two towers are providing light for the tailgate lots during game days, providing a safer and more environmentally‑friendly alternative to the current lights.
While the Penn State Office of Physical Plant is still evaluating the Dominight towers, they’ve been impressed with the results. “The evaluations consider both manpower efforts to facilitate the operation and maintenance, as well as the efficiencies of solar and hybrid‑solar light towers,” explained Mack Messner, an electrical engineer with OPP utility services. “We presently deploy diesel light towers, which require diesel fuel to sustain the operation, as well as refueling during the season. The towers being evaluated are equipped with on‑board controllers that would allow the towers to be pre‑programmed for specific runtimes.” These timers eliminate manpower needed to keep the towers running while reducing the travel time and associated costs with tower upkeep.
Looking to the future, Dominight plans to operate a rental fleet from their State College facility while establishing dealers on the West Coast. The company is also developing hybrid heaters and light towers specifically for construction projects.
“We are at a pivotal point in the development of our business and the support of local companies, and Penn State University, in particular, is very helpful in validating our product and helping to stimulate the growth of the company,” Hall says. “Our goal is to remain in Centre County and provide long term, high‑paying, skilled manufacturing jobs. I believe this is a noble cause that anyone who resides locally, or has any interest in the prosperity of the local economy, can get behind.”