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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

3 Strategies to Help You Design the Perfect Solar Lighting System

Posted by SEPCO

5/18/15 10:00 AM

Solar Lighting System Design

Not all solar lighting systems are created equal. Each has their own unique qualities and benefits. Understanding system differences along with your own requirements will allow you to build the perfect solar lighting system solution for your project while working with your designer. The three strategies of designing the perfect solar lighting system below will help you best determine what you need and how to achieve the best outcome.

1. Know how much light is required

Does your lighting project require IES Standard light levels? Or is there more requirements in your area? Talking to local code enforcement will help you determine if there are any guidelines you must follow or if there is no set numbers to the type of lighting required. IES Standards are a good guideline for most projects; however, different municipalities have different variations to the standards that they can enforce.

If you are in an area where IES Standards are okay, letting your lighting designer know this information will help them work to determine what type of light, distribution and brightness will be required for your project. Providing the designer with additional information, such as the length of the roadway, size of the parking lot, dimensions of the area, etc, will allow for the designer to provide additional information such as a light layout to show uniformity and light levels across an entire project.

2. Understand system constraints

Depending on the installation area and system requirements, some projects are just more feasible than others. A 70 Watt LED fixture operating all night will require one size of solar power assembly to operate the fixture from dusk to dawn in one location, but a completely different size in another. This is due to the solar radiance that is available in any specific location. Instead of just looking at a certain wattage, looking at light level requirements should be the first step to determine what is required for the project. Decreasing the wattage and adding a pole or two in many cases can actually create a more feasible project in the end and still provide the correct light levels.

Storage requirements also vary from one location to the next. From the Tennessee / Kentucky border south, five nights autonomy is adequate for backup power; however, the further north you go, the more storage the system will require. Also, look at local weather patterns. How many days of cloudy / overcast weather does the area typically receive? Understanding this along with how cold an area gets will help determine how much is adequate for backup storage to ensure system operation and longevity.

3. Determine operation schedules

Solar lighting systems can be provided with multiple operation schedules to meet the needs of the project. Determining the operation schedule when initially designing the project will help ensure that the system will operate as needed and is sized accordingly. Dusk to dawn operation is the most popular configuration; however, split time and dimming helps reduce the requirements of the solar allowing for smaller power assemblies. Do not just assume that the fixtures will operate dusk to dawn, full intensity, unless this has been determined at initial system design. Many companies use control electronics that override the system to provide adaptive lighting controls that are outside the original design requirements. Instead, work with the design team to understand the exact controls being used for the system being installed. If dimming, split time, motion, or any other operation profiles are allowed, make sure to specify this initially.

Understanding these three important design requirements before getting a final system design will ensure that your system will operate the way it is required with the correct lighting levels, uniformity, operation and sizing for the specific project. One size does not fit all in any solar application, lighting or power, and should be specific to each individual project. This ensures you will never be left in the dark.

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Topics: Solar Lighting Design

Comparing Apples to Apples: Solar Powered Lighting Systems

Posted by SEPCO

5/11/15 10:00 AM

Solar Powered Lighting Systems

There are many variations when it comes to solar powered lighting systems and it is difficult to compare them to one another. Each manufacturer has its design parameters and understanding these differences will allow you to make an educated determination if the system will meet your design needs.

Solar Power Assembly

Every solar power assembly is sized specific to the light fixture that it is powering. The size of the solar power assembly is either determined with design requirements by the end user, or by a technician that uses a basic formula for all systems. This sets apart one manufacturer from the next. Systems that provide integrated solar power assemblies into an “all in one” solution have set the solar to provide x amount of charge no matter where the solar powered light is located geographically. Other manufacturers take into consideration the local conditions of the project and use those figures to determine how much solar is required to adequately power the light fixture.

Battery Storage Assembly

Solar panels charge the batteries during the day and the batteries power the light fixture at night. Pretty simple, but if the batteries are sized for only the amount of storage to operate the fixture for one night, the maintenance schedule will be much different from systems that provide a minimum autonomy. This also varies greatly between manufacturers. Depending on what the end user is expecting for maintenance and longevity of a system will help determine what suits the end user best.

Control Electronics

Different control options are always available. There are a lot of adaptive lighting controls on the market today being used by all different manufacturers. Some allow the system to do as it will when it comes to lighting as the controller, being the brains of the system, dims and turns off the lights as it sees it should due to battery discharge rates. There are manufactures that can provide strict dusk to dawn lighting with no dimming or adaptive controls. This is always completed by the system design engineers and should always be visible in the system specifications. You definitely don’t want to be left out in the dark when you least expect it.

Light Fixtures

Solar light fixtures have come a long way in the past 10 years with the integration of LED fixtures. LEDs have even advanced drastically over the last few years with many changes in lumen output and longevity. Looking at the lumen output, wattage, and longevity of the fixture will allow for the best determination of the amount of light output the fixture has as well as how long the light fixture will last. 100k hours is about standard today, but that is also increasing steadily as well as a higher lumen output per LED, allowing for the same amount of light out of a much lower wattage fixture than ever before.

Look over the specifications of different systems will show the differences and similarities allowing you to compare apples to apples.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Solar Power Sign Light Design: Step by Step

Posted by SEPCO

4/27/15 10:00 AM

Moraine-College-Solar Power Sign Light One of our most popular articles is Street Light Design and I thought it was about time to offer a step by step to sign lighting design. This will give you the information on designing a perfect sign lighting solution from the beginning to end.

Step 1 – Determine the size of the sign

First thing is how big is the sign? Is it single or double sided? Does the entire sign need to be illuminated or just a single portion? What about internally illuminated signs? Knowing exactly how much area is going to require coverage will help narrow down the design parameters quickly. Internal signs require additional engineering, but knowing the height, width and depth of the sign cabinet is part of the first step to determine how much light is going to be required.

Step 2 – Find out if electric is available

A lot of signs are installed in medians or out where standard grid power doesn’t readily exist. If you were to bring electric to the site of the sign, how much is this going to cost? Is this going to destroy surrounding area such as roads, landscapes, etc? Don’t forget to leave the repair work out of your cost figures.

Step 3 – Determine the lighting requirements

How much light will be required to adequately illuminate the sign? Any lighting company can help you determine what are the best light levels for a sign and offer suggestions. Also, does the sign need to be illuminated from dusk to dawn? For businesses, this could be a yes for nighttime marketing efforts. For an HOA, this may be no and will allow for the lights to turn off after midnight and then on an hour or so before dawn. Lowering power consumption helps on many levels.

Knoxville-Internal-Solar-Sign-LightStep 4 – Final all alternatives

Solar power sign light systems come in a variety of shapes, sizes, costs, etc. There are solutions out there online that are only a few hundred dollars and others that range in the thousands. Depending on the long term requirements and how you want the system to operate can determine what system you will need.

Step 5 – Get lots of quotes

The last step is to send your information to companies for quotes. Just like with anything else, get multiple quotes and weigh the pros and cons of every company and situation. The lowest quote is not always the best, so make sure to do your research on companies and products before you submit a purchase order. Compare information from companies like light output, system components, warranty, life expectancy, etc. to help you determine what you are actually paying for and what you are spending.

If you take your time, do your research, and gather needed requirements, your next sign lighting project will be a success. Never be afraid to ask a lot questions, they may save you time and money in the long run.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design, Sign Lighting

5 Reasons to Install Solar Panels

Posted by SEPCO

4/20/15 10:00 AM

Solar_on_Roof

Nowadays sustainable use of energy is being focused a lot. With that usage of renewable and unconventional energy resources are more concentrated upon as compared to the non-renewable and conventional energy resources. If you haven’t installed solar panels yet, below listed are a few reasons to get one as soon as possible:

Increases the value of your house
If you are planning to sell your house in future or may be today, experts say that solar panels increases the value of the house by 6%. It is a lot easier to sell a house with solar panels as compared to the ones that are without it. The main reason behind it is that the new family, which will live in the house, would be free from the high electricity bills. Moreover, they will also enjoy the feed in tariff regimes. When the rates of electricity are increasing every year, a house with a solar panel is no less than a heaven.

Reduces pollution in the environment

Many say that they cannot alone change the scenario of increased pollution in the environment. Solar panels have changed this mentality of people. If one uses solar panel on their house, they will reduce up to thirty tonnes of carbon dioxide over the system’s lifetime. Thus, your bit will be surely counted and would definitely bring change in the environment. 

Low maintenance

Solar panels provide the user with low upkeep. They don’t require much maintenance just keep them free from snow and leaves other than that solar panels will never bother you. Most companies provide twenty-five years warranty for the solar panels.

Best investment

No other schemes or saving accounts will provide such return rates than the installation of solar panels. It is ensured that for twenty-five years or more your installation is tax free and installation guaranteed.

No drawbacks

One of the best reasons to install solar panels in your offices, homes, schools etc. is that they have no drawbacks or side effects. All you need to do is enjoy the perks conferred by the government for installing them.

Aforementioned points are some of the reasons to get your place equipped with solar panels. If you haven’t installed them yet, it is a good time to look into it as the prices of solar panels have dropped drastically in the last couple of years. Moreover, with so many money saving benefits, install solar panels and enjoy electricity at low rates while saving the environment as well as money in the long run.

About the Author: Ashley Elizabeth blogs to share knowledge and provide solutions.

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Topics: Guest Post, Green Ideas, Solar Power

LightFair International 2015: Changing how we light up the world

Posted by SEPCO

4/13/15 10:00 AM

LFI2015

If you’ve never heard of it before, LightFair International is a conference and trade show specific to the lighting industries. This includes interior and exterior lighting, design and energy reduction and efficiency technologies displayed and discussed for the week of May 3 – 7th this year. Check out the overview of last year’s show:

 

 

This year, our own Stephanie will be providing a course on System Design, Case Studies and Economic Analysis for Exterior Area and Roadway Solar Photovoltaic along with Graybar’s Jeff Shields. This course will review the solar exterior and roadway lighting systems sizing and design factors that need to be taken into consideration along with tools that can be used to help with design. The course will also review an economic analysis and case study on two projects. Finally, it will review grants, incentives and funding options for solar lighting systems. If you are in the New York area, you don’t want to miss this, as well as all the other wonderful courses that are available.

So whether you are an architect, designer, contractor, or even end user, LightFair 2015 will be full of innovative ideas and information for any lighting project you have now or in the future. Come visit us at Booth 441 and see what we and the rest of the lighting manufacturers have in store for you. We can’t wait to see you there.

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Topics: Energy Show

What Light Pollution Means to the Future of Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

4/6/15 10:00 AM

Florida Coast by The City Dark DocumentaryWe are from a small town, so the difference between us and a place like New York City as far as light pollution is way different; however, we all experience some form of light pollution. Light pollution isn’t something you think of, but does it really affect us?

Light pollution is the way light shines upwards illuminating dust and debris in the air and creates a cloud effect that blocks out the night sky. Since the beginning of time, we have depended on the night sky for information in regards to location, seasons, direction, etc., but with modern technology, we don’t rely on this for our information, but does it still affect us? And if so, what can we do to change the light pollution factor of areas?

Granted, all light cannot be lost at night and we will never have the dark sky at all times at night that happened hundreds of years ago, but light pollution can be reduced. Providing light in the areas they are required at the times they are required, and using dark sky compliant fixtures, will lower the amount of light pollution and increase our visibility to the night sky. The US spends 1.5 billion dollars every year on wasted energy due to light pollution. Towns all over the US are setting light ordinances moving towards using full cutoff fixtures only to preserve the night sky as well as reducing costs.

I recently wanted a documentary on this very subject called The City Dark and learned a lot about how we see the night sky in different locations. The films looked at the light in New York City and out in Arizona and the differences were amazing.

The light pollution doesn’t just affect animals, but humans as well. The US National Library of Medicine did a study on the health effects of light pollution.  Decreased melatonin produced in the body effects our hormonal system and sleep cycles. Melatonin deficiencies cause an increased risk of cancers, especially breast cancer, and it is unknown what other risk factors this produces. Many sleep disorders are also caused by light pollution. The study says we are only at the tip of the ice burg in research at this point.

Turtle Friendly Solar Light in Bradenton Beach FloridaSo what does this mean for the light industry? California has taken the light pollution into consideration, as well as the wasted energy, and implemented Title 24 Energy Efficient Standards. These standards are for residential and non-residential areas to decrease their use when the light is not required, like after a facility is closed, and using full cutoff fixtures with motion sensor or adaptive lighting controls. This is set to lower the consumption of electricity in the state.

Other states, like Hawaii, require LPS lamps for their telescope areas with a full cutoff fixture so there is little to no light pollution and any light will not affect their telescopes when looking at the night sky. Areas like Florida are required to use amber color light with full cutoff along coastal areas due to sea turtles. All these different steps are being taken to help reduce light pollution and the affects they have on nature.

What can you do? Take steps to not waste light where it is not needed, provide high efficiency lights, look at local ordinances when installing new lighting and turn it off when you don’t need it. Small steps can be taken in both a residential and business to ensure that we all do our part in reducing the impact we have on the environment and us as a species.

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Topics: Solar Lighting Design, Turtle Friendly Lighting, Dark Sky Friendly Lighting

How Does A Solar Light Work

Posted by SEPCO

3/30/15 10:00 AM

How Does A Solar Light WorkWhether you are talking about the small garden stake lights you find at any big box store or a commercially produced solar lighting system, they provide the same functionality. The difference between them is in the design. Here is a basic overview of how does a solar light work.

There are four major components to any light; the solar panel, battery, control electronics and the light fixture. During the day, the solar panel produces power to charge the battery by the photons produced by the sun’s rays collecting and stimulating electrons in the silicon cells. These electrons are knocked off and collected by the wiring of the solar panel and fed to the battery for storage. This happens from the time the sun starts to rise till the sun is set. Full power production doesn’t actually occur till mid-day; however, the panels can produce power in almost any circumstance there is sunlight.

The battery then stores the power produces during the day. The control electronics determine when it is dark out by noticing the reduced power production of the solar panels. This triggers the system to stop feeding the battery and turn on the light fixture. The light fixture will then feed off the battery for its energy to produce the light. The fixture then operates the schedule profile it is set to operate, whether that is dusk to dawn, or in some lights, when the battery is empty. The light will then turn off when the battery becomes too low or the control electronics notice there is power being produced by the solar panel again.

This cycle continues day after day.

The only differences between solar light systems are the operation profile and system components that are used to build the light. Small lights you find at a home improvement store for your garden provide typically one night’s worth of power. They charge small batteries during the day and operate the light fixture only as long as the batteries have charge. This full depth of discharge only provides a short period of time before the batteries would need changing.

Some larger solar lighting systems manufacturers think the above design is okay for commercial practices; however, there is a large system failure since there are differences between locations and applications that need to be considered when designing the system. Large commercially produced lights must take into consideration the project location, the application that it will be used, and other project specifics. A minimum of five nights autonomy, or backup power, should be implemented to lower the maintenance of the system and provide enough backup for little to no failures when there are periods of inclement weather.

Light fixtures specific to the application should also be used. If you have a large area that requires lighting, a small spot light will not produce the required lighting levels. Instead, using light fixtures that produce specific optics and distribution patterns will ensure the light fixtures meet the needs of the project. The lumen output of the fixture, not the wattage, also needs to be taken into consideration. A lighting analysis and calculations can show all this and can be provided by any reputable solar light systems manufacturer.

So that’s basically it. Sun charges the batteries with the help of solar panels during the day and then the light fixture feeds off the battery at night. Want to learn about other ways to use solar for lighting? Check out 3 Types of Solar Street Light Retrofit Systems and learn about the three different ways solar can be used in lighting applications.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Earth Hour 2015: Let’s Turn It Off for One Hour

Posted by SEPCO

3/23/15 10:00 AM

wwf_earth_hour_300x250_ccc

Well, it is that time of year again. Earth Hour is this Saturday, March 28th at 8:30 PM your local time, and I am so looking forward to this again. Check out their official 2015 video:

If you are new to the Earth Hour community, check out our past articles for tips and advice on what goes on in the community:

Join In on Earth Hour 2012 and Help the Earth

Let’s Make Earth Hour 2014 Bigger and Better Together

You should also go to a local event, which can be found online through Meetups and Earth Hour Tracker.

Earth Hour is a global environmental movement by the WWF and partners with companies all over the world to provide awareness through social impact. Earth Hour was started in 2007 and the community continues to grow year after year. You can watch videos as they post them on their Earth Hour YouTube Channel to see what has been going on in years past as well as the developments around the world on Earth Hour.

If you decide to join in this year, I would love to see what everyone does to celebrate this hour. Visit us on social media and post your photos, videos and statements. We would love to create a feature showing off how our community celebrated this great hour.

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Topics: Green Ideas, Holiday, Conservation

Benefits of Off Grid Solar Power Light Systems

Posted by SEPCO

3/16/15 10:00 AM

Off Grid Solar Power Light SystemThere are two types of commercial lighting systems, grid powered and off grid powered. Solar powered light systems that are off grid provide different benefits to grid tied light systems such as: light when there is no power for additional safety and security, lack of electric bills, easier installation, and light wherever you need it. Customizing a system for each application will ensure that your light system meets the needs of your project completely.

Light with No Power –

If you live in an area that is prone to blackouts and brownouts, then off grid solar power light systems provide you the safety and security knowing that your lights will still function. Since they are not powered by the grid, if the electrical company has an issue, your lights will still operate just as they are supposed to.

If you area is not effected with these issues, the benefits are similar since you can rely on knowing that no matter what is going on with grid power in the area, your lights will still function. This provides additional safety and security and is popular for military and government facilities since the inception of the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 that states federally owned property and buildings are mandated to materially reduce current energy use while also improving energy “security,” by employing renewable power that operates independent of electrical utility grid.

Lack of Electric Bills –

Off grid power systems do not use electric from the grid and therefore cost you nothing in monthly electric bills. Since the inception and popularity of LED fixtures, the maintenance on such systems has also reduced greatly. The only thing that requires maintenance now on a standard solar lighting system is changing the battery every so often. Depending on your nights of autonomy, this can vary greatly between manufacturers. Ask your manufacturer how much their system’s autonomy, or backup power, is standard and what their maintenance schedule is. The more autonomy, the longer the batteries will last and the lower the maintenance costs will be.

Converting your existing electric grid powered lights to solar is not always the most cost feasible if everything is operating correctly. Instead, making simple changes such as switching out the fixtures to LED fixtures, installing control options that reduce the lighting, or even turn in off, when it is not required will help reduce power bills greatly. If you are looking for a way to eliminate the electric bill of your current lights, installing grid tied solar, after making the other changes, based on your average sun insolation and usage will allow for a NET Zero project.

Easier Installation –

Off grid solar power light systems provide a much easier installation. The light can be located where it is required. Unlike the constraints of traditional grid powered lighting where you have to use existing poles and infrastructure, or complete costly trenching to put the power where you need it, solar powered light systems can be installed just about anywhere. This lowers costs by allowing existing structures and areas to be undisturbed for installation. This is especially helpful in cases where grid power is far from the location of where the light is required and times where you discover, after doing upgrades to an area, that the power lines are deteriorated and would need replacing.

Light Where You Need It –

Like discussed in installation, the light can be placed exactly where it is required. Have a dark area in a parking lot? Or a pathway around a park where there is no electricity? Solar powered light systems can be installed in just about any location. If your lights are needed in a shady area, the solar power systems can be installed up to 50’ to 100’ from the actual light so that the solar can be exposed to full sun while your light can be installed where it is needed.

Now that you know some of the benefits of off grid solar power light systems, you will be able to make a better decision when determining your needs. Want to move forward with your off grid solar light project? Learn about common design questions that need to be answered before a system is configured. This will ensure that the manufacturer is designing a system that will meet the needs of your project.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Solar Lighting Design, Installation

What Is EPA and Why Does It Matter?

Posted by SEPCO

3/9/15 10:00 AM

WindandEPA
EPA stands for Effective Projected Area and is used in many applications, including solar lighting system design, construction and installation. The EPA is calculated to help determine the strength of the pole needed to provide support to the solar lighting system during wind events. This calculation takes into consideration the entire area that the solar power system and light fixture will take up at the top of a pole and helps manufacturers determine the size of pole, the type of anchors used, the embedment and foundations used at installation, and the types of brackets required to keep everything mounted during a high wind event.

EPA and AASHTO Standards are used when calculating the requirements for the pole used in any solar lighting application. These two factors are used to determine the size of pole required to ensure that the light will still be standing after a wind event up to a certain mile per hour.

The EPA of any system varies depending on angles, shapes, and size of the systems. Even the shape of the pole can change the EPA of a complete system as square poles have a larger EPA than a round pole. When designing a solar power system, the angle of the system affects both the EPA and the solar power production of the system. All these factors must be taken into consideration when designing a project as well as ensuring the installation will withstand for years to come.

So why does this all matter? When designing a system, the EPA of the complete system needs to be taken into consideration to ensure that the solar power assembly will not blow apart during a storm, the pole won’t be knocked over due to the large area at the top of the pole, etc. To find local AASHTO wind load ratings, you can look online or talk to your pole manufacturer, solar lighting specialist or local engineering firm.

Different locations, such as mountainous areas, coastal areas and areas around the Great Lakes have different wind speed requirements than other inland areas. Consulting a local authority is the best way to ensure you are purchasing equipment that can stand up to these windy areas. The best way to determine the requirements of the project is to:

  1. Determine the site location

  2. Determine to total weight and EPA of the equipment

  3. Determine the wind load requirement

  4. Talk to your manufacturer to ensure the pole can hold up

If you are still unsure, additional engineering calculations can be performed. These typically are a small fee ranging from $500 - $1000 for signed and sealed calculations. These calculations are performed by a third party engineering firm.

In the end, talking to your manufacturer or local engineering firm will help you determine what size and type of pole will ensure your equipment will withstand local wind events. Learning about different options when it comes to poles will also educate you on the final decision when it comes to system design. Check out: My Pole or Yours? Why Solar Light Poles Differ

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Topics: Solar Lighting Design, Poles

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