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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

Outdoor Solar Lighting Solutions to Exterior Illumination Needs

Posted by SEPCO

10/23/14 3:27 PM

Outdoor Solar Lighting Solutions Parking LotWe've become a very energy conscious society these days, going from fossil fuels and the old format of electricity to more renewable resources. One of the most popular areas to make this change has been in the area of lighting. Standard electric is great but can get quite costly over time, as a result people are starting to turn toward an outdoor solar lighting option in order to recoup some of the money they've been spending in order to light their locations. Going solar is the best move in many cases, but there are other things to consider when you're taking the leap from one lighting option to another. Probably the biggest question to ask is what the application of your lighting will be, is this something that is being used to light a parking lot at a business, are you putting up lights along the side of a road that will help drivers see where they're headed at night, or are you putting up lighting in a public park so that people taking a walk in the night hours can see their way along the path? Depending on the location you'll have to weigh the options, once you've made a decision to go solar, the choice of lighting styles becomes a bit easier.

When you're trying to light a parking lot you're going to need some seriously high powered bulbs for the job. You're lighting an incredibly large area, with the one positive being that it's mostly wide open spaces. The goal is to keep the entire area lit up, leaving as little room for dark spaces as possible. If you're running a store this is mandatory because it means a bit more safety for your customer base. The most popular lighting for a parking lot is typically going with large area lights. These give you the choice of CFL style bulbs, Metal Halide, and the increasingly popular LED light option. As long as you're going an outdoor solar lighting any option is great, but you're going to want to lean more toward the LED in most cases as it provides amazing light while burning less energy, and lasting longer than your other choices. While CFL is good, they just can't compete with the luminosity put out by an LED bulb. When combined with a solar setup you're looking at the absolute best energy option available.

Outdoor Solar Lighting Solutions Park LightingLighting a park is another interesting scenario as it requires a bit more intimate lighting than what you would use for a parking lot. You're going to want to have lighting closer to ground level, something that's going to be used to light up a walkway instead of looking to light the entire area around said park. Once again you have to select LED versus CFL and Metal Halide light bull options, you'll have to look decide which one works best for your location. The fun part of park lighting is less in the bulb style and more in selecting the appearance you want for your lights. Many locations these days are going for the more classic column with a canister on top, a touch of old world style with modern LED bulbs. It gives you a great blend of past and present, lighting the way toward the future. No matter what decision you make, as long as you're focused on going with solar lighting solutions, you'll be coming out as the winner in your project. With the breakthroughs in solar cell production in recent years it's bound to get even better as time ticks forward, keep your finger on the pulse and all will go well.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Parking Lot Lighting, Pathway Lighting, Off Grid Solar Lighting

Tips for A Successful Outdoor Solar Lighting Installation

Posted by SEPCO

10/21/14 9:30 AM

DR-Horton-1With the recent trends to go green, there are more and more government and institution outdoor solar lighting installations being undertaken. But how do you know if you've got everything as it should be to install your outdoor solar lighting? Here are some tips on what to consider so that your outdoor solar lighting installation goes smoothly:

Do you have the appropriate building permits in place?

Building permits are more than just an inspection on the safety of your installation itself; it also deals with the systems it is interconnected to, such as whether the framing on your structure is robust enough to handle the weight of your outdoor solar lighting equipment, whether the electrical lines running between your panels, charge controller and light fixtures are installed safely and whether the installation will meet your local codes. By checking with your local building inspector, you can find out if there are any unique permit requirements that you are not otherwise aware of.

What is the minimum amount of sun you get daily during the year?

Getting beautiful, sunny days all summer long doesn't mean that your system will work well in the winter! Usually during the winter months in the U.S., the minimum daily sunlight will affect how many solar panels you'll need to power your installation. From under two hours daily in the northern U.S. to over six in the southwestern U.S., the number of hours your panels can effectively work under will determine how much power can be provided during the shortest days and longest nights every year. If you're on the short end of that range, we can help you develop a customized solution.

Is there excessive dust, snowfall or trees at your project's location?

Though most panels are somewhat self-cleaning because of rain or because the angle the panels are at allows snow to slide off, excessive dust or snowfall can block sunlight and severely limit the amount of power your system can produce. Additional cleaning or maintenance may be required to keep your system functioning at peak performance, which will be safer and easier if the installation is more easily accessible using a shorter structure or pole-mounted system.  Similarly, large shade trees can also prevent sunlight from reaching the panels in a simple setup, especially evergreens. If your project site has issues that may cause dust, snow or shading problems, please let us know. We're more than happy to help you find a customized solution for your project.

By considering your answers to these questions, you'll have dodged the biggest problems that can come up in outdoor solar lighting installations. Thinking ahead and giving careful thought to all the steps of your installation and the future use of your lighting will greatly help the process go as smoothly as possible.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Installation, Off Grid Solar Lighting

4 Stunning Examples of Remote Solar Systems

Posted by SEPCO

10/16/14 9:30 AM

Solar power can be a beautiful thing to see, especially when it provides the power with little to no damage to the surrounding area. Here are four examples of remote solar power systems that provide utility and are stunning in their installations.

Seismic-Station-1Seismic Station Solar Power

A seismic station collects data about underground activities such as earthquakes in the nearby area. Since a lot of these types of applications are not located near a power source, solar powered seismic stations are a great choice to power the data center and transmit the information over satellite, phone or internet. These types of remote solar systems require a lot of solar power and backup battery to ensure that the system is always operational; however, the systems, like in the example photo, can be completed with little visual impact and be installed in just about any location required.

 

WiFi-Power-2Wi-Fi Solar Power Station

First installed as a Wi-Fi station to be solar powered in a remote location, this solar power system was installed on a movable skid that allows for easy transportation from one location to the other. This system powers a Wi-Fi station to broadcast the signal to the nearby area for local uses and can also be used for Wi-Fi signal repeater stations to keep the world connected, especially with everything being networked today. Like the seismic stations, the Wi-Fi power stations also need to provide enough solar power and battery backup to ensure that the system runs reliably in the field and is always operational.

 

Vehicle_OverheightVehicle Over-height Detection System

A vehicle over-height detection system is typically installed in a remote area along a highway. This alerts truckers that there is a low bridge coming up, and if they are too tall, to take a pre-determined detour to avoid collision with the bridge. This ensures the safety of not only the truckers, but the other travelers on the roadway. One system is configured to run the detection system and further down the road the flasher and sign will be operated by a separate solar power system. Since there is not always power in the nearby area, solar is a wonderful way to be able to power these types of applications.

 

Solar-Camera-1Solar Camera on Golf Course

Golf courses require security for vandalism and trespassing; however, there is little power out on the green. Using solar powered security cameras allow for no damage to the green for installation of a security camera system, especially those areas that are far from a clubhouse or normal security patrols exist. Installing a security camera in these vulnerable areas that can transmit the feedback to a central station for onsite security crews allows for extra visibility in these areas for the safety of golfers and homeowners in the nearby area.

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Topics: Solar Power, Off Grid Solar PV

Ways to Save Money with Solar Outdoor Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

10/14/14 9:30 AM

Save Money with Solar Outdoor Lighting

When you're running a business you're going to have to light the exterior perimeter of your building, for the safety of any visitors, yourself, and your employees. While you've got plenty of options on how you light those areas, one of the biggest things you need to debate is if you want to aim for something that may be cheaper up front or something that's going to save you more money in the long run. Standard lighting is going to offer you a much lower cost to start, but as time goes on you're going to spend more money on the service being connected at the property than if you aim for a solar powered option. Solar outdoor lighting is going to cost you a much larger up front payment over standard lighting methods, but that's money you'll eventually recoup in savings connected to not having a true light bill for that area. Once the cost of installation is met you begin to take money in as a profit instead of paying a company for electrical service.

Simply going with solar power for electrical service instead of traditional, standard lighting hook up options is a guaranteed money saving method in it's own right. When you add to the equation that you can also look to go with LED lights you're looking at an even greater cost savings. LED lights tend to last a much longer time than incandescent or florescent bulbs, meaning you've got to change them out much less often, meaning you have to buy bulbs far less often than if you go with either of the other options. Also, LED lights run at a much lower wattage than the other lights as well, creating another savings as you're not only cutting out the light bill but also with the lower wattage it means that the bulbs are burning much less energy themselves, this is where the benefit of a longer bulb life is born. Cutting down on the money you spend on purchasing multiple bulbs every year, on top of the savings of not paying an electrical bill thanks to your solar lighting, you'll be on your way to a major profit.

One more benefit for switching out to solar power is that you'll be able to get a tax break for making that decision. Energy conservation has become very big as of late and a move to solar power is right in line with this movement. Tax credits are available for those who decide to go the route of solar power until the end of 2016, so they won't be around forever, which makes taking advantage of them now that much more important. Since your project would be occurring after 2009 there is no cap on the available rebate from tax credits, until the end of 2008 you were capped at a $2000 maximum. The tax credit is for 30% of the full cost of the system, and without a cap you can aim for the absolute best available option and get a sizable price break on it thanks to your government incentives. No matter how you look at it, swapping from standard electrical services to a solar powered system is the best way to ensure that your business is turning a profit year over year. At the end of the day, using solar power is the obvious best answer, instead of burning the Earth down one little incandescent bulb at a time.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Off Grid Solar Lighting

Give Me 10 Minutes, I’ll Give You 3 Truths About Solar Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

10/9/14 9:30 AM

SolarLighting1.jpg-1There is a lot of information bouncing around about solar lighting. Some people love it, some people don’t. There are many pros and cons with solar lighting, but the one thing that always seems to get lost in the shuffle is the reason behind using solar lighting systems. Here are some truths behind solar lighting:

  1. Truth – You want a green option, but can justify the costs.

The initial costs behind a quality commercial solar lighting system can be daunting; however, incentives are available that help lower the costs. Also, take into account the lack of electric bill and very limited maintenance costs that are needed for the next 25+ years. With rising costs of dirty energy sources and lowering resources of these forms of energy, solar is a great option and the costs can easily be justified.

  1. Truth – What do you do when there is no power nearby?

When no power exists nearby, there are two options: trench in standard electric or install solar lighting systems. Trenching in power is a costly expense, not just bringing the power where it is needed, but also all the damage that needs to be repaired from the trenching. Will this tear up a parking lot or roadway? What about additional construction that may be done in the future, will it damage the underground wiring that you just brought to the site? Solar lighting systems are all in one systems and do not require underground trenching or wiring that can be disturbed over time or damage a property. Everything is on a single pole and completely stand alone from the other lights.

  1. Truth – I have electric already, but want to look at using solar instead.

This is typically not a justifiable cost since there is electric already at the site. Using off grid solar lights when there is already electrical lights won’t really save you anything immediately. The payoff or ROI is quite long when electric already exists. There are a couple things you can do to provide a green solution while not having to go completely off grid. The first thing that needs to happen is switching to LED fixtures to lower the power consumption. Next, you can switch to grid tied solar lighting systems that feed the grid during the day and then the lights draw from the grid at night. If done right, you can have a NET Zero project that is sized properly so you generate during the day what you use at night. Finally, you can use a battery backup system where the grid and solar work together to charge the batteries and then the lights operate off the batteries at night.

Solar isn’t for everyone, but it is a great alternative to standard electric power. There is never a “one size fits all” solution, especially with solar lighting, but working with a knowledgeable solar lighting company or representative will ensure that you get the best bang for your buck. Make sure you know all the truths about your project before you make the final decision.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design, Grid Tied Solar Lighting, Off Grid Solar Lighting

My Pole or Yours? Why Solar Light Poles Differ

Posted by SEPCO

10/7/14 9:30 AM

Solar Light PolesSo you are looking to purchase and install a solar lighting system; however, you are now having to decide if you should source a pole locally or get the one that comes with the system. Poles can be a large expense of any solar light project; however, there is good reasoning behind the costs associated with a pole provided by the manufacturer of the solar lighting system. Here are the differences:

1. The solar light poles that are provided by the solar lighting system manufacturer is typically specified to hold the weight of the solar power system. These poles are stronger and can tolerate more of a load than just any pole.

2. They also provide additional support for the effective projected area (EPA) for wind loads in certain areas, especially along the coast. Certain areas require that a pole handle a specific EPA for a specific wind load. By customizing the system with a pole that can provide the strength to handle the wind events will ensure that your system will still be standing, even after a storm.

3. The poles are built to last as long as the system operates, which can be 25 years or longer. I have seen poles needing to be replaced since they did not use quality poles in my area on standard lighting systems. The amount of trenching and construction that was required to replace all these poles was just a waste. Providing quality poles in the beginning would have provided a much longer life than the five or so years these were installed.

There are many varieties of poles, and depending on the needs of your project, a custom pole option can easily be provided. From direct burial, anchor base and transformer base poles to steel, aluminum, even fiberglass; each pole can be designed to withstand the solar weight and EPA to provide a long lasting system.

Sometimes there are existing poles on a project. These poles are typically not a good idea as they are not built to withstand additional weight of the solar. You can install the solar nearby on an additional pole or speak with the original pole company to decide whether or not this will withstand the additional weight and EPA.

If you want to source your own pole, make sure to ask your system engineer to provide you the weight and EPA of your system and pass this information along to your pole company. They will ensure that your system will be standing for years to come.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design, Off Grid Solar Lighting, Poles

Solar LED Lights Provide Security and Reduce Energy Consumption

Posted by SEPCO

10/2/14 9:30 AM

Solar LED LightsMost lighting installations in the past have used high pressure sodium lamps; however, these lamps produce a yellowish light that does not allow for good visibility. Using LED lights provide a whiter and more natural light to provide better lighting overall, and even though they look brighter, are much dimmer than the old HPS lamps. This provides a great cost savings since the amount of power required to light these fixtures is much less with a much lower power loss factor.

The US Department of Transportation recently did a study in July 2014 Maximizing Pedestrians’’ Perception of Safety Using Light Source Spectrum that reviews the differences between the old style HPS lamps and the new LED light sources. The study shows how lighting is perceived by pedestrians in urban and suburban areas that need to walk along the roadways at night. They found that people felt safer and more secure when the LED light sources were used even though the light levels were reduced from the old HPS lamps.

As roadway lighting accounts for 51 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year, switching to LEDs can save upwards of 30% of energy on just the lighting of our roads. If the switch to solar LED lights was the next step, and due to the lower power use of LEDs and the fact that there is less power loss as LEDs run off DC power, they would be the next logical step to reducing the electricity use of the US. Pulling the lights off the grid, or installing only solar LED lights in new installations would be the best way to reduce the power and provide a clean alternative to the standard electrical lights.

High Pressure Sodium Lights

Off grid solar lighting is not always an option; however, adding solar panels to the light poles like they have done in New Jersey would also work to reduce our power consumption while increasing our energy efficiency all over. This is not the best solution; however, it is a start in the right direction. While solar power continues to grow, a move towards solar LED lights will increase the safety and security while providing a zero energy option for new installations; therefore, not adding to our already extended use of grid power.

In the end, switching to LED lighting will reduce our power consumption and provide additional safety and security to pedestrians and drivers. Increased visibility is always a great thing and LED lights will provide the needed lighting levels to do so.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Street Lighting, Off Grid Solar Lighting

How to Determine the ROI on Your Solar Lighting Project

Posted by SEPCO

9/30/14 9:30 AM

 ROI on Solar Lighting Project

ROI is one of the most important aspects of determining if the solar lighting project you are looking to complete is better than going with standard electric lighting. This can be one of the most difficult things to determine, but there is a little information that can help you determine what the return of investment of the project will be. Here are some simple steps to help you find out what your payback period will be and the ROI of your project.

1. Determine the total cost of the project, including the purchasing of the solar lighting systems, the installation costs and other associated fees that may occur. Also, make sure to look into finding out what incentives are available on the Federal, State and Local governments.

2. Determine the total cost of the project, including the purchase and installation of a standard electrical lighting system would be including the trenching and all wiring requirements.

3. Also, find out what the current electrical rates would be for your project and don’t forget to include inflation over time. Since a solar lighting system has a life span of over 20 years, you can easily determine what your utility bill will be over the next 20 years and add that to your installation costs.

Say the area requiring lighting calls for 5 lights. If your solar lighting project is a total of $19,000 and bringing in electric for standard lighting is $10250 for example, you would need the following formula to determine the ROI:

Solar: $19000 Equipment – 30% Federal Tax Incentive = $13300 + $750 Installation = $14050 + $2250 Maintenance = $16300 total cost of project over 25 Years (remember, no electrical costs ever).

Electric: $13750 Equipment and Grid Extensions / Wiring / Trenching + $750 Installation = $14500 + $10060 Electricity Costs (3% Inflation over 25 Years) = $24560 + $835 Maintenance = $25395 total cost of project over 25 Years.

Now to determine the ROI of the project: The initial investment of $14050 vs $14500 for the purchase of the systems and the installation shows a difference of $450. The average electrical cost per year is $276 in the beginning and would give the system a 2 year ROI. This is with the average electrical costs; these vary in different areas in the country and can be longer or shorter depending on the local costs. This formula is also under the assumption that electric is available nearby and there isn’t much for electrical installation to occur. With so many vitiating factors, including other incentives that can reduce your solar lighting costs, speaking to your lighting specialist can help determine the exact ROI of your project.

Remember, there are always multiple factors that can change the return on investment on your project, but knowing all the costs going each direction will help you determine what the best is for your money. If that doesn’t work, just remember, you are lighting up your world with free solar energy and providing a green option to your project.

*NOTE: The above example is just that, an example. Contact your lighting representative for your project costs and information. 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Off Grid Solar Lighting, ROI

People’s Climate March and the UN Climate Summit 2014

Posted by SEPCO

9/25/14 9:30 AM

peoples climate march 2014

Last Sunday was one of the largest climate rallies ever, the People’s Climate March in New York City. Climate changes have been on the mind of people since the 60’s and 70’s, but realizing that we need to do something now is pushing people even harder, as we have already damaged the climate permanently and there is worse to come.  Many big names were out there in the crowd along with everyday citizens to demand action in the UN Climate Summit in New York on Sept 23.

Leonardo DiCaprio made one of the best speeches I’ve heard in a long time, see here:

I think my other favorite video this week was Jon Stewart’s video Burn Noticed:

So now what? Well some great ideas were put up and set to be put in action. The Green Climate Fund, which was established in 2009, was set into place to help developing countries move away from fossil fuels; however, it has not been kept up with and is not meeting the goals set forth. Pledges were taken at this year’s Climate Summit to push this program further ahead; however, most of the wealthier countries, including the US, needs to get on the boat and make their pledge.

Carbon emissions were of course one of the largest topics. Countries including Ireland and Chile are working towards reducing their carbon emissions; however, we need large industrial countries such as China and India to jump on board to make a real impact. So are they doing this? 2014 Was the lowest coal consumption year in the past decade for China and they are working to lower their consumption even more. As for India, no one knows as they didn’t show up to discuss their input, but we will see in time what they do.

Food security was another hot topic on the list along with deforestation. Deforestation is on a track to be cut in half by 2020 and finally ended in 2030. Will there be forests or even trees left by 2030? I guess we will see. One of the worst deforestation is due to the Palm Oil industry; however, large companies are finally getting involved and making zero-deforestation pledges and deforestation-free sourcing of palm oil.

As for the future, The UK Prime Minister David Cameron wants leaders to strike a deal in Paris. He states “We must agree to a global deal in Paris next year, we simply cannot afford to put it off any longer.” Maybe this is a good idea, a yearly meeting instead of every 5 years; help keep everyone accountable of their actions and on track for a global change.

All in all, the rally helped raise awareness and showed the people’s support  for action as well as showing  the UN how much everyone (well most everyone) wants change to happen immediately. We all want a green and clean world for our children for generations to come, but we need to start somewhere. Every drop in the bucket towards making the world better is a step in the right direction.

For more information, check out: UN Climate Change Summit, Vice News, The Guardian, Mashable

Img Source: Grist

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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles, Alternative Energy

Planning and Budgeting For Your Commercial Solar Lighting Project

Posted by SEPCO

9/23/14 9:30 AM

Planning_Budgeting_Commerical_Solar_Lighting_ProjectPurchasing a good quality commercial solar lighting system can be a daunting task and the numbers alone can make you cringe. The savings are sometimes missed when you are looking at the initial costs of a project. But don’t be disconcerted, there is are ways to help budget your commercial solar lighting projects and make them more affordable. Here are a few tips that can help make or break your project.

1. Find out what your budget is and tell your specifier in the beginning stages of the project. If they know what your budget is, they will be more apt to follow with that then just quote you whatever they think will work. Giving them something to go on takes away the initial sticker shock of a purchase and allows them to work within your budget when designing the initial project.

2. If you don’t have a budget planned out, but you want to find a way to lower the costs from what the original quote was, check out incentives for using renewable energy. There are grants and tax incentives available for just about any business looking to use solar lighting for their facility. Some great resources are: The Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE), Department of Energy and contacting your local power company for additional information.

3. Complete the project in phases when the entire project cannot be purchased all at once. Breaking the project down to ensure that the most appropriate and important part of the project can be completed first will allow you to budget better for the overall project and break up the investment over time.

4. Don’t forget to take into consideration the short and long term costs associated with a commercial solar lighting project such as installation and maintenance. Review all documents to ensure that the company stands by their product with a warranty and provides you’re the length of coverage for each component, not just a system as a whole. Since different parts of the system have a range of life span, the warranty should reflect this and not just be an overall warranty on the product.

These are some of the best tips to making sure your commercial solar lighting project stays within your budget and the project is finished with great success. Working with your solar lighting specifier will ensure that your project will meet your needs and not kill your bottom line. 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design, Off Grid Solar Lighting

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