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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

Learn About Solar Lighting Retrofit- Replacing Existing Grid Lights

Posted by SEPCO

8/31/15 10:00 AM

 Solar Lighting Retrofit

The constant request to replace grid tied lights with solar powered lighting systems, taking them off grid, makes me step back for a minute. What is the reasoning behind this?

To understand this, we need to look at the three major reasons people use solar lighting systems:

1. There is no grid power currently available or trenching in grid power is costly

2. Current power lines are not operational and require extensive construction to remove current infrastructure to replace

3. The desire for a green alternative / gain LEED points / etc.

When a potential client comes in with a request for a 1 for 1 replacement of their current grid powered lights that are currently operational and want to disconnect the power grid and use stand-alone solar, this is a tough sale and rarely happens.

First off, solar is almost never a 1 for 1 replacement. With the unlimited power available with grid energy, most people don’t pay attention to factors such as lumens per watt, energy efficiency, etc. They think a 300 Watt light is the same across the board and is plenty bright. With solar we meet the same lighting uniformity by lowering the heights of the fixture to get higher levels of lighting on the ground.  Therefore, the same levels can be met with Solar as with grid power but the design, mounting heights, wattages, etc would require different mounting locations and more of them. 

Solar lighting system designers look at projects from the ground up to design a complete system. They look at light level requirements, pole locations, geographic location, and operation profile requirements, etc. We take many factors into account when designing a lighting system or project. This allows us to use a much lower wattage fixture and forces us to provide the best lumens per watt efficiency available.

Second, there is also the added cost of replacing the poles as well.  Solar panels and batteries add weight and a higher foot print to the poles. The grid poles are designed to hold a fixture and not designed structurally for the added materials. Therefore new poles need to also be configured into the cost.

Therefore, if you do not have electrical lines at the site, the currently lines are not operational or hidden under the roadway and if you are looking for a green alternative, want to cut your company’s CO2 emissions, looking to do a complete facility overhaul moving towards solar, or are looking for LEED points, then definitely, look at using solar lighting to replace your existing electrical lights.

If you are looking to cut costs with currently electric lights, look at switching out fixtures to LED fixtures, using much less power than old style HPS lights, and find an efficient fixture. Our partners at Hubbell Outdoor Lighting manufacture fixtures that will meet the needs of your project and the efficiency ratings and performance of their LEDs are top quality.

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Who is Leading the Way in Sustainable Schools?

Posted by SEPCO

8/24/15 10:00 AM

Sustainable Schools Post

Sierra Club recently posted their list of the Top 10 Cool Schools with some great information. They used a scoring key that went into depth of the different practices used to help promote sustainability and green movement initiatives. You can even view the score of all 153 schools they looked at for this list.

Who are the top 10 schools?

10. University of California: Berkeley, CA

9. Lewis & Clark College: Portland, OR

8. University of Washington: Seattle, WA

7. University of California: San Diego, CA

6. University of Connecticut: Storrs, CT

5. Oberlin College: Oberlin, OH

4. Colorado State University: Fort Collins, CO

3. University of Wisconsin: Oshkosh, WI

2. University of California: Davis, CA

1. University of California: Irvine, CA

It isn’t really amazing that the University of California has dominated this list. California, along with a handful of other states, is really driving the green revolution. California has been pushing for more solar, lowering consumption, even installing shade balls in the Los Angeles reservoir to combat the nasty drought they have been experiencing.

California schools have been implementing bicycle friendly solutions, lowering car parking, providing better food options ranging from organic to vegan, lowering water consumption, reducing waste, and working with students on new ways to solve other issues that contribute to global warming. They are really working towards teaching students a new way of thinking and working together to combat one of today’s most prominent issues.

Other schools are starting to follow suit by implementing more green changes to curriculum. Things that stand out is fining students who print too much, implementing renewable sources of energy on campus, growing food and providing strict recycling programs. Many schools also don’t just work towards having a green initiative; they showcase it by providing tours and hosting competitions.

Kind of makes you want to go back to college reading about all the amazing things they are doing now…

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Topics: Green Ideas, Conservation

Adding Atmosphere to the Outdoors with Solar Powered Landscape Lights 

Posted by SEPCO

8/17/15 10:00 AM

Solar Powered Landscape Lights DayA recent project completed using a SEPCO solar power assembly to power multiple small LED landscape light fixtures to provide enough power to illuminate a small area all night. These lights can be used for tree up lighting, lighting small landscape features like a pond or statue, lights along a pathway and so many other applications. Solar powered landscape lights can easily adapt to these types of applications.

Small landscape lights powered by a single larger solar power assembly allows for more versatility in these types of applications. Noticing in the photo, not all fixtures are located in the full sun, allowing for complete charge if using the big box style fixtures with the small solar panel on each individual fixture. Using a single larger solar power assembly allows for the fixtures to be placed in any location, even shaded locations, with the solar power assembly placed in the sun taking full advantage of the sun’s power.

Solar Powered Landscape Lights Night

Secondly, the fixtures do not all have to match. Using multiple style of fixtures for different applications, all powered the same, makes sure that your system operates exactly how you want it to and not have parts of your landscape go out before the rest. If you want all the fixtures to operate dusk to dawn, using a single solar power source sized for the number of fixtures you will be using will ensure that the fixtures operate exactly the way you want.

Pathways that need a little illumination, or that tree that you have been grooming to perfection, or so many other applications, all can be illuminated easily with low wattage landscape fixtures and enjoyed anytime at night. Even overhead rope lights can now be illuminated using solar power assemblies to add a bit of atmosphere to your outdoor space. Next time you look to illuminate your space, contact your solar lighting specialist to see how they can assist you by using a single solar power source to complete your project.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Landscape Lighting

Solar Lighting Systems for Parks and Playgrounds

Posted by SEPCO

8/10/15 10:00 AM

Solar Lighting Systems for Parks and Playgrounds

Parks and playgrounds are a great place to gather with friends and family. From just playing on playgrounds to running around on a field, to walking down trails and relaxing in nature, there are so many things to do at parks. Most parks close around dusk, but there are ones that like to stay open a little later. Proper lighting should always be installed in parks; however, there isn’t always electric available. That’s where solar lighting systems come in to play.

Solar lighting systems can provide so much for parks. They can light signs, information kiosks, trails, pavilions, parking lots and so much more. Since they are independent from the grid, they can be easily installed in any location in the park and provide the light necessary for the application.

Timing is key to determine how long the lights need to operate. If the park closes at dusk, having the lights on an hour or two after dusk ensures that anyone still working on leaving can see. If the park is open later, the lights can provide additional safety and security for people visiting the park after dark. The lighting can also provide additional safety for parks department personnel that need to secure the area at night.

If the park is open early in the morning, before dawn, solar lights can also be programmed to come back on an hour or two before the sun rises. This way, people who are trying to get in that early morning jog can see where they are going and provide additional safety since their visibility will be increased.

No matter what the application is, solar lighting can help with any lighting problems a park has. Working with your local lighting designer or with the solar lighting company directly will help you determine the best solution to the problem.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Parking Lot Lighting, Sign Lighting, Parks & Recreation

Eco-Friendly Building with Solar Powered Parking Lot Lights

Posted by SEPCO

8/3/15 10:00 AM

Hilo Hawaii Solar Powered Parking Lot LightsLooking to build a new place of business or take over an existing building that has no lighting available? Well there is something you can do that will keep costs low, provide a sustainable option, and the installation will preserve the already installed structures. What more could you ask for.

Solar powered parking lot lights can be installed even on an already existing parking lot since all the wiring and electric needed is located at the top of the pole. There is no need to rip up the existing parking area to bring in outside electric, just set the pole, put the solar power assembly at the top with the solar light fixture below, and wait for dark. The light will automatically come on at dusk and run the scheduled operation schedule the end user requires. 

Since no trenching of existing parking lot infrastructure is required, the solar will save on costs of installation as well as provide a zero cost to the electric bill of the facility. This makes solar the go-to option for many existing parking lots that have older cables that are starting to fail. The solar will also provide LEED points for companies looking for that green solution. 

Decorative Solar Parking Lot LightDon’t want standard parking lot fixtures? That’s fine. With solar powered LED light fixtures there are many options available today. Decorative style solar light fixtures can be used to provide architectural fixtures that work well with the surrounding area. By utilizing similar, or even the exact same LED boards in some case, the decorative fixtures can provide the same lighting levels as the standard commercial style fixtures. This provides many more options for meeting architectural and aesthetic requirements of the area. 

These fixtures can also provide directional lighting for less light pollution, better visibility, more even lighting levels, and many are even dark sky certified, meaning the light does not trespass upward into the sky. Non dark sky certified lights provide a lot of wasted light and energy, costing more in the long run and harm the environment as well. 

What about building perimeters you ask? Solar lights can do that as well. There are wall mounted fixtures that can have the solar mounted on the wall or roof of the building. One solar power system can even provide power to multiple fixtures or even the lighted sign on the building. There are many options with perimeter lighting systems including style of solar light fixtures ranging from standard wall packs to larger flood lights. These lights can operate the same as the parking lot areas or on a separate schedule since they are independent from the rest of the light systems installed.

Finally, if you don’t want to pay a power company to power your lights, solar is a great option. Since solar power is renewable and doesn’t cost anything, there are no additional costs to companies who utilize solar for their parking lots. Ask for a ROI analysis from your provider to find out how much you can actually save. You may be amazed at the results.

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in May 2012 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, General Lighting, Parking Lot Lighting

Why Custom Solar Lighting Solutions are Important

Posted by SEPCO

7/27/15 10:00 AM

Custom Solar Lighting SolutionSolar powered energy is a fast growing trend and has been recognized worldwide as an affordable eco-friendly solution. It’s becoming common to see solar panels on the tops of buildings, and now more often, we see them popping up on streetlights, parking lot lights, signs, and so many other applications.

Consumers can even go to their favorite hardware store and purchase small, inexpensive solar lights for applications like gardens, paths, and accent illumination needs. These small units may require no more than taking them out of the box and setting them into the ground. But for more vital lighting projects like illuminating public roads, parking lots, parks, security perimeters and freeways, a greater level of expertise is required.

A long list of important factors must be considered when choosing the best solar lighting solution, including:

  • Selecting the most appropriate fixture and light distribution for the specific application
  • Evaluating the geographic location to determine sun hours and the length of the night
  • Meeting light level requirements and providing options for operation schedules.

When there is a clear understanding of the specific sizing and application needs, the results will be satisfactory for the client and will function properly.

When it comes to this type of critical solar power project, the concept of a “one solution fits all” can result in defective results and, unfortunately, create the impression that the solar lighting industry is not ready to play a prime role in illumination of our streets and roads. 

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When the appropriate system is applied correctly, solar powered lighting systems provide reliable, efficient and cost-effect solutions for a wide range of illumination projects. 

It is very important that subcontractors, project managers and end customers demand their solar lighting vendor treat each project unique and to take the time and analyze all of the details. Experienced and reliable solar lighting companies, like SEPCO, do this with every project no matter how big or small. Customers should insist the same from all of their potential solar vendors.

The basic operating principle at SEPCO is, “not all solar lighting projects are created equal.” We take the time to learn about and evaluate every aspect of each individual project to develop a customized solution. Understanding the goals of our client and exceeding their expectation is our number one goal.  Only trust experience and expertise when selecting a solar lighting solution.

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in May 2013 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 
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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Power

Options for Commercial Solar Outdoor Lighting Systems

Posted by SEPCO

7/13/15 10:00 AM

Old-vs-New.jpg

About 15 years ago or so, there were very few options for commercial solar outdoor lighting systems, but as technologies advance, more and more options are available for a custom system for your application. Solar light fixtures have advanced through the use of LEDs and aimed optics to allow for a range of commercial and decorative style lighting systems. Controls have also advanced to allow for adaptive lighting, motion operation, split timing and so much more. Solar has also come down in price while increased in efficiency for the size of the panels.

Solar Light Fixtures:

Old style Cobrahead, flood and shoebox style fixtures were about all that was used years ago when it came to your selection of light fixtures. The need for reflectors, refractors, and so much other equipment was required to get the light to shine down on the ground. Uplight started becoming a large problem with the light fixtures casting light in all directions.

With new solar light fixtures, we are able to direct the light where we need it. Uplight has been almost eliminated and the style line has increased to almost infinite possibilities. Using the same light board in one fixture as another allows for a range of fixtures to produce the same lighting pattern and levels as there industrial counterparts. This is great news for anyone looking for an option to match the architectural needs of an area.

Control Options:

Controllers have advanced in so many ways. Instead of just dusk to dawn or dusk for a number of hours, we are now able to do split timing, adaptive controls and so much more. Split timing allows for the lights to operate after dusk and before dawn for areas where all night lighting is not required. Dimming the LEDs has also become an option to lower the requirements of the solar and the added ability to increase to full where motion is detected has allowed for this to be used in more applications.

Please note that many manufacturers will allow for adaptive lighting in all systems and you should always be aware of exactly the programming provided for your system before purchase. This should be especially paid attention to when strict dusk to dawn is a requirement of your project. Request an exact operation schedule that includes a light plan of the light at full and at dimming. This way you ensure you will never be left in the dark.

Solar Power Assemblies:

Solar has increased in the power output for size. What used to take up a large area at the top of the pole has now been able to become much smaller in size, allowing for more light and power than before.  This is great for aesthetics since no more do you need a huge power array for a single light; well in most cases anyways.

Costs on solar power have also decreased drastically making the systems more affordable than before. The combination of increased power per size and decreased cost allow for the pricier LED fixtures to become mainstream and allowing for a complete system that was once only a dream. Powder coating of the metal work ties in the system that much more.

In the end, commerical solar lighting systems are moving right along by advancing along with the technology available. This is allowing for more and more options for the end user to customize a system to their exact need. The advances that have taken place over the last 10 years have been astonishing and I am excited to see what the next 10 years holds.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, General Lighting, LED Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Difference between a Solar Street Light vs. Traditional Street Light

Posted by SEPCO

7/6/15 10:00 AM

Solar Street Light vs. Traditional Street Light

More solar street lights are being installed worldwide and are slowly taking over as the way to illuminate the streets at night, but what are their differences? Why are solar street light systems being used now instead of bringing in the electric and using a traditional street light? Here are a few differences and reasons these new systems are becoming so popular.

There are two primary types of solar street light systems: off-grid and grid-tied. Off grid solar lights use no power from the grid and produce their own self-sustaining power on each pole, allowing for a zero electric bill for the life span of the system. Grid tied solar light systems feed power from the solar panels to the grid during the day, then use the grid power at night. These systems are typically sized for NET Zero system design, meaning they produce enough power during the day to offset the electrical usage of the lights at night. Both system designs for solar street lights take into consideration multiple facets of a project; available sun, required lighting levels, spacing, wattage of fixture, and backup power (off grid only).

For years, traditional street lights do not take into consideration any of these requirements. Typically a 250-400 Watt metal halide lamp is used inside a traditional Cobrahead fixture. Spacing, light levels and even power consumption are not taken into consideration. As we advance in our technology and awareness of climate change and power conservation, things are starting to shift. Now, with new pole installations, even traditional street lights are starting to take into consideration more of what the solar lighting industry has been for decades.

Traditional old style street lights are slowly being switched out for newer LED fixtures, which require much less maintenance and provide better efficiency of used power. Much lower wattages are now being able to easily replace the old style fixtures. Also, with new LED technology, optics are able to be used to provide task specific lighting on the ground instead of old style refractors that just blast the light in all directions.

What does all this mean in comparison? If you are dealing with grid-tied electrical lights, the most feasible solution to offset or lower your power consumption is to switch to LED fixtures and to even install solar panels to feed the grid during the day. If you are dealing with a new project or an area where grid power doesn’t already exist and / or is difficult to bring in, off grid solar lighting systems is the way to go.

Different types of fixtures have been traditionally used; however, with LEDs becoming more wide spread in various fixtures, the allowance of more decorative style fixtures are now available with solar lighting applications. The LEDs are typically powered between 20 and 50 Watts and put out the same light levels as traditional high powered fixtures. The LEDs produce better light levels and allow for better visibility than before, while the long life extends the maintenance requirements.

In the end, knowing what your requirements are, understanding the cost differences between going solar, NET Zero or installing traditional electrical lights will help determine what the best course of action is. Using LED fixtures in all new installations will ensure that the lowest power consumption is being used while the best light levels are being achieved. It is amazing how far the technology has advanced over the last couple of decades, I can’t wait to see where it is in the next 10 to 20 years.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Street Lighting

Happy Independence Day 2015

Posted by SEPCO

6/29/15 10:00 AM

Happy Independence Day

For this 4th of July I wanted to throw in a little science just for fun and since solar deals primarily with the sun the subject seems fitting.  Every year around this time a phenomenon happens called aphelion. Basically speaking it means that this is the point when the Earth is farthest away from the sun which happens every year 2 weeks after the summer solstice. I am sure many are wondering how this is possible since the earth orbit is “round”. While this is true in a sense we actually orbit in a more oval pattern on a tilt with one end closer to the sun than the other. A distant sun means less sunlight for our planet and the sun is about 7% less on this day.

So I am sure you are wondering how it is so warm out if we are further from the sun. Seasonal weather patterns are shaped by the tilt of our planets spin axis not by the distance from the sun. During the northern summer the North Pole is tilted towards the sun which is why we have longer summer days. Believe it or not the whole earth is warmer at aphelion than any other time. This happens because overall there is more land mass north of the equator than there is south which makes the land heat up rather quickly, where as in the winter the northern hemisphere presents it water dominated parts to the sun. We may be closer to the sun in January but the extra sunlight gets spread throughout the ocean which gives us cooler winters. As a side note this is why solar systems have to be built to hold battery power longer during the winter months.

So this 4th when you go out and look at the sky the sun is actually smaller in size than at any other time of the year but it is not something that is really drastic enough to be seen by the naked eye. So besides the fireworks you can throw a little science in for the kids to ponder.

If you're feeling baked, take a hint from the watery southern hemisphere, locate the nearest swimming pool and dive in; feel the water's high heat capacity. A little physics can be refreshing....

Everyone here at SEPCO would like to wish you a safe and Happy 4th of July

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Topics: Holiday

Benefits of Renewable Energy

Posted by SEPCO

6/22/15 10:00 AM

Benefits of Renewable EnergyRenewable Energy and Green Power Energy efficiency opportunities have been available to some facilities across the county and some facilities may want to consider going green. It is studied that renewable energy is referenced as electricity distributed from energy sources in the form of Wind, Solar, Geothermal, Hydro and Biomass. These energies are abundant and based on energy flows that are replenished by natural process and does not become depleted when use, like fossil fuel or nuclear.

Renewable energy has unique costs and benefits than the conventional sources. Studies show that much higher level of renewable energy can be achieved while substantially reducing global warming emissions. Green power is more environmental, friendly, safer and healthy, if all the states embark on sound plan to created and maximize green, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Benefits of Renewable Energy:

Renewable energy improves health and environmental quality. Electricity generated from renewable energy rather than fossil fuels offer significant public health, environmental and economic benefits.

Renewable energy will significantly reduce premature mortality, lost work days and overall health care costs. Like the fossil fuels, they emit pollutions to our air and water which has been linked to breathing problems, neurological damaged heart attacks and cancer.

Green power is huge and in-exhaustible in supply, throughout the world, strong winds, sunny skies, plant residues, heat from the earth and fast moving tide can each provide a huge and consistent energy replenished supply. The diversity sources of renewable energy have immense potential to offer all the electricity a nation needs many times over if properly harnessed and managed as well.

Another important factor in using renewable energy sources is to help reduce the negative environmental effects associated with non-renewable energy sources such as coal and natural gas. Willingness to use a renewable energy source will not only decipher into cost savings for you over the long haul, but will also help protect the environment from the risks of fossil fuel emissions of non-renewable energy sources.

Economic Benefits:

Harnessing renewable energy is more labor intensive, as compared to fossil fuels, which is typically mechanized and capital intensive. On average, it creates a lot of jobs for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than fossil fuels. Increasing renewable energy has real potential to continue still job addition and creation.

Green energy in 2014 supports thousands of jobs in various capacities in the United State, for example Wind and Solar industries. These job gains would be enough on their own to reduce the unemployment rate in today’s economy by about two full percentage points, even after taking into full account the inevitable job losses in conventional fossil fuel sectors of the U.S. economy as they contract.

Sources: www.altenegy.com http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/09/24/is-renewable-energy-really-green/

About the Author: Peter Okwudi is a Machining Sales Engineer at Lere Technology. Prior to joining Lere Technology, he worked in strategic business development and consulting at several companies. Notably, his four years Energy Specialist of Business Development for Green Energy Expert LLC, where he directed major partnering initiatives. Also, a former mechanical engineering writer for Bright-Hub Engineering. Peter’s greatest strengths are his creativity, drive and leadership. He thrives on challenges, particularly those that expand the company’s reach. Peter holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, graduate certificate in renewable energy and sustainability and MBA in progress from Phoenix University. He lives in Charlotte with his wife, their three children.

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Topics: Guest Post, Renewable Energy

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