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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

Solar Power for Remote Restroom Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

5/29/12 8:30 AM

Solar Restroom LightRemote restrooms facilities are a perfect application for solar lighting solutions. These restrooms are often located in the middle of a large campground or state/federal park. Often, the electrical grid is not available in these remote locations. Solar lighting can be used at the restroom location without the need of the electrical grid. Solar panels produce their own electrical energy that is stored in batteries which are used to power the lights at night.

Lighting is needed for remote restroom buildings for both convenience and security purposes.  Exterior lighting can be used to help visitors located the buildings at night. Interior lighting is utilized by people using the facilities. The lighting also includes the added benefit of deterring nighttime vandalism which sometimes becomes a problem at these locations.

Solar Restroom LightingThere are several options for mounting the solar power assemblies. The solar panels can either be mounted onto the roof of the building or onto a pole separate from the building. The batteries and control electronics can be mounted with the solar on the building or pole. The battery assembly can also be located inside the building.

The exterior lighting would normally be run from dusk to dawn or from dusk for a certain number of hours every night. The interior restroom lighting is normally run on an as needed basis. This can be accomplished using either a motion sensor inside the restroom or a spring-loaded timer that will run the lights for a set amount of time after a user activates them. The lights can either be set to be ready to activate 24/7 or only at night if natural outside light is allowed to enter the restroom.

Solar lighting provides the necessary combination of availability, performance, convenience, and security for all remote restroom facility needs.

Blog Building Structure Lighting CTA

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Renewable Energy, Building Structure Lighting

Have a Green and Great Memorial Day

Posted by SEPCO

5/24/12 9:30 AM

Memorial Day CansMemorial Day is this weekend. What are you doing to keep your festivities green? Here are some great tips to help you reduce your impact and still have a great time.

Red Solo Cup – I’m sure most of you have heard the song by Toby Keith; if not check it out. Solo cups are decomposable, recyclable, and can now be put in your compost pile. Finally, I put mine through the dishwasher and reuse them until they break and then recycle them.

Finger Foods – Make simple and easy to handle food like hot dogs, kabobs, cupcakes, etc and reduce the need for plates and cutlery. If your party really needs things like plates and cutlery, why not pick up inexpensive plastic plates that can go through the dishwasher and be reused for other parties. You can do the same with plastic cutlery.

Local Products – Watermelon is one of my favorite things to eat when it is hot, and here in South Florida it is almost always hot. Go to your local fresh market and purchase all the produce you need for your party and help local farmers. Same goes for other local vendors that have what you may need.

Make your Decorations – Like in the picture above, you can make your own decorations that will last from year to year. Paint empty cans any way you want, punch in a few holes, and put in a candle. Or tie large ribbons on jars, chairs, or anything else. After the party is over, you can box up the decorations and use them again next year.

Give Thanks – Don’t forget what Memorial Day is all about and give thanks to all the soldiers that have fallen. And if you are a soldier or know one personally I want to say thank you for everything you have done.

Well there you have it; a few ideas on how you can make your party fun but still be green. I hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

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Topics: Green Ideas, Holiday

Maximizing the Benefits of Solar Power

Posted by SEPCO

5/22/12 9:30 AM

If you've recently had solar panels installed, whether they're photovoltaic solar panels or solar water heating panels, you'll be looking to maximise the effects of your investment and by cutting down your use of energy wherever possible. Figures show that a PV solar panel can cut down energy bills by 50% - but if you maximise your efficiency with energy use, you might be able to cut your bills down by much, much more than that, making your investment in solar power all the more lucrative. In fact, if you make enough small changes, you might be able to rid yourself of electricity bills altogether.

These small alterations don't require you to make any lifestyle changes at all. In fact, all you need to do is make sure that your home is properly equipped to maximise energy efficiency, and your energy bills should drop by themselves. By following this guide to more efficient living, you might find that your new solar panels haven't just cut your electricity bills – but eliminated them altogether.

CFL Light Bulb

Image by Blue Square Thing


It's estimated that around 8% of our energy bills go on lighting the home. It's easy to cut this figure in half, simply by switching from traditional light bulbs to low-energy bulbs. Low-energy bulbs emit the same amounts of light at much lower wattages, which means that you can light your home to the same standard for half the cost. While conventional light bulbs waste lots of energy on heat, energy-saving bulbs are far more efficient at converting energy into light, and waste much less energy on other wasteful byproducts. This means that switching to energy-saving bulbs doesn't mean compromising on quality.

Switching to low-energy light bulbs is just as easy as changing a bulb. Incandescent bulbs – the kinds you'll have in lamps and lights around the home – can be switched for compact flourescents (CFLs), while halogen downlighters – which you might have in a bathroom or kitchen – should be switched for LED lights. Low-energy bulbs are available in a variety of wattages, which means you can select the level of brightness that's right for you, and avoid wasting money on energy while you do it.

Home Appliances

The majority of your electricity use in the home will go on appliances, usually either in the kitchen or the lounge. If you watch a lot of TV, you might guess that TVs are a huge guzzler of power; thankfully, it's easy to get a TV that won't monopolise your energy bills. LED TVs are considered the most environmentally friendly boxes available today, using the same low-energy lights that you might have installed in your kitchen. Fujitsu claim that some of their LED TVs can reduce energy consumption by around 46% in comparison to standard TV models.

The other home appliance that you may want to consider the efficiency of is your fridge/freezer (or both, if yours are separate). Fridges and freezer are constantly running, which means that any steps you can take to getting a more energy-efficient model will make a huge difference to your bills. Many manufacturers and retailers now offer grading systems that rate the energy-efficiency of their models of fridges and freezers. If your fridge is over ten years old, it's definitely time to change it; energy efficiency has improved by around 25% since 1990, so even the cheaper models of fridge will still save you money.


Better insulation will save you money on your heating bills; if you kept your home adequately insulated, you'll find yourself having to spend much less money on heating bills to stay warm. Double-glazing your windows is the best way to do this; it might cost a lot for the initial investment, but it'll stop most of your heat escaping through the windows and your home will appreciate in value as a result. Thick curtains will also prevent heat from escaping through windows; these can be used either instead of double-glazing or in conjunction with it.

Jessica Wilson is a renewable energy and conservation enthusiast. When she isn’t writing about renewable energy she enjoys hill walking and kayaking. She currently writes about solar energy, energy saving tips and renewables for home and business.

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Topics: Guest Post, Solar Power, Renewable Energy

Understanding the Price Difference of Solar Lighting Products

Posted by SEPCO

5/17/12 9:07 AM

Solar light products are generally purchased through procurement where the lowest bidder gets awarded the project.  Generally, specifications are set to help guide the products to meet certain requirements.  In order for the procurement officer or purchasing agent to verify if the low bidder meets the guidelines they have to understand the technology.  Every industry has various levels of performance, longevity, and options which affect cost.  The difference with the solar industry is everyone is not familiar with the options or performance. 

With cars, everyone is familiar with the options and what they do.  A purchaser that is looking for a car with lowest cost, highest reliability knows to look at warranties and mpg.  The other customer might have a large family and prefers luxury over mpg. 

Over the years of being in the industry we hear from the purchasers who have systems that are not performing.  We have gathered some photos of various projects where there are some options that should have been specified that were left out.  Please look at the photos below and see if you can determine what these options might be. 

Bad Solar Panel Install

Photo 1 shows mounting material that is not holding the solar module up correctly. 

Too Small Solar Light

Photo 2 shows a large 15’ sign with two tiny flood lights on each side of the sign. 

Tape on Solar Light Fixture

Photo 3 & 4 shows that it is important to specify material of the pole, hardware, and fixture housing you can see corrosion of the various metals and the fixture is required to be held onto the bracket with tape and shows the extra cable run from the battery box to the panel is wrapped up and tie strapped to the panel mount.  

Rusty Solar Battery Box

What other lower cost items have you purchased that did not perform as the company originally stated? Let us know below.
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Topics: Solar Lighting

Anatomy of a Solar Street Light

Posted by SEPCO

5/15/12 9:30 AM

Solar Powered Street Light

Solar street lights are becoming more popular as a green alternative is becoming the go to option for sustainability.  Solar street lights provide a better value for cost, optimum lighting, a renewable source of energy, lower maintenance, and easier installation. With all these factors added up, solar street lights can be the best replacement for most applications.

The lights are grid free and can run under reliably under most any condition, even in the snow covered winters or after a hurricane. The lights can run from dusk to dawn or any other needed operating configuration. They can even reduce light pollution by using cutoff fixtures and aimed optics through new LED technology.

What powers a solar street light?

Solar street lights are comprised of a solar panel assembly mounted to the top of the pole. The solar power system is wired to a battery assembly either located directly under the solar panel assembly or in the pole’s base. The solar panels charge the batteries during the day to provide the needed energy for operation of the solar light at night.

What about the fixture?

The solar street light fixture is located on a bracket below the solar power assembly. The fixture can operate many different types of lamps depending on the needs of the area. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and light emitting diodes (LED) are the most common types of lamp configurations used with solar powered street lights. High pressure sodium (HPS) and induction are also available.

There is no standard street light fixture, although a Cobrahead style fixture is the most typically used. With new LED technology available, street light fixtures are changing to be more architecturally pleasing while keeping with the high intensity light used with the Cobrahead style. These architectural fixtures fit in perfectly with urban and downtown areas.

How does the solar light work?

As stated before, the solar panel charges the battery during daylight hours. When the sun sets, the solar panel acts as a photocell and turns the light fixture on. The control electronics keeps the light on from dusk to dawn, from dusk for a set number of hours, or many other operating profiles available with commercial solar street light systems. Simple.

So there you have it. A solar street light provides an all in one solution to a lighting application. There is no need to trench since all the power needed is located at the top of the pole, and even if there is a brown or blackout, these solar powered lights will still be going.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, General Lighting, Street Lighting

The Pros & Cons of Electrofuels

Posted by SEPCO

5/10/12 9:30 AM

Energy.gov Electrofuels

In the race to end the world’s addiction to oil, scientists and researchers are more active than ever in seeking solutions to this problem. What if a fuel management system involved converting sunlight into fuel instead of just reducing the amount of fossil fuels fleets consume? How would this be possible? This is exactly the solution some researchers at UCLA have begun to develop. A small, innovative group of researchers and scientists has discovered a bioreactor that can store electrical energy and convert it into liquid fuel. This is done by using a unique, genetically engineered microbe. After conducting several tests, experts involved with the project labeled the alternative energy source “electrofuels.” Through the use of this energy source, the world would have a more efficient way to produce alternative fuel sources for vehicles and other machinery.

How it Works

Understanding why this is good news means first having an understanding of the microbe itself. In the most basic terms possible, scientists are altering the genetics of a soil microbe called Ralstonia eutropha. This particular microbe uses hydrogen as an energy source that builds up carbon dioxide into a microbial growth. Through this process, the research team developed a microbe that creates butanols, commonly referred to as liquid fuel. On top of that, the bioreactor used to generate this liquid fuel gets its energy from a solar panel, making for one of the greenest alternative energy sources ever developed.

Why This is Good News

While current alternate fuel sources are better for the environment than traditional carbon-based ones, they still rely on plants and other resources that must be consumed on a large scale. The big problem surrounding the biofuels issue is that in order to produce these alternative fuels on a large scale, we must also consume a massive amount of crops and farm resources. Additionally, biofuels are actually difficult to find. The idea behind electrofuels is that we should use the world’s most powerful and abundant resource: the sun. If the UCLA research proves successful, this would be a solid solution to many problems surrounding biofuels.

The Big Picture Problem: Infrastructural Resources

As with any potential solution for alternative energy, there are some major drawbacks. First off, to be clear – this is an amazing solution with the potential to completely transform the green energy industry. The problem always comes down to infrastructure; we simply don’t have the adequate infrastructural capabilities to support this kind of alternative fuel on a large scale. Additionally, plenty of research is still needed before the general public can use this type of alternative fuel.

Doing Our Part: Continuing Our Carbon Footprint Reduction

The misconception about alternative energy is that it’s an all-encompassing solution to the overarching need for carbon footprint reduction. While we’re waiting for far-reaching alternative energy solutions, it’s still equally important to keep up with carbon footprint reduction efforts. This includes recycling, using public transportation, carpooling, bicycling to and from work whenever possible, purchasing fuel economy and hybrid vehicles and keeping an eye on energy and water consumption. For enterprise-level companies, this can mean using fleet management services and implementing an eco-friendly approach to business management.

The Bright Road Ahead

It’s important to keep in mind just how exciting this new technology is, and what it means for the future. This new development in alternative fuel research not only aids in reducing the global carbon footprint, but it also helps reduce the amount of resources consumed by both traditional and alternative fuel sources. The bottom line is that new these newly discovered electrofuels will go a long way to reduce fuel consumption. Anything that does that is good news for the environment.

Thomas Stone is a permaculture enthusiast, a freelance author, and a frequent contributor to Eco-Wonder.

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Topics: Guest Post, Renewable Energy

New Solar Lighting Options with LEDs

Posted by SEPCO

5/8/12 9:30 AM

Many years ago, when solar lighting was in its infancy, all people would think of is the huge solar panels with the standard industrial fixtures that were starting to show up. Now, with the implementation of LEDs in conjunction with solar power, fixture options are changing dramatically. Instead of just seeing the standard Cobrahead style fixture, a more decorative line is now available.

Decorative fixtures are now available that can produce the same light output as standard commercial fixtures. The fixtures fit in well with architectural surroundings and are perfect for downtown district areas, parks, and on pathways and residential areas. 

Decorative LED Solar Light 

Standard overhead fixtures are now becoming brighter for larger applications while using less power then their CFL counterparts. The LEDs can have multiple lighting patters for different lighting needs such as round for larger areas to thin and wide for two lane roadways. Most LED fixtures are also dark sky compliant keeping from additional light pollution falling on surrounding areas.

Since LED fixtures use less power, the solar that is needed to power the fixtures is less. And since the fixtures are brighter with a larger lighting pattern, the number of fixtures required for an application is less. This lowers the cost of the overall project and provides an even faster payback period for going solar.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, General Lighting, LED Lighting

How to Switch to Low-Energy Lighting in Your Home or Office

Posted by SEPCO

5/1/12 9:30 AM

describe the image

Switching to low-energy lighting is something a lot of us plan to do and yet stall when it comes to actually taking action. Sometimes this can be because of doubts about the quality of lighting in energy-savings bulbs, and sometimes it can be simply not knowing where to start. Energy-saving light bulbs save money and are more environmentally friendly – so why wait?

The Department of Eergy claims that lighting accounts for 15% of an average household's electricty bills, and that switching to low-energy bulbs will save you around $50 a year. Switching to low-energy light bulbs is a simple and easy thing to do; whether you rent or own, you can save yourself hundreds of pounds by making the permanent change from filament bulbs to low-energy lighting.

Image by Anton Fomkin

What kind of bulbs do I need to buy?

In time, the government has plans to phase out inefficient light bulbs, but at the moment supermarkets primarily stock traditional inefficient filament bulbs, though most will also stock energy-saving light bulbs as well. There are two kinds of low-energy bulbs to look out for, both used in different kinds of lights.

Compact fluorescent lights, also known as CFLs, are the kind of energy-efficient lightbulbs you'll put in standard light-fittings or lamps, while halogen downlighters – the ceiling lights you might have in a kitchen or bathroom – can be replaced by LED lights. LED lights cost a little more than CFLs, but they also last even longer.

Is there anything else I need to know?

Once you've bought your low-energy bulbs, the rest is easy. Fitting them is just as simple as fitting standard bulbs, and you shouldn't have to make any other adjustments in the home to accommodate your new low-energy lights.

However, when you're about to dispose of your low-energy bulbs, it's worth bearing in mind that extra precaution is needed because the bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury. If a low-energy lightbulb gets smashed, the Department of the Environment's official advice is to vacate the room for at least 15 minutes, before cleaning the debris up into a sealed plastic bag, and returning it to the council for safe recycling.

On top of this, it's best if low-energy bulbs are disposed of more carefully than standard bulbs, either by being returned to the distributor or being taken to a local waste disposal site, many of which now have special facilities to take care of low-energy bulbs.

Despite containing very small levels of mercury, these precautions are primarily in place to avoid the toxicity that many low-energy lightbulbs could have when disposed of together; it's important to remember that each low-energy bulb contains around 6-8mg of mercury, which isn't enough to pose significant threat alone.

What else can I do?

Switching to low-energy lighting is an excellent, efficient way to save money and reduce your carbon footprint without having to change very much. Of course, there are plenty of other ways that you can do both of these things simply and easily, and which will work in conjunction with your new low-energy bulbs to make your home or office lighting system ultra-efficient. To make sure you're saving all the energy you can, you should be sure to:

  • Always turn lights off before leaving a room
  • Don't avoid switching lights off for fear that turning lights on and off reduces their life – it may do slightly, but you'll save more money by only using lights when you need them
  • Fit any external lights that are monitored by a movement sensor up to a timer, so that they don't turn on throughout the night when animals pass by
  • Only use lights that are as powerful as they need to be; save bright lights for ceilings, and use low-powered lights in lamps

Vicci Lane is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a business from home. She is an advocate of saving money and the environment. She loves writing, swimming and really, really strong coffee. She writes about LED lighting and energy saving solutions for the home and office.

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Topics: General Lighting, Guest Post, Renewable Energy

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