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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

SEPCO

SEPCO is the worldwide leader in solar lighting and off grid solar power systems. We are helping the world go green by taking the lights off the grid.

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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

How to Protect Your LED Solar Lights from Theft and Vandalism

Posted by SEPCO

6/8/15 10:00 AM

Keep LED Solar Lights Safe

With the increasing costs of energy and the jump in demand for a renewable energy alternative, solar is increasingly being a commodity worth investing in. Making sure your systems are safe from theft and vandalism is important to ensure the longevity of the system you purchase. Here are a few tips to make sure your systems stay safe for years to come.

  1. Install High on a Pole

Probably a minimum of 10’ should be where the solar should be mounted. These systems are not easy to just grab and go, and with a good height of installation, the systems are even more difficult. Instead of just being able to walk up to a power assembly, a ladder at minimum will be required to get to the bolts and bracketry that holds the systems together on the pole.

  1. Use Vandal Hardware

If the system is lower, using vandal hardware will require special tooling to be able to remove the systems from their mounting. This will make it even more difficult for systems to be taken apart in the field. Just make sure you don’t lose the key in case you ever have to move the system.

  1. Full Metal Back

If you are installing the LED solar lights in an area that is prone to vandalism, the backs are exposed to all types of things that can harm the solar cells. Having a system with a full protective back metal panel pan will help prevent anything from being able to damage the fragile backside of the solar panels. Vandals and wind-blown debris in a bad storm all can damage the solar. Having the option of using a full protective backside will keep those panels safe.

  1. Lexan Front Protection

Lexan is installed to protect the front of the panels. Today, most solar panel manufactures are building solar panels that are much more durable than ever before, check out this great video from SolarWorld:

 

 

If you have a system that doesn’t have durable glass like these modules, then using Lexan to protect the front of the system can be a great alternative. This is primarily suggested for areas prone to hail or areas close to sports centers such as golf, baseball, etc.

Talk to your manufacturer and see what options they have available for protecting the system.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Why Uniformity Is Important For Solar Street Lights

Posted by SEPCO

6/1/15 10:00 AM

Martin County Airport Night Solar Street Lights

Ever drive down a road and there is a whole stretch of lights, but all you see are small circles of light on the ground every hundred feet or so and nothing in between? This doesn’t really help with visibility. However, when you go down a road that has uniform lighting, with no dark areas between the lights, visibility is increased tenfold. Uniformity provides better visual assistance and does not put as much strain on the eyes. When designing a solar street light project, uniformity still needs to be taken into consideration.

IES standards are different between roadways. Large freeways and highways have much different light level requirements than urban roads. Even different cities and municipalities have their own set of standards that go above what IES standards are. Gathering this information and completing a lighting layout to match the standards will be the first step in making sure that the new solar street lights are uniform and meet minimum standards.

Most companies can provide you with the lighting layouts if requested. This is performed by an engineer within the company to ensure that the spacing, wattage, and light level requirements are all within the constraints of the system. If dimming will be used, a new rendering showing what the light levels will be when the fixtures are dimmed should also be shown. This will allow for a better understanding of what to expect when the fixtures are reduced.

Martin County Airport Day Solar Street Lights

There are also many fixture options when looking at solar street lights. We are no longer stuck with standard Cobrahead style lights, allowing for decorative and more modern options for different architectural needs. The implementation of LEDs allows for uniform lighting levels between various fixture sets. A bell style fixture which used to only produce a round area of light directly below the fixture can now provide different distribution patterns and allow for lighting of roadways with uniformity.

LED lights also provide much better lighting with much less light loss from wasted light. Older style fixtures such as metal halide and high pressure sodium had a lot of wasted light. The lumens of the lamp get thrown in all directions and the fixtures were designed to push the light out everywhere with no real task lighting.  LEDs provide task specific lighting and are pushing the light in only in the area that requires lighting. This additional efficiency allows for the use of much less power, fewer lumens, and better overall lighting and uniformity.

The solar allows for additional features such as easy installation, lighting where no power is currently available or difficult to bring in, and efficient use of LED technology since the LEDs themselves operate on DC, not on AC, and provide more efficiency of the fixture. The technologies now work hand in hand to provide the required uniformity with the use of solar for a complete solar street lights application.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Street Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

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

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