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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

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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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Solar Power Sign Light Design: Step by Step

Posted by SEPCO

4/27/15 10:00 AM

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

Step 1 – Determine the size of the sign

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

Step 2 – Find out if electric is available

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

Step 3 – Determine the lighting requirements

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

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

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

Step 5 – Get lots of quotes

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

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

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design, Sign Lighting

5 Reasons to Install Solar Panels

Posted by SEPCO

4/20/15 10:00 AM

Solar_on_Roof

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

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

Reduces pollution in the environment

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

Low maintenance

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

Best investment

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

No drawbacks

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

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

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

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Topics: Guest Post, Green Ideas, Solar Power

LightFair International 2015: Changing how we light up the world

Posted by SEPCO

4/13/15 10:00 AM

LFI2015

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

 

 

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

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

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Topics: Energy Show

What Light Pollution Means to the Future of Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

4/6/15 10:00 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Does A Solar Light Work

Posted by SEPCO

3/30/15 10:00 AM

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

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

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

This cycle continues day after day.

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

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

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

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

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

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

Posted by SEPCO

3/23/15 10:00 AM

wwf_earth_hour_300x250_ccc

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

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

Join In on Earth Hour 2012 and Help the Earth

Let’s Make Earth Hour 2014 Bigger and Better Together

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

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

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

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Topics: Green Ideas, Holiday, Conservation

Benefits of Off Grid Solar Power Light Systems

Posted by SEPCO

3/16/15 10:00 AM

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

Light with No Power –

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

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

Lack of Electric Bills –

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

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

Easier Installation –

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

Light Where You Need It –

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

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

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

What Is EPA and Why Does It Matter?

Posted by SEPCO

3/9/15 10:00 AM

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Determine the site location

  2. Determine to total weight and EPA of the equipment

  3. Determine the wind load requirement

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

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

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

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Topics: Solar Lighting Design, Poles

Advantages of Solar Power Lights at Military and Government Facilities

Posted by SEPCO

3/2/15 10:00 AM

Solar Power LighingThe US Government decided years ago to make their military bases and government facilities as green as possible. Reducing energy and fuel usage, becoming energy independent by installing solar and wind power, and increasing efficiencies in building all contributes to lower costs and energy strength. Using solar power lights is just another step in achieving their goals.

There are quite a few advantages of solar power lights at these types of facilities. Solar powered lighting can provide an off grid option for the facilities as they are not only self-sustaining, but also does not require extra pull from their solar and wind power applications needed for building power, lowering the amount of solar plants and wind farms needed. Since every solar powered light provides its own power, each light works independently from the other. This allows for two goals to be met: Energy Independence and Energy Security.

SolarPowerLighsBy having the lights work independently from the grid, whether powered by solar, wind, nuclear, coal, etc., will increase safety at the facility as no attack can take out every light simultaneously. The lights can also come equipped with a radio transmitter for intentional blackouts, but are not standard to most installations.

One great solar power light application is roadway lighting for the roads around and through the facility or base. These lights provide additional safety by adding visual assistance at night for traffic and pedestrians. It would also allow security to easily spot issues.

Another solar light application would be parking lot lights. At military housing, offices, and other government facilities there are always parking lots. These areas require adequate lighting for people going to and from work for safety to both their person and their vehicle. And using LED lights would give the added benefit of better vision due to the better lighting. LEDs also last longer, do not produce heat and are mercury free.

There are many other applications for solar powered lights at any military base or government facility. Making sure you do your research on the best possible light for the application is key to purchasing a long lasting light.

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Topics: Solar Lighting

A New Way to Think About Lumens and Watts

Posted by SEPCO

2/16/15 10:00 AM

Lumens and Watts

I keep being asked to meet the Lumens or Watts from a HPS, MH, or just about any other type of light, but this isn’t comparing apples to apples. This is trying to compare apples to spaghetti (I love spaghetti). A while back, I wrote an article Wattage vs Lumens: Know the Difference for Better Lighting to help readers understand the difference between comparing a 400 Watt HPS lamp to a 30 Watt LED, but I think it is time to expand on that.

A Lumen is a Lumen and a Watt is a Watt; however, the two don’t really have much to do with each other in the LED world. One LED may produce only 50 Lumens per Watt, where as another may produce closer to 100 Lumens per Watt. Therefore, one company’s 30 Watt fixture may be brighter or less bright than another company’s. Most companies publish their efficiency ratings on their specification sheets, and if you don’t find it there, contacting someone at the company or a local representative will help you determine exactly what the light output of a certain LED fixture is.

Another huge misconception is how many Lumens it will take to light a specific area. Other lamps, like some 400 Watt Metal Halide lamps, produce around 36k Lumens; however, these lumens are spread out shining in all directions, not just down. This means that only a fraction of the 36k Lumens actually reaches the area below the fixture.

Directional LEDs are very different. All of the light is directed to a specific direction and produces task specific lighting. All Lumens are in the area they are required and not wasted in areas where they are not needed. This lowers the amount of Lumens required for a specific lighting task while also lowering the wattage of the fixture draw and the electrical requirements.

For example: a street light requires the light to be shone down on the street, possibly even on a walkway / sidewalk along the street. The light is not needed on the building across the street, nor is it needed up high in the sky. The same concept goes for a coach fixture in an HOA, a sign light, parking lot light, etc. The light should be specified to the task that is required, and light level requirements should be figured before determining the Wattage or Lumens that it will take to meet those requirements.

If light level requirements are unknown, then standard IES requirements for most applications can be a good starting point for just about any project. Standard IES for a parking lot, for example, is .2 foot candle average. Depending on the height of the fixture, the Lumens per Watt produced (efficiency rating), and a few other factors, this may be achieved by a range of different fixtures and fixture Wattages available.

The best way to determine what you need for Wattage and Lumens is to have a lighting plan completed. Lighting designers will place the lights where they are needed within a design and help determine what is needed to properly illuminate a space. If there is dimming being used, you can always ask for one light plan showing what the light output will be on full intensity and an additional light plan to show what the light output will be at dimming. This way you can verify exactly what the light fixtures will do at any point.

Remember, there is no one-to-one comparison when it comes to Lumens and Watts, especially when changing companies and types of lamping options. Instead of asking for an equivalent fixture, ask for a specific lighting level requirement and you will see better results. And always ask for a lighting plan if you are unsure…you may be surprised at what the lighting plan reveals.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

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