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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green


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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Let’s Have a Green Thanksgiving

Posted by SEPCO

11/23/15 11:00 AM


Thanksgiving has evolved over the last couple generations. It has become more of a time of commercialism and less about giving thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives, friends and family. This year, we should all take a pledge to have a greener Thanksgiving and, instead of looking to what we can get, but more towards what we can give back. Whether we are giving back to others and our community, or lowering our consumption to lessen our impact on the earth, both will have a significant impact on the work, no matter how big or small. Remember, it starts with a drop in the bucket. Therefore, here are some great tips to help give back a little while keeping with a green Thanksgiving.

Buy Your Food Locally

Instead of buying all your groceries from some big box retailer, such as Wal-Mart, work on getting as much from local growers as possible. You will save on fuel costs, get much fresher and healthier food to feed your family, and help a local family in return by providing them business on this holiday. No matter where you live, there is always a way to find a more local alternative. And opt for organic and hormone free when you can since we need to also be looking at ways to have healthier foods.

Deal With Dishes

I hate dishes just as much as the next person, but using disposable plates and cups has a drastic impact on our environment. Plastics do not decompose and nor does Styrofoam. Instead, use your normal daily plates and silverware. Don’t have enough? Go to a local thrift shop and mix and match a set for holidays that can be stored the rest of the year. If you are determined to use throw away plates and cutlery, opt for decomposable or recyclable. I found a great site called Biodegradable Store that sells not only for the commercial customer, but you can order for household use as well.

Volunteer at your Local Shelter

Got everything started for that huge holiday dinner for your family? Ask someone at home to keep an eye on it for you while you go out for an hour or two to volunteer to help someone in need. You can even bring your kids or other family members to help. If you aren’t cooking, why not go volunteer till you have to arrive for dinner? Instead of just sitting around watching the parade and football games, go out and help others that don’t have that option. They will appreciate it and you will have a great sense of pride in the end.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce the amount of goods used for dinner by purchasing just enough food for the guests or have each guest bring their favorite dish. Also, decorate with items found in nature like fallen leaves, pine cones, fresh flowers, etc. and reuse items from last years decorations. Finally don’t forget to recycle all the packaging materials from purchased items. This doesn’t just help the environment, but the wallet as well. 

Open Up Your Home

With all the cooking and people, homes get very warm. Open up the house and let some cool air in. If it is too cold outside, use the oven heat to warm up the house during the cooking and after all the cooking is done. This reduces heating and cooling costs while keeping everyone comfortable.

Start a New Tradition

Start a new tradition to find new ways to improve your Thanksgiving holiday while also finding new ways to be green. As our commenter below stated, doing a simple task together like cleaning up allows for family bonding time. Having specific tasks for different people, from cooking, setting up, and cleanup, can all be ways to begin the tradition and having everyone work together. 

And after all is said, don’t forget to give thanks to your friends and family. Remember what is good in your life, no matter how small. We all have something to be thankful this holiday season; you just have to look for it.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Editor's Note: I wanted to reshare and compress two articles that included a little from the comments below. Feel free to add more and allow us to build on this for years to come.

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Topics: Green Ideas, Holiday

Making Your Community Green and Reduce Costs

Posted by SEPCO

11/16/15 10:00 AM

Communities all across America are trying to improve their green image and reduce costs, but some are having a hard time figuring out where to start. Here are some ideas that can help improve your community and lower overall costs in the end.

  1. CommunitySolarLighting.jpgBuild LEED

    New buildings, either commercial or residential, should be done to the highest green standards. Using highly efficient HVAC systems, energy efficient building materials such as Low-E or thermal windows, plenty of insulation and energy star qualified appliances will lower the energy pull for every building. This lowers not only your impact, but month to month electrical costs as well. 

  2. Remodel to Higher Standards

    The same as above can be used for remodel projects. Sometime the integrity of the original construction is what the community wants to preserve, but this doesn’t mean energy efficient improvements can’t be made. Increasing insulation and efficiencies, such as sealing windows and doors, upgrading appliances and light fixtures and increasing the HVAC system efficiencies will all will help.

  3. Use Solar Lighting

    Solar lighting can be installed anywhere since no electrical grid is needed. Solar lights for community entrance signs, parking lots at community buildings and parks, streets and sidewalks around the community, etc. will lower the costs to the electrical company and provide more sustainable lighting systems. Best of all, the community will own all the lighting and will have no additional electrical costs from leasing the light poles and the electricity used to illuminate. Also, lighting designers are not always used to provide even illumination with the electrical company pole; therefore, can provide uneven illumination in many areas.

  4. Provide More Bike Lanes and Sidewalks

    People are becoming more eco-conscious and are doing things on their own. One of the largest issues is traffic for bikers. If communities would install more bike lanes or sidewalks and crosswalks where people can safely travel, more people will chose to use their own two legs to power themselves where they need to go.

  5. Promote Local Farming

    if there is farm land nearby, promote using these farms for local restaurants and grocery stores instead of importing produce and meat from far away. The quality is usually better and lower transportation costs. Comunity gardens are another great way for people to work together to keep it local. If you have someone in your neighborhood that has more property, working with them to create a community garden is a great way to reduce our impace while doing something good. 

  6. Install Recycle Bins

    Instead of just having trash cans everywhere, put recycling bins out as well. By making recycling easy, more people would be inclined to actually do it, even the not so eco-conscious.

Just doing some simple things will provide a much greener community. What steps has your community taken to improve its green image and lower costs? What else do you think should be included on the list? 

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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, Green Ideas, Renewable Energy, Conservation

3 Steps to Help You Find Out if Solar Lighting is Right for You

Posted by SEPCO

11/9/15 10:00 AM

Nueces County Courthouse Solar Lighting System

Solar lighting provides a great alternative to traditional electrical lights. They can be installed anywhere as long as the solar panel has direct access to sunlight. Here are three easy steps to see if solar lighting is your best alternative for lighting just about anything.

1. Is there electric already available?

There may or may not be electric already available in the area needing to be illuminated. If there is electrical, great, then you have two options, solar or electrical lighting; however, if there is no electric available, then the cost of trenching and adding the needed electric should be considered when looking at the cost difference between solar and electrical lights. Don't forget montly electrical costs as well.

Solar lights, because of their nature, can be installed anywhere. The solar panel must have direct access to sunlight, but the lights can be placed just about anywhere, even in shaded areas, with the solar on a separate pole in a nice sunny spot. The cost of trenching and bringing electric out to some sites can be very costly and solar is a great alternative then adding those unnecessary expenses.

2. What are the required lighting levels?

In today’s industry, lighting can be a faint glow just for mood, or bright enough to read under, and all types of lighting can range from one end of the spectrum to the other. Personally, I have solar LED strand lights on my back porch which are powered by solar that provide just a soft warm glow for atmosphere.

Other applications can be for street or parking lot lighting. Solar lights can be a great alternative in replacing already installed lights for a lower overall electric bill or installed in a new application where a green alternative is high on the list. There are many design elements that go into these types of applications, see Solar Power Street Light Design: Step by Step and Solar Parking Lot Lighting Design: Step by Step for more information on these systems.

3. Are you looking for a green alternative?

Solar lights provide a green alternative to traditional lighting applications. Solar lights are separate from the grid, produce no greenhouse gases, and provide lighting even if the electric fails for any reason. They are completely self sufficient and require little to no maintenance. If you are lookign for a green option, solar lights are definitely the way to go. There are also LEED points for using solar lighting systems.

So next time you are in the market looking for lighting options, look at solar lighting. From commercial applications such as parking lots, roadways, and signs; to smaller applications like gardens, driveways, and atmospheric lighting, solar provides a great alternative.

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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

Commercial Solar Sign Lighting Draws Attention to Your Business

Posted by SEPCO

11/2/15 10:00 AM

Commercial Solar Sign LightingCommercial solar sign lighting is essential to maintaining your business's visibility twenty-four hours a day, and whether you're retrofitting an existing lighting system or installing a new one, the benefits of choosing solar lighting are as clear as the illumination they provide. 

Why It Pays To Be Unconventional

The cost of electricity continues to rise, and whether your business is big or small, new or old, money saved is money earned. Solar is free, and don't think that you need to live where the sun shines all the time. It's a common misconception and one only needs to look to New Jersey, the second biggest solar consumer in the United States, to understand that you don't need to live in the desert to effectively harness the sun's power.

Solar Sign LightingSaving money on the power traditionally used in commercial sign lighting is only the first way solar will boost any business's bottom line. Unlike traditional grid powered lighting, solar lighting is easy to install with little or no electrical knowledge, and can be accomplished by just about anyone with a few simple tools. This means business owners can avoid the high cost of hiring contractors to do the complex electrical work associated with traditional lighting, which is necessary to comply with local building codes and insurance regulations. 

The Bright Side Of Solar

Solar outshines conventional lighting in more than just cost. While traditional commercial sign lighting relies on old technology, solar is constantly evolving to become brighter and more efficient than its conventional counterpart. One example of this is the use of LED fixtures, which typically use 1/10th of the power of traditional High Pressure Sodium or Metal Halide flood lights and have a much longer life. This translates to brighter sign illumination, making them stand out in any crowd. Plus, with the money saved by choosing solar in the first place, business owners can add more signs for even higher visibility.

Finally, solar lights can be placed in just about any location. Trenching in to the grid, installing a meter, and then purchasing the equipment and fixtures can be even more costly than the initial purchase of a commercial solar lighting system. With a life span of over 25 years for a commercial system and virtually no maintenance required, solar definitely can easily be the go to choice.

Affordable, easy to install and maintain, and great for the environment - there's really no reason not to go solar!


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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, Sign Lighting

What’s The Difference Between Solar Pathway Lights?

Posted by SEPCO

10/19/15 10:00 AM

So all solar pathway lights are created equal? The short answer is no. There are many different style, sizes, and functionalities between different solar pathway lighting systems. Let’s look this over for a better understanding.

Residential Solar Pathway Lights

Residential Solar Pathway Lights Home Depot

There are many options to find in any store or online for residential pathways. From small post top pagoda style fixtures to overhead flood style fixtures, residential pathways can be illuminated by solar powered lighting systems.

These systems are typically lower cost and have a life span of a few years; however, due to lower initial costs, makes replacement of the systems not something that will break the bank.

Residential pathway lights have so many options when it comes to style and functionality. Decorative styles vary drastically and there is just about something for everyone.

They use integrated solar power systems with the solar panel and small rechargeable batteries. They can hold a charge to operate single use and are not sized for dealing with overcast weather, but work great for most residential applications.

Pedestrian Scale Solar Pathway Lights

Pedestrian Scale Solar Path Lights Inhabitat

Pedestrian scale solar pathway lights are more robust than residential and are a mid-grade option. They have brighter fixtures and are sized with a few days backup storage. They can either be overhead lights to shine down on a pathway or bollard style lights for lower lighting.

Pedestrian scale solar lighting systems also have integrated solar power systems that are built into the top of the overhead fixture or bollard fixture with the batteries stored inside the fixture head, similar to residential solar lighting systems. These batteries are a bit larger to allow for multi-day storage.

These lights are best for HOA and small park pathways that don’t have light level requirements and are not usually over 10’-12’ in height. Wattages can range, but are typically around 800-1500 lumens per fixture. (Check out Wattage vs Lumens for more information).

Commercial Solar Pathway Lights

Commercial Solar Pathway Lights SEPCO

Commercial solar pathway lights are much larger systems. These use customized solar power assemblies to provide enough power for the fixture to operate for a determined operation schedule and plenty of backup storage. These systems can also power multiple fixtures from a single power source.

Commercial pathway lights are much higher powered and can provide up to 100’ spacing while providing no dark areas. Commercial systems range from low bollards, small post top lights, to larger overhead lights. The solar power systems are sized for typically a minimum of five nights storage and use much higher powered fixtures than pedestrian or residential pathway lighting systems.

The solar power systems can also be easily placed remotely in a sunny location and allow the light fixtures to mount on separate poles wherever needed. This allows the lights more freedom on installation locations where integrated lights must be placed in sunny locations only as their solar is built into the fixture head. 

Overall, each system has its pros and cons. Knowing exactly the application you are wanting to provide lighting for will allow you to determine what the best option is for your budget.

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Img Ref: Home Depot, Inhabitat 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Pathway Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

7 Fun Facts About Commercial Solar Outdoor Lights

Posted by SEPCO

10/12/15 10:00 AM

Commercial Solar Outdoor Lights Cogburn Bros
  1. Operate Completely Free From Grid Power

Commercial solar outdoor lights do not require any grid power at all and are completely owned by the end user. The sun charges via the solar panel during the day and operates from the solar battery at night. There is typically a minimum autonomy to ensure the batteries are not brought to zero and allow for extended bad weather operation and to ensure battery life span.

  1. Owned By The End User – Not Power Company

A solar lighting system is owned only by the end user, not the power company. This allows the customer to control the purchase and work with the lighting manufactures to use fixtures that are not within the power company’s standards. With a wide range of fixtures on the market, there is always something that can fit within architectural requirements.

  1. Zero Energy Bills

Since it is owned by the end user and uses no grid power, the energy bill does not exist for these lights. The systems are completely stand alone and can have a quick ROI if trenching is required to install the lights or power rates are high. The zero energy bill for lighting will allow you to redirect those funds into something more useful.

  1. Practically Maintenance Free

Since the inception of LED fixtures, which have a 20+ year life span, the only maintenance required is a battery change. If the system is sized appropriately, the battery should only need to be changed every 5-7 years. Solar panels are still providing a 25+ year life span. Metal work can last as long as the system when using top grade materials such as marine grade aluminum.

  1. LED Fixtures Provide Better Visibility

LED fixtures provide better lighting by directing the light where it is required. This allows for better visibility with LED fixtures as the even lighting in the area required is easily achieved with focused optics. Focused optics provide a more even lighting pattern and no bright spots surrounded by a lot of dark areas like first generation LED fixtures. The light spectrum is also easier on the eyes since it is closer to sunlight than many other lighting sources today.

  1. Versatile and Adaptable To Many Applications

Solar outdoor lights are versatile and can easily adapt to many different applications with just the switch of a fixture. From large highways to small signs, and everything in between, solar lighting systems can fit just about every application. The solar power systems are easily customized to each specific project as well, from top of pole mounting to remote mounting away from the light fixtures if needed.

  1. Easier Installation

Since there is no trenching of grid power, no worrying about locations too far from a power source, destroying local infrastructure such as parking lots, roads, landscaping, etc., self-contained solar outdoor lights can be installed just about anywhere without disturbing the area.

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Topics: Solar Lighting

Why Trench When You Can Use Solar Lighting Systems?

Posted by SEPCO

10/5/15 10:00 AM

Trenching Equipment For Non Solar Lighting ApplicationsOne of the largest costs associated with new lighting projects is the cost of trenching in the electric from the main source. Trenching not only costs more, but it tears up the surrounding area and damages landscaping, structures, and pathways. This can be the most costly part of a lighting project since all surrounding areas now need to be repaired.


Why not go solar instead and redistribute the money used for expensive trenching and put it into a renewable resource with an actual payback?


Many times, the lighting is the last part of a project such as parking lots, roadways, signs, and many other projects. Once the lighting needs are discovered, trenching of the power is needed to provide power to the new lights. Imagine trenching through a new parking lot, tearing up all that freshy poured concrete just to bring in power lines. Not only does it cost for the equipment, but also repairing the damages to the parking lot, installing of the new lights, and now you have to pay the electric company every month for the electricity used by the fixtures.


Instead, solar lights are completely self-contained and installed at the top of the pole. The solar panel feeds the battery assembly during the day and the lighting controller turns on the light at dusk, drawing its power from the solar charged battery, for whatever operating profile is needed for the application. All the wiring is located at the top of the pole and therefore no trenching is required. The only installation required is the pole, which can leave the surrounding area undisturbed. And after a few short years, the lights start paying for themselves since there are no electrical costs associated with solar lights. Best of all, the low maintenance factor of solar lighting systems will allow for years of operation with no need to hire someone to come out and change out the lamps, photocells, etc. The only maintenance is the battery replacement, which if sized correctly, should be every 5+ years.


With solar costs going down and solar panel efficiency going up, going solar is becoming more popular. LEDs are becoming more efficient, providing more lighting than ever before, and have a life expecancy typically of 20+ years. Using solar lighting systems is starting to become more and more popular while becoming smaller and lower cost. So why trench...use solar light systems instead.


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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 Lighting Design, Installation

Adaptable Solar Sign Lighting Systems

Posted by SEPCO

9/28/15 10:00 AM

Businesses use them. So do HOAs. Even some directional signs are put in place to provide information. With all this information being hidden at night with no illumination, how do you light all the signs? Well, if there is electric, this is easy; however, what if there is no electric nearby? This could complicate things. 

Solar sign lighting systems are able to adapt to a wide variety of applications. From small marker signs to large billboards, from internally illuminated to flood illuminated, almost every sign lighting system can be powered by solar. Here are some of the ways solar can quickly and easily adapt.


Ranch Winery Small Flood Sign LightSmall Flood

Small signs can use our FL-AB fixture, typically up to a 5’ x 5’ sign. These low powered fixtures are great for these smaller signs and are very cost effective, typically not requiring much solar or battery backup and still providing a reliable, long life system.




Morain Valley Large Flood Sign Light

Medium / Large Floods

The ALF – Architectural Flood and the ARF Medium Flood are used for signs over 5’ and provide a bit more lighting. The ALF provides great lighting at still a low wattage while the ARF can range from quite a high wattage, 53 Watts to be exact, to almost as low as the ALF.




SRD Solar Billboard Light Multiple Floods

Billboard Floods

Grouping multiple ARF fixtures together allows for even more illumination on a sign, or provides great lighting on a billboard. Single and double sided billboards all can be powered by solar using the ARF flood fixtures. Typically, two to six floods are powered by a single large power assembly, and depending on the application, operation schedules, and other information, will help determine exactly what is required and the configuration that will be used. There are many ways to shine a light with these two types of fixtures. And while you are at it, check out our Billboard Case Study.


City of Knoxville Internal Sign Light

Internal Illumination

Internal sign lights can be illuminated in many different ways. We use SloanLED products and provide a great combination of option to use in conjunction with our solar power assemblies. Most internal signs use the SignBOX, PosterBOX or VL Plus series and we can provide a custom layout to illuminate exactly the area required with your internal sign.


So what’s next? Check out some additional articles that can help you determine what you need. Solar Power Sign Light Design: Step by Step gives you the information required to provide a custom solution, or you can click below and download our free eBook on sign lighting.





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Topics: Solar Lighting, Sign Lighting

Solar Parking Lot Lighting Design: Step by Step

Posted by SEPCO

9/21/15 10:00 AM

Solar Parking Lot Lighting - Midway DodgeWe have gone over street lighting and sign lighting design, I thought it was time we went over parking lot lighting design. Here is your step by step guide.

Step 1 – Determine how large the area is that needs the light

Parking lots range in size and configurations, from a small parking lot at a park to a large area at a mall or office complex. Depending on how spread out the area is, or what obstacles are involved, parking lots need a little more finesse to get the lights in the right places. It is best to have a blueprint of the parking lot, or at least an aerial shot of the parking lot, will help determine the best places to install the lights into the parking lot.

Step 2 – Determine if electric already exists

Many times, parking lots can be installed before any lighting is even thought of. Or there are many cases where existing parking lots have issues with the wiring underground. This causes great concern and will be quite costly to replace since trenching of the parking lot will now occur to either install or repair the electric. Solar parking lot lights help lower costs by avoiding all the work of breaking up and then repairing the foundation of the parking lot, while also providing a faster installation.

Step 3 – Determine lighting requirements and needs

How much illumination is required by your area for parking lots? Do they need to be dark sky compliant? This information needs to be determined at the beginning stages of the design to allow for accurate lighting layouts. Different fixtures provide different lighting distributions and have different throws and BUG – Back / Uplight / Glare ratings. Also knowing how long the lights are required helps determine how much power can be pushed. Operating them only at full intensity when the area is active, and either dimming or turning them off in the middle of the night when there is no one in the area, can lower electrical costs and usages; however, if security is a concern, let your designer know this in advance.

Solar Parking Lot Lights day / night VA TempleStep 4 – Find all alternatives

Solar is a great option to reduce costs over the long term and can provide great alternatives to trenching for standard electrical lights. The solar parking lot lighting systems operate independently from grid power and allows for easy installation in most locations. This is great for new projects or areas where the parking lot has already been poured or where the electrical lines are damaged. If you want to replace your existing electrical lights with solar, check out our article about replacing existing grid lights with a solar lighting retrofit.

Step 5 – Contact companies for quotes.

The last step after gathering the above information is to contact 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.

If you take your time, do your research, and gather needed requirements, your next parking lot 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: Parking Lot Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

How to Camouflage Solar Panels in a Residential Environment

Posted by SEPCO

9/14/15 10:00 AM

When homeowners are first approached about putting solar panels on their house, a number of concerns inevitably pop up, ranging from cost to installation to the appearance on an otherwise unblemished roof. While the first two obstacles are becoming easier by the day, with a bit of advance planning, your solar panels can be made practically invisible from all but the planes passing overhead. 

Perhaps the most obvious route to integrating your solar cells with the natural world is to surround them with existing foliage, while maintaining sun exposure. Consider installing them near the tops of trees or shrubs in the backyard, facing away from the street. 

The cardinal direction of the street as it relates to your house can also make a difference. For maximum sun exposure, solar panels should face south, so if this happens to be the side away from the road, none but the neighbors behind you will see your panels. Also consider using a secondary part of your roof, such as the garage roof, that may be in a more discreet location. 

Another option, recommended by the experts at Solar Power Authority, is to use solar enabled native building materials, such as solar shingles, instead of external panels on the roof of your house. Because solar shingles are specifically designed to blend in with a roof as normal shingles would, they do not stand out in the same way.

Solar lights are also an option for those interested in using solar power on a smaller scale. Because outdoor lamps often draw large amounts of power, this can result in significant savings. These too are often designed to blend in like a conventional lamp would, with the panels hidden directly on the top. 

One recent technological innovation makes hiding solar cells significantly easier. According to Swiss research firm CSEM, cells can now be made without a visible gap, meaning that they can be dyed a pure color or whatever the natural color of their environment. Previously, it was thought that they needed a "join" in between cells connected in series. In practical terms, solar panels can now be built into walls and roofs alike, while remaining indistinguishable from the structure around them. 

When evaluating the best possible place to install your solar panels, it is important to keep perspective on the necessity of hiding them. After all, we once considered power lines an insufferable eyesore, and today we kvetch about the cell phone towers with comically obvious fake branches running down their telephone pole-shaped trunk. Your solar panels can blend in with the environment of your home much more seamlessly, and with all the environmental benefits of the trees they mimic.

Author Bio: Jessica Frazier is a longtime environmental junkie and mind behind SolarPowerAuthority.com When she's not learning and blogging about solar products, she's studying Environmental Engineering at Cal Poly Pomona.

Img: Comfortable Home Design

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Topics: Guest Post, Solar Power

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