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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

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

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

Tips for A Successful Outdoor Solar Lighting Installation

Posted by SEPCO

10/21/14 9:30 AM

DR-Horton-1With the recent trends to go green, there are more and more government and institution outdoor solar lighting installations being undertaken. But how do you know if you've got everything as it should be to install your outdoor solar lighting? Here are some tips on what to consider so that your outdoor solar lighting installation goes smoothly:

Do you have the appropriate building permits in place?

Building permits are more than just an inspection on the safety of your installation itself; it also deals with the systems it is interconnected to, such as whether the framing on your structure is robust enough to handle the weight of your outdoor solar lighting equipment, whether the electrical lines running between your panels, charge controller and light fixtures are installed safely and whether the installation will meet your local codes. By checking with your local building inspector, you can find out if there are any unique permit requirements that you are not otherwise aware of.

What is the minimum amount of sun you get daily during the year?

Getting beautiful, sunny days all summer long doesn't mean that your system will work well in the winter! Usually during the winter months in the U.S., the minimum daily sunlight will affect how many solar panels you'll need to power your installation. From under two hours daily in the northern U.S. to over six in the southwestern U.S., the number of hours your panels can effectively work under will determine how much power can be provided during the shortest days and longest nights every year. If you're on the short end of that range, we can help you develop a customized solution.

Is there excessive dust, snowfall or trees at your project's location?

Though most panels are somewhat self-cleaning because of rain or because the angle the panels are at allows snow to slide off, excessive dust or snowfall can block sunlight and severely limit the amount of power your system can produce. Additional cleaning or maintenance may be required to keep your system functioning at peak performance, which will be safer and easier if the installation is more easily accessible using a shorter structure or pole-mounted system.  Similarly, large shade trees can also prevent sunlight from reaching the panels in a simple setup, especially evergreens. If your project site has issues that may cause dust, snow or shading problems, please let us know. We're more than happy to help you find a customized solution for your project.

By considering your answers to these questions, you'll have dodged the biggest problems that can come up in outdoor solar lighting installations. Thinking ahead and giving careful thought to all the steps of your installation and the future use of your lighting will greatly help the process go as smoothly as possible.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Installation

Tips and Trick for Solar Outdoor Lighting Troubleshooting

Posted by SEPCO

8/12/14 9:30 AM


Solar outdoor lighting is a great way to showcase your green initiative and provide great lighting in all types of areas, but what do you do when they malfunction and don’t come on when expected? There are a few tips and tricks to troubleshooting solar lights that help you determine what the issue is. Here are a few of the most common issues that work for both commercial and residential solar light systems and how you can determine what the issue may be.

1. Are they coming on, but turning off before they are supposed to?

Sometimes your lights just don’t last as long as they once did and this is typically caused by batteries dying. With commercial solar lights, the batteries should last five to seven years if properly sized for the application. If it is coming up to that point, it is time to contact the manufacturer and get replacement batteries. Small home solar lights have batteries as well; however, these typically last a much shorter time and can easily be replaced by purchasing rechargeable batteries from your local store. Remember, batteries only have so many cycles before they just go bad and need replacing.

Another issue could be the solar panel is dirty and not producing the required power to charge the batteries fully. This is a simple fix and one of the easiest things to check. Look at the solar panel and see if it is dirty, then follow steps on cleaning the solar panel and see if that helps the system function properly. This doesn’t need to happen often, especially if your panels are at an angle and it rains often enough to keep dusk and grime from building up on the panels.

Finally, are the panels shaded by something that has grown in the way? Trees and surrounding landscaping grows over time and can cause shading on the panels, not allowing them to charge the batteries fully. Make sure there is nothing taller than the panels near the south of the system’s installation. Solar panels need direct sunlight all day and even the smallest amount of shade changes the output of the solar panels.

2. Are the lights not coming on at all?

This could be one of two issues if the lights worked at one point; the battery as above, the lamp or a blown fuse. If the battery is what you think is the problem, replace them. If it isn’t the battery, it is more than likely the lamp. A lamp only has a certain life span and they need to be changed out every so often, just like a light bulb in your home. There are exceptions to this rule such as LED technology. Most LEDs last 15+ years; however, if you are using CFL, HPS, LPS or metal halide, they can die much sooner. Determine what type of lamp is operated by your solar lighting system and figure out if it is time to replace the lamp or not. One suggestion we would give is if it is time to change out your lamps, look into utilizing a LED fixture. Not only will they last longer, they will give you more light for the same power draw, a complete win-win.

The last thing that could be going wrong seems like the simplest thing, but it can render your system completely dead. A blown fuse will terminate all power from flowing through your system and not allow the light to come on at all; however, it is a simple replacement with a new fuse the proper size and your system will be up and running immediately. All SEPCO systems come with an extra fuse in the battery box just in case of this situation.

Now that you know the basics to troubleshooting your solar lights, you should easily be able to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it. Need additional troubleshooting help? Contact your manufacturer for additional support.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Installation

Common Solar Lighting Installation Mistakes We Keep Seeing

Posted by SEPCO

2/13/14 9:30 AM

It is time to install your solar lighting system. Have you read all the instructions? Determined the installation site of the solar lighting system? There are common mistakes that we keep seeing with solar lighting system installations that you can easily avoid. Here are a couple mistakes and what you can do to make sure your system is installed properly to ensure great performance and reliability.

1. Not facing the panel south


PanelsOppositeIf you are above the equator, the solar panel needs to face south. The only time this changes is if you have worked with your manufacturer or representative for a different configuration. Facing the panels opposite of each other, like the picture shows, may be aesthetically pleasing; however, one of these lights will begin to fail quickly as it will not get the required sun to charge the batteries properly. Make sure your systems are facing south to get maximum sun exposure and are charging the batteries to their fullest.


2. Swapping wires during initial hookup


There are installation instructions that come with each solar lighting system. When you hook the system up, make sure you have read all instructions thoroughly as not to reverse the polarity of the light fixture. In most systems, this will not hurt the system, but it will cause the light fixture not to operate correctly, or could even pop a fuse in the battery assembly. Make sure to look at the system, installation instructions and even for additional labels on the system for all wiring directions.


3. Shading on the panel


PanelShade.jpgWe hear over and over that lights are placed under a tree or up close to a building that provides shade to the solar panel. The sun needs to be able to reach the panel fully and any type of obstruction, even just a shadow, can seriously reduce the power output of the solar. Trim nearby trees and make sure the panels are clear of any obstruction. Remember, with off grid solar light systems, the panel assembly can be remotely mounted away from the light fixture if the light is required where there is shading. Moving the panel assembly is always an option. Also, like in the first picture, installing the solar power low on the pole can cause the pole to shade the solar power system. Just remember, the solar needs full exposure to the sun to charge properly.


4. Weak poles not meant to hold the weight of the solar


Cutting costs by purchasing poles that are not structurally certified to hold the weight of a solar power system will end up costing you more in the long run. These poles tend to fail in the first decent storm and will fall over, damaging the solar power assembly, brackets, fixtures, etc. and you will spend more replacing the broken parts than if you purchased a structurally certified pole in the beginning. Depending on the needs of your area, you can even get poles that can withstand 150 mph winds with the solar on top of the pole. Work with the manufacturer to provide the requirements for the pole.

Making sure your systems are properly installed will ensure their operation. If there are any installation questions, you can always contact the support team to provide additional information and answer any questions you may have for installation of the system.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Installation

Location Location Location: Why Shading is Bad for Solar Systems

Posted by SEPCO

9/20/11 9:30 AM

Lighthouse Point Solar Light

Shade is a wonderful thing, especially in the summer; however it is bad for off-grid solar power and solar lighting applications because shading robs the solar panels of its peak energy production capacity, which in turn has an adverse affect on overall system performance. Therefore, when scouting installation locations for off-grid solar powered lights and/or solar power systems, the key is to find an area that has no shading. If the needed light or powered application is located in the shade, the solar can be remotely installed and the device can be located where it is needed.

Shading issues are not always immediately apparent given the sun’s path during different times of year. Shade from trees, poles, buildings, and many other obstructions can seriously diminish the performance of solar systems.  Summer months have the sun in the highest point in the sky. However, in the winter months, the sun is lower, and if not taken into account during installation, the sun path can cause shading issues.

Lighthouse Point Solar Light

If desired installation location is hampered by shading issues, note that the solar power system can be remotely located in a non-shaded area and simply wired to the power or lighting application.  If trees are presenting a shading issue, in many cases simply trimming the trees back will eliminate the problem altogether. If buildings are what are blocking the solar from receiving full sun, install the solar on the roof of the building to maximize the efficiency.

Shade causes the solar not to absorb enough solar energy during the day to fill the batteries for use at night. Even small amounts of shade can have a great impact on the performance of the system. Making sure the solar panels face south and are not blocked by any obstructions is key to getting the most out of your solar panels.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Power, Installation

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