Solar Lighting is not all the same. Yes, they include panels, batteries, light fixtures, control electronics and brackets for mounting the fixture and solar; however, there are many differences when deciding the best solution for your project. Here are the 7 questions you should ask to ensure you are getting exactly what you are looking for and to be able to compare the offerings of different solar lighting manufacturers.
- What is the type of solar module used?
Is the solar module single or multi-crystal panels? Mono (single) and Poly (multi) crystal panels, though vary in efficiencies, are both great for energy production and work well in off grid solar situations. Making sure you are purchasing quality solar panels will ensure their long life span and energy production. Some unknown brands of solar panels will state that they provide the same power; however, they typically cannot stand up to the test of time like well-known solar panel manufacturers do, as well as back their products and stand by them on the warranties.
- What type of fixture is being used?
All fixtures are not equal. Finding out the lumens per watt provided by the fixture will allow you to determine the light output of the fixture. Also, you need to find out how long the fixtures have been in production and if they are from a reputable company. You don’t want a fixture that hasn’t been field tested for some time by a company that has no experience in the lighting industry. Especially with LED fixtures, you want to make sure the fixture will last as long as the system does.
- Is there protection for the solar?
Protecting your solar power system is a great way to safeguard that your system will stay standing for years to come. Some companies, such as ours, use panel pans to protect the fragile backside of the solar panels. Vandal hardware can also be used to make sure that the system cannot be easily removed from installation site. Finally, higher quality solar panel manufacturers use tougher glass material on the front of the panel so not to get damage from wind-blown debris and storms that include hail.
- What are the controls of the system?
Knowing exactly how your system will operate will guarantee you are getting exactly what you are expecting from your solar lighting system. Some companies hide in the fine print that their systems in fact operate all night; however, after so long, it will be at a reduced wattage, sometimes as low as a fraction of the original wattage requested. Make sure you get the control profile of the system that matches your needs. If dimming is an option on your project, great, but make sure you know how much the fixture will be dimming. If no dimming is allowed, make sure to read through the fine print. Learn about all the control options available before you finalize your design.
- Is there enough storage for inclement weather?
Five days storage is the minimum required backup for most areas; however, the further north your installation site is, the larger the storage will need to be. Five days does not cut it in New York like it does in Texas since the depth of discharge on cold batteries is much larger than in the warmer weather, lowering the life of the battery and increasing down time and maintenance costs. There are also many more overcast days in the north during the winter than in the south. Know the amount of storage that is appropriate for your area and verify that there is enough storage for your systems to operate all winter long.
- What type of materials is used in construction?
Materials may not seem like a very important discussion initially, but the way the systems, including the mounting brackets, fixtures, etc. are constructed will determine how long your system will hold up in the field. Marine grade aluminum is one of the best materials used in the industry since it does not corrode or deteriorate and can last as long as the complete system. Other metals, such as steel, tend to rust (unless galvanized) and powder coating the system can also improve the life of the metal as well. Plastics are a definite no-no in the main construction of the system as sunlight tends to break them down and cannot withstand the long lasting needs of a commercial solar lighting system.
- What type of pole is the equipment mounting to?
Finally, what type of solar light poles is the equipment mounting to? Is it round? Square? Steel? Aluminum? There are many questions that need to be asked before installation. We never recommend using a square pole since the solar power system needs to face due south and this does not always allow for the fixture and the solar to face the correct directions. A round tapered pole is best as the taper allows for added strength to withstand the added weight and EPA (effective projected area) of the system as a whole. If you purchase the pole from the manufacturer, make sure it will withstand the local AASHTO wind ratings, is made with a long lasting material and compliments your project as a whole.