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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

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

2014 SEPCO Blog Year in Review

Posted by SEPCO

12/30/14 9:30 AM

SEPCO_Blog_2014_Review 

We wanted to highlight our top 5 articles for 2014 and provide you a little peek at what is coming up in 2015. We also wanted to thank our readers for continuing to come back for more information on solar lighting, solar power, green ideas and renewable energy news and information.

  1. 13 Solar and Lighting Terms to Know

This article covers a lot of terms found in the solar power and lighting industry and what they are actually referencing. This information is great to get you well-informed on industry terms and their meanings when communicating with a solar power or lighting company.

  1. Solar Street Light Components: What’s in Your System?

This article covers the different components that are in a commercial solar lighting system and the variations that can occur. There are many options and knowing what should be included in any commercial solar street lighting system will help you make sure you get all the necessary components to operate the system correctly.

  1. Why a Minimum of Five Days Autonomy is Important for Off Grid Solar

Five days / nights autonomy is required to make sure your solar power / lighting system operates as intended and provides reliability and longevity to the systems. This article covers why this is needed and how, in more northern climates, this can make or break a system.

  1. What You Need To Know About Light Distribution Patterns

Distribution patterns ensure that the required area you need to light is covered by the fixture or fixtures. Different distribution patterns are used for different applications. This article reviews them and explains the different applications each type of light pattern is used for.

  1. 4 Questions to Answer Before You Get a Solar Lighting Quote

There are four primary questions that should be asked before you get a quote and this article covers them and why. These questions make sure you are not getting a packaged “off-the-shelf” system that may or may not work how you expect it to for your application.

That wraps it up for 2014 and the SEPCO Blog. We here at SEPCO wish you a wonderful and fruitful 2015. See you on the flip side.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, SEPCO News & Information, Solar Power, LED Lighting

Just a Little More LED Lighting Knowledge (Video)

Posted by SEPCO

12/23/14 2:21 PM

So I was browsing the internet looking for one final post to write for the year (well, writing now, not publishing last, but anyways) and I came across this great video from a Google Hangout between Lisa Reed from Envision Lighting Design and Greg Aranda from Graybar. The original post is Shedding Light on LED Lighting and it is a great article that goes over the new LED technology and some basic information. The video at the end of the post, or just below, shines even more light on the topic of LEDs and I wanted to share this information with you all.

 

 

There is some really great information in this 38 minute presentation; however, here’s a quick overview of what is covered.

Lisa goes over some great facts about LEDs including the lower energy consumption, lasting longer lighting and the lower maintenance factor. She even goes as far as showing a side by side comparison of LEDs vs HID lighting output and showing that not every light is the same. Finally she goes through the metrics you need to consider for LED lights.

LED_Lighting_CityLight Energy Metrics:

  • Candela (CBCP) – The light energy leaving in one specific direction
  • Lumen – The total light energy leaving a fixture
  • IES Files – Lighting calculation files from the Illuminating Engineering Society
  • BUG – Backlight, Uplight, Glare which replaces cutoff ratings for outdoor lighting

Electrical Metrics:

  • Watts – Power consumption
  • Efficacy – Lumens per Watt
  • Efficiency – Percent of total Lumens that leaves a fixture (Not used with LEDs)
  • Power Factor
  • Input Voltage
  • THD – Total Harmonic Distortion
  • UL/ETL/CSA – Independent lab tests for safety

Cost Metrics:

  • Initial Cost
  • Lifetime Cost
  • Warranty

Performance Metrics:

  • Projected Life
  • Dimmability
  • Flicker

The video goes on to explain the Color Temperature (CCT) and understanding how the lighting varies between different color temperatures and how this affects the visibility of different lights. This moves along into explaining the Color Rendering Index (CRI) and how this is an older way of determining lighting and now we need to use the R9 value as well as the standard CRI ratings. Finally, dealing with color of lighting, the Spectral Power Distribution (SPD) is covered to show the difference between different lighting types and how LEDs fall into this.

Finally, she compares old style lighting, both indoor and outdoor, to what is available in LEDs today. There is lots of great information in this section on replacing fixtures and lamps indoors and outdoors so you have a better understanding of what to look for.

After the presentation, Lisa and Greg do a great Q&A and go over some other developments in LEDs. They went over some new applications for LEDs to help with mood, therapy and having companies such as clothing stores using the lights to simulate the lighting that would be achieved during specific events such as outdoor lighting for bathing suits or evening lighting for trying on dresses.

All in all – great video. Go check it out above.

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Topics: LED Lighting

Ways to Save Money with Commercial Street Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

11/18/14 9:30 AM

Dania-Beach-4Commercial street lighting provides light along streets for driver safety, but the costs of installing, maintaining and monthly electrical bills can add up. There are steps you can take to reduce the costs and save money in the long run. Here are a few ideas, and feel free to share yours below in the comments.

 

Illuminate uniformly

Illuminating the streets uniformly provide the best lighting levels for security purposes. Spotty lighting does not allow for the safety that is needed on roadways and is basically wasting light and power. Provide even illumination and eliminate dark areas makes sure you are using every bit of energy to its maximum potential.

 

Switch to LED fixtures

LED lights provide better illumination while reducing operation costs and reducing maintenance. LED fixtures are more costly for initial purchase, but compared to HID, LPS and HPS fixtures, they can reduce the power consumption by a third or more and only need replacement once every 10 to 25 years. Best of all, LEDs use most of the power they draw for lighting purposes, unlike older style lamps that only use a small percentage of the power to provide light, the rest produces heat.

 

Provide maximum lighting when needed

Instead of running a 150 Watt LED fixture at full intensity all night, most streets can reduce the wattage of the fixture by lowering the fixture on the pole and only provide the lighting necessary for the application. There are few applications where high powered lights are required such as on a highway or major intersection. Also, reducing the fixture by utilizing dimming features with LEDs when there is practically no traffic, lowers the power usage for off peak times.

 

Install commercial solar street light systems

Using commercial solar street light systems in areas where there is no grid power nearby allows for the ability to provide the same safety and security in rural areas. These areas can sometimes be more dangerous than urban areas since there is more wildlife that can wander out in the middle of the road and without proper lighting, can cause fatal accidents. Mixing solar power with LED fixtures, maintenance will be minimal and there will be no electrical costs or worries for underground wiring to destroy the roads in these areas.

What other steps do you think would improve the efficiency and help save money when it comes to street lighting?

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Topics: LED Lighting, Street Lighting

The A – Z of Solar LED Area Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

11/13/14 9:30 AM

Solar LED Area LightingSolar LED area lighting can be used for many applications ranging from small single LED lights along a pathway to large overhead lights for roadways and parking lots. Each system should be designed for the specific application and to provide the required lighting levels. Good research on the project application, design work and choosing of the final product will ensure that the end user gets exactly the type of system that perfectly fits their needs.

Small walkway lighting can be accomplished in multiple ways. From small off-the-shelf lighting systems for home walkways to larger corporate walkways using higher powered bollard fixtures vary in their design, costs and maintenance. The off-the-shelf systems typically each have their own solar panel, battery and all included in each fixture. These systems are not high powered, but can outline the area they are placed along. These systems require a lot of maintenance as their solar is only sized to provide a small amount of power with little to no backup from the battery, making the system use all available power nightly and reducing the battery lifespan dramatically; typically needing replacing every year or two.

Larger bollard fixtures can be installed in one of two ways; each having their own solar power system integrated within the bollard fixture, or multiple bollards powered off a single large power array. The single bollards that each has their own solar power system provide a little better storage than the small big box solar lighting systems; however, they will still require much more maintenance than a commercial lighting system. These types of systems have a flat panel on the top of each light requiring constant cleaning, especially in the northern snowy areas, and are more prone to vandalism. The batteries are typically only a couple day backup, which still produces a short lifespan of a battery. Large solar arrays powering multiple fixtures will provide a longer lasting system as there is typically a minimum of five nights autonomy and the solar is sized to replace the total usage every night in the worst case scenario, winter.

Other area lighting applications use larger fixtures such as floods and overhead light fixtures. These are much higher powered systems and provide large area lighting for parking lots, streets, perimeters, etc. These systems each have their own solar power assembly to provide the power to the fixture and operate as specified by the end user. These systems need to still be sized properly to ensure they are reliable and provide a long lifespan.

These larger projects have a considerable amount of customization options and discussing the needs of the project with the lighting designer will guarantee that the light specified for the project will meet the needs perfectly. Different distributions for different lighting applications can be used to customize the lighting system so that lighting is only installed where needed and not wasted. Also, control options provide specific lighting needs, such as dusk to dawn or specific timing, even dimming options that can be considered. Always make sure that the lighting representative knows the end project requirements before specifying any type of custom control electronics.

Next time you are looking to light up an area and need a solar option, consult your solar lighting specialist to help you design the perfect system tailored to your specific needs. From big to small, solar LED area lighting can be a great choice.

 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Area Lighting

7 Questions That Level the Commercial Solar Lighting Playing Field

Posted by SEPCO

11/6/14 9:30 AM

Commercial Solar Lighting Playing FieldSolar 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Solar LED Lights Provide Security and Reduce Energy Consumption

Posted by SEPCO

10/2/14 9:30 AM

Solar LED LightsMost lighting installations in the past have used high pressure sodium lamps; however, these lamps produce a yellowish light that does not allow for good visibility. Using LED lights provide a whiter and more natural light to provide better lighting overall, and even though they look brighter, are much dimmer than the old HPS lamps. This provides a great cost savings since the amount of power required to light these fixtures is much less with a much lower power loss factor.

The US Department of Transportation recently did a study in July 2014 Maximizing Pedestrians’’ Perception of Safety Using Light Source Spectrum that reviews the differences between the old style HPS lamps and the new LED light sources. The study shows how lighting is perceived by pedestrians in urban and suburban areas that need to walk along the roadways at night. They found that people felt safer and more secure when the LED light sources were used even though the light levels were reduced from the old HPS lamps.

As roadway lighting accounts for 51 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year, switching to LEDs can save upwards of 30% of energy on just the lighting of our roads. If the switch to solar LED lights was the next step, and due to the lower power use of LEDs and the fact that there is less power loss as LEDs run off DC power, they would be the next logical step to reducing the electricity use of the US. Pulling the lights off the grid, or installing only solar LED lights in new installations would be the best way to reduce the power and provide a clean alternative to the standard electrical lights.

High Pressure Sodium Lights

Off grid solar lighting is not always an option; however, adding solar panels to the light poles like they have done in New Jersey would also work to reduce our power consumption while increasing our energy efficiency all over. This is not the best solution; however, it is a start in the right direction. While solar power continues to grow, a move towards solar LED lights will increase the safety and security while providing a zero energy option for new installations; therefore, not adding to our already extended use of grid power.

In the end, switching to LED lighting will reduce our power consumption and provide additional safety and security to pedestrians and drivers. Increased visibility is always a great thing and LED lights will provide the needed lighting levels to do so.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Street Lighting

3 Types of Solar Street Light Retrofit Systems

Posted by SEPCO

7/22/14 9:30 AM

So you are purchasing a new property and the street lighting is standard electric. But maybe you are looking to be a green company, or want to reduce costs, or maybe even both. There are a couple ways you can complete a solar street light retrofit and complete both goals.

Grid Intertie Systems

Solar_Street_Light_Retrofit_Grid_Intertie

The first type of solar street light retrofit system you can install would be a grid intertied system. Installing a solar panel on the existing poles to feed the grid during the day and then utilizing the grid power at night will help offset some costs and provide a green alternative. Depending on how much power you want to generate during the day determines the size of the solar panel to install. Work with a local electrical contractor to decide what you will need and the local power company to put on a special device that tracks your power generation. Also, make sure to switch to energy efficient LED fixtures to maximize your savings.

 

Off Grid Systems

Solar_Street_Light_Retrofit_Off_Grid

Second type of solar street light retrofit would be to take the systems off grid completely by installing and off grid solar powered street light. These systems charge a battery assembly during the day to provide the power to the light at night. The solar panel assembly works as a photocell to turn the light fixture on and off and typically provides five nights autonomy. This setup is more expensive to purchase, but provides free energy for the life of the systems, typically 30 years or more, with only the batteries to replace every five to seven years.

Battery Backup Systems

Solar_Street_Light_Retrofit_Battery_Backup

Battery backup systems are the best of both worlds. With a battery backup system, you generate the power for the batteries, typically smaller battery assemblies than complete off grid systems, and feed excess power to the grid. The batteries can either run the lights for a set amount of time at night followed by grid power for the remainder of the night, or only be utilized if there is a power outage in the area; a great idea for areas without reliable grid energy. This setup can also work with a larger battery backup and a trickle charger to provide multiple day storage like off grid systems but only be activated in times of grid outages.

There you have it. There are pros and cons to each type of system which we will cover next time. What type of solar street light retrofit do you prefer?

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Street Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Wattage vs Lumens: Know the Difference for Better Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

7/10/14 9:30 AM

Wattage-vs-LumensWith the push for LED lighting, there is a lot to take into consideration now for lighting levels. One of the biggest arguments is a light Wattage versus the Lumens and determining brightness. The old way of looking at how bright a light will be is to look at the wattage; the higher the wattage the lamp is, the brighter it is. Now we need to focus on the Lumens of the lamp to determine the brightness of the lamp.

What is Wattage of a Light?

The Wattage of the light is the amount of energy it takes to produce a certain amount of light. The higher the wattage, the brighter the light, but also the more power it uses. The efficiency of this system was introduced using incandescent lamps.

For instance:

  • 40 Watt lamp produces only 380-460 lumens and uses 40 Watts of energy per hour.
  • 100 Watt lamp produces 1700 – 1800 lumens and uses 100 Watts of energy per hour.
  • Direct sunlight is around 100k lumens and uses no amount of energy per hour.

This was an inefficient way of lighting and there have been many advances, such as the introduction of fluorescent and compact fluorescent lighting as well as metal halide, low pressure sodium and high pressure sodium. Fluorescent and compact fluorescent produce better lighting with lower wattage. Metal halide, LPS and HPS produce better lighting, but typically using much higher wattage.

What is a Lumen of Light?

A lumen is the amount of light a certain lamp gives off. If replacing a standard 150 Watt light bulb which gives off around 2600 Lumens, using a 35 Watt LED is about the equivalent. This lowers the needed power of the light by over a quarter of the required power to produce the same light. A 70 Watt LED fixture can produce 5000 Lumens or more and replace most highway and parking lot lighting fixtures to a more efficient and cost effecting light. This is becoming more efficient every day.

Why this is important to solar lighting

Solar lighting needs to take into consideration both the Lumens and the Wattage of a lamp. The wattage provides the needed power from the solar power and battery system to power the solar light fixture for the required amount of time and the Lumens determines how much light is given off by the lamp. The more efficient the fixture or lamp is, the more efficient the solar and the lower the cost of the complete system. Solar lights are also typically lower to the ground and then can produce more lighting with a lower Watt lamp and using a higher Lumen efficiency. Want to know more about solar and LED lighting, check out: Why Solar Power and LED Lighting Makes a Perfect Combination

In the end, taking into consideration the lighting levels and Lumens over the Wattage of the lamp will provide a more energy efficient lighting system. Higher Lumen and lower Wattage lamps, especially with LEDs, will provide the best lighting with the lowest energy costs.
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Topics: Solar Lighting, General Lighting, LED Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

6 Steps for Businesses Who Are Ready to Light Their Parking Lots

Posted by SEPCO

5/29/14 9:30 AM

Parking_Lot

Want to provide more safety and security to customers and employees? Provide good lighting to prevent theft and vandalism. Here are six steps to completing a lighting project for a business parking lot.

Step 1 – Identify the area that is requiring lighting

What is the total size of your parking lot? How many cars can it fit? Does the parking lot wrap around your building or is it just to the front? Identifying the entire area that needs to be lit is the first step in the design process whether the parking lot already exists or is still in development and design phases.

Step 2 – Determine how long the lights need to operate

Is your business open all night or just until 10pm? When do the employees go home? When does it open in the morning? Does the parking lot require all night lighting or can they shut off a couple hours after your business closes and then on again before it opens? The less the lights have to operate, the lower the power usage will be. Even cutting back 3-4 hours a night can provide a drastic change to the energy requirements.

Step 3 – Research the lighting requirements of your area

Different cities have different lighting requirements, especially for businesses. Contact your local municipality to find out what their lighting requirements for your business are. Higher lighting levels can be required in more urban areas where lower lighting levels can sometimes be used in rural areas. Knowing standard IES requirements are also a great place to start when looking into lighting levels.

Step 4 – Speak to your lighting designer

Now that you have determined the area you need illuminated, the time the lights need to operate and the lighting requirements, it is time to talk to your lighting designer. They will help you determine the best fixture, height of fixture mounting, placement, etc. to complete the project successfully. They should also provide you a lighting layout to show you how your design will look once installed.

Step 5 – Figure where the poles would need to be installed

Once you receive your layout from the lighting designer make sure it fits well within the parking lot. Double check and see if poles are going to be installed in medians, on the edge of the roadway, in-between spaces, etc. This is also a good time to determine if you want to use an anchor base or direct burial pole, if the pole needs a foundation, and many other factors that can vary before final installation.

Step 6 – Decide if you want to use solar powered parking lot lights

The final step is to decide if you want solar powered parking lot lights or standard grid tied electrical lights. If your parking lot already exists or is still in development and planning phases, and there is no electric existing where the lights need to be installed, opt for a solar powered solution. This will cost less than bringing in the power lines, especially when trenching the lines or tearing up existing concrete, while also providing you lower costs overall as there will be no electric bill ever for the lighting.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Parking Lot Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

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