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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

How To Clean and Maintain Your Solar Light or Power System

Posted by SEPCO

8/19/14 9:30 AM

Solar Light Cleaning and Maintaining

Since there are no moving parts to a solar lighting or solar power system, maintenance is quite easy and doesn’t need to be performed often. Even if your system is at a slope and it rains often where you live, buildup of dirt and debris can still accumulate on the solar panels. There are a few things to do once a year to ensure the system runs at peak performance year after year.

Clean the Solar Panels

Cleaning the solar panels on any system is quite easy and does not take much time. Creating a solution of soap and water, using a soft brush and squeegee will get your solar panels back to their installed luster. You need to do this early in the day, before they start to really heat up from the sun. This is similar to washing your car, and with the steps below, you will be done in no time.

  1. Hose off the panels to wet them down and wash off any loose dirt and dust.
  2. Take your soft bristle brush and soapy water and scrub down the panels. Take mind to any hard to get off spots by gently using your finger or allowing the soap to soak for a minute or two and try again.
  3. Rinse the panels off thoroughly making sure to leave no soapy residue.
  4. Use the squeegee to remove all water to leave no water spots when it dries.

Other Maintenance

While you are there working on cleaning the panels, this is a great time to check all connections for any problems such as chewed wires or conduit, inspect the light fixture (if there is one) for any problems from weather, vandalism or wildlife, and make any replacement or repairs as needed. This is also a great time to replace the batteries if it has been between five and seven years.

That is all there is to cleaning and maintaining your solar light or power system. If you discover any issues, you can contact the manufacturer to troubleshoot the system further or purchase replacement parts. You can also check out our quick and easy troubleshooting guide for more information on any issues you may come across.
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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Power

Tips and Trick for Solar Outdoor Lighting Troubleshooting

Posted by SEPCO

8/12/14 9:30 AM

Solar_Outdoor_Lighting_Troubleshooting

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, Troubleshooting

Achieving NET Zero with Off Grid vs Grid Tied Solar Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

8/7/14 9:30 AM

Companies today are looking for ways to improve their energy efficiency, lower their costs and increase their sustainable practices into their business model. One of the most effective ways for a company to complete all three tasks is to look for NET Zero solutions. NET Zero is when a business or home uses the equal amount of power that it produces on a yearly basis. There are times where a building may use more than it produces at one point of the year; however, it averages out when the building produces more energy than it uses.

Lighting is a huge part of the energy usage of a business; however, there are options to help achieve NET Zero when looking at exterior lighting utilizing solar lights. There are two main types of solar lighting systems that can help achieve a NET Zero application. The first is off grid solar lighting systems that utilize no power from the grid. The second is grid tied solar lights that feed the grid during the day and use the power from the grid at night.

Off Grid Solar Lighting

Off Grid Solar Lighting

With off grid solar lighting, the solar panel is sized to charge a battery bank during the day that is large enough to feed the lights all night. The solar power system is determined by the light fixture Amps, amount of sun in the worst case scenario (typically winter), the run time required and the amount of battery backup that is required for that area, a minimum of five days autonomy is typical in a good system. These systems do not rely on the grid power and are completely NET Zero from installation.

In areas with little sun in the winter, there are restrictions to what wattage lamp can be used. High powered LEDs will require much larger solar arrays and battery banks in the northern areas, making the systems costly for initial purchase. This can be reduced by reducing the run time of the system (say only till 2 hours after the business closes and then on again an hour or so before the business reopens). Working with a solar lighting professional or a lighting designing company can help you find the best solution to fit in your budget and provide the necessary lighting requirements for your application.

Grid Tied Solar Lighting

Grid Tied Solar Lighting

With grid tied solar lighting, the solar panel is sized to the average sun hours and does not include a battery bank. The solar feeds the grid during the day and the grid runs the light fixture at night. There are still sizing constraints with this type of system to achieve NET Zero. The solar panel needs to be sized to provide enough power that it equals the usage of the lamp. A large 250 Watt Metal Halide lamp will require a much larger solar power system than a 90 Watt Equivalent LED fixture. LED switch outs are recommended in grid tied solar lighting applications.

These systems are much less costly than off grid solar lighting systems and have a quick ROI, but are not a good option in areas that do not have grid power already installed or easy access to grid power. If there is not electric currently at the site, off grid solar light systems are the better solution since there will be no trenching of the area (especially roadways and parking lots) and the expensive drop down and cables required to run the electric to the area.

Each option has its benefits to help a business achieve NET Zero certification on their new or updated facilities. Working with a solar lighting company that understands your needs will ensure that you have a system designed to specifications and will provide a great ROI and long life. 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design, Grid Tied Solar Lighting, Off Grid Solar Lighting

Solar LED Road Lights Provide Great Lighting to All Types of Roadways

Posted by SEPCO

8/5/14 9:30 AM

Solar_LED_Road_LightsRoadways are our connection to everything and everyone. They can take us from the east coast to the west coast and anywhere in between. Raphaël Renaud said “Roads and streets, the central nervous system of complete urbanization”. But if you’ve ever driven late at night, you know how difficult it can be to drive on dark roads.

This is where solar road lights can come in to save the day. These types of lighting systems can be installed in any location.

Don’t mistake me for talking about the solar roadways. As this is a great idea and can completely change how our roadway are completed, how they respond to our world, and all the many benefits that comes along, this is not what I am referring to. I am talking about the solar LED road lights that provide overhead lighting on the ground below as travelers drive down the road.

Benefits of solar LED road lights include:

  • Reduction in night accidents
  • Aid security and police protection
  • Improve the flow of traffic
  • Promote business and use of public facilities at night

Local roadways do not have the same lighting requirements as large highways; however, still need to provide adequate lighting for safety to vehicles and pedestrians. Roadways are also implementing bike lanes to cater to the increase of bike usage and sidewalks for pedestrians. This requires an increase in the need for lighting for additional safety concerns of not just cars on the roadways anymore.

LED_Solar_Road_Lights

Since electrical infrastructure was not always put in place when a road was installed, solar powered road lights provide the necessary lighting without having to dig up the roads or damaging the surrounding area. These self-contained light systems are perfect for older roads as well as new road installations and cut down on installation, unsightly overhead wiring and provide immediate payback since the power is 100% free for the life of the system.

Finally, with the popularity of LED fixtures, you are not stuck with the same old Cobrahead roadway fixtures. You can utilize architectural fixtures on roadways that can produce the same lighting levels as the old style light fixtures and fit within the design of the area.

With the expansion of lighting styles and the combination of green solar power, solar LED road lights are a great way to use green power and provide lighting to just about any roadway.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Street Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Solar Bollard Lighting for Parks and Pathways

Posted by SEPCO

7/29/14 9:30 AM

Bollards are used as along pathways and around parks to provide perimeter markings. They can range from concrete or steel posts to intricate decorative posts, all typically standing between 3’ and 5’ tall. Lighted bollards can provide additional features such as lighting the area at night to provide added visibility to pedestrians while marking the boundary of an area from a distance.

Solar powered bollard lights provide a green alternative and allow for lighted bollards to be placed in areas without disturbing the surrounding landscape. As the power is self-contained within a solar power system, these bollards can be placed just about anywhere. With separated solar power systems, the bollards can even be placed in shaded areas with the solar located nearby out in the sun. This allows for additional installation options than solar bollard lights that only have the solar panel installed on the top of the bollard.

Solar_Bollard_Lighting

There are a couple options to look for with solar bollard lighting. The first is with the light output. Reflectors are used to provide 360 degree lighting; however, shields allow for the light to be directed in a specific area. Second option is style of bollards as they come in either of those round or square shapes, a range of colors to fit in with current architectural requirements and the tops of the bollards can be customized with many different styles. Finally, is even pathway lighting required or just spot lighting for marking the area? If even lighting is required along a pathway, there will be a need to place the bollards closer together; however, most bollards can be placed about 15’ apart and provide a decent amount of light on the ground.

No matter what option you choose, utilizing solar bollard lighting can provide the needed lighting with no impact on the environment or the landscaping nearby. Solar provides a renewable source of energy to power the bollards and allows the area to be lit for safety of people in the area.
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Topics: Solar Lighting, Landscape Lighting, Pathway Lighting, Bollard 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

Commercial Solar Flood Lighting at Docks & Boat Ramps for Safety

Posted by SEPCO

7/8/14 9:30 AM

Most boaters like to go out early mornings or late nights to get the best catch. Lighting up the boat ramps and docks provide safety and security to boaters leaving while it is dark. The lights will help indicate where boat ramps are and allow for easy visibility at night to lower accident rates and provide a safer environment while they are loading and unloading boat trailers. They will also allow easy visibility of docks to reduce accidents when taking off on the water.

Tibor-Reserve-2Boat ramps and docks are typically in rural areas and do not readily have access to grid power. Stand alone solar powered lighting systems can easily adapt to these environments and provide the lighting without grid extensions and trenching through parks and preserves. They also provide a green alternative and lower the need for dirty forms of energy in these natural environments.

The solar light for boat ramps is typically an overhead flood style light to provide large area illumination. Single our double fixture configurations can be used, and with swivel heads, can point in any direction on the pole. 

Dock solar lights can be run along the dock itself or using overhead fixtures. The solar for the dock lighting can be mounted directly on the dock or on a pole nearby. The lights can use bright white lighting or wildlife friendly lighting, depending on the needs of the area. 

We have completed many boat ramp and dock projects all over the US. These systems have been configured for different environments and adapt well to harsh winters of the north to the salty waters of coastal areas. The lights can be configured to run from dusk to dawn or even be operated by a motion sensor or switch to lower the power needs. Large flood fixtures are perfect for lighting up the large area, and by using energy efficient LED technology, there is much better lighting provided for better visibility.

The lights can also be used in the parking lots nearby to keep personal vehicles and trailers safe and well illuminated while people are enjoying the area and loading and unloading vehicles and equipment. The lighting can also be installed for park restrooms and other nearby structures such as pavilions and along walkways, all of which does not disturb the natural landscape.

Need solar lighting for you boat ramp or dock? Contact us today for a free project evaluation and quote.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Boat Ramp Lighting, Dock Lighting

What Do You Get With Your Solar Lighting Quotation?

Posted by SEPCO

6/26/14 9:30 AM

Solar_Quote.jpgYou’ve been doing your research, looking at all possible avenues and have decided it is time to get a quote for your solar lighting project. What information do you think you should get with that quote? Well here is what you can expect to receive if you get a quote from SEPCO.

 

Pricing

Obviously the first think you should expect is pricing. Our quotes are laid out for you to easily understand and include all necessary information about the product you are looking at purchasing. Each part number is broken up into sections with an accurate description for each section so you know exactly what you are receiving in the end. At times, multiple options are included on a single quote for you to choose the best design for your project.

 

Specifications

A specification sheet for each part of the system is always included in every proposal sent out. These sheets provide to give valuable information for each piece of the system and what you can expect from the final product. You may also receive lighting layouts and a rendering of the final project if this was requested.

 

Warranty Information

Our most updated warranty sheet is always included with all pricing quotes. These warranties are from the day of shipping and will be upheld without question if you ever experience trouble. We have technicians here to help you with everything from installation to troubleshooting any issues that may happen in the future.

 

References

Our reference sheet is constantly updated and available for you to review. Our references include some of our projects, large and small. If you are ever looking for something nearby, just ask us and we can provide a more local reference for your area.

 

Amazing Customer Service

Every one of our team has been hand-picked and trained to serve our customers from time of first contact, purchase and 10/20/30 years down the road. If there is ever a question, contact us and we will walk you through anything that you may need.

 

Support

Our support team can help you with everything from ordering the correct replacement part, upgrading your existing system or troubleshooting any issues that may arise. Our support staff has had in depth training on all our systems and knows the inner workings of every component.

What other items have you received in the past with your quotations? What other information do you think should be included?

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Solar Bus Stop and Shelter Design for a Brighter Transit System

Posted by SEPCO

6/12/14 9:30 AM

SEPCO has been working on improving our current bus stop and bus shelter lighting products. Our new design combines some of the best features of our standard solar lighting systems and new ideas for a perfect combination for bus stops and bus shelters, both integrating into existing areas and for new installations.

Solar Bus Stop Design

Solar Bus Stop Design

Our new bus stop design provides all night or push button lighting for bus stops. Our high powered ING LED fixture is integrated and recessed into a battery assembly for vandal resistance and provides down-lighting with no light pollution to other areas.

The solar panel assembly sits at a 45 degree angle for maintenance free cleaning of the solar panel by rain and does not allow for snow buildup in the winter. A typical flat panel designs collect dust and debris and requires regular maintenance and cleaning of the solar panel. The 45 degree angle also provides the most solar radiance compared to a flat panel system that only can grab the solar rays when the sun is high in the sky.

The solar panel assembly also easily mounts to a pole with U-Bolts that are integrated into the panel bracket and slip over the top of the pole and tighten down. Best of all, the entire assembly is easily adjustable up or down the pole for variations required due to ambient lighting.

Solar Bus Shelter Design

Solar Bus Shelter Design

Our new bus shelter design provides mounting of the solar panel assembly either on the roof or on a pole nearby. The light fixtures are integrated within a one piece unit to include all control electronics and batteries that mounts directly to the roof of the bus shelter. A single or double fixture application can be easily achieved without compromising aesthetics. The solar panel can be mounted at a 45 degree angle on a nearby pole or on the angled side of the roof that faces south. This keeps the panel clean and reduces maintenance.

Both the solar bus stop and bus shelter designs are perfect for integrating into an existing transit application or for new installations. Bus shelter systems can be integrated into any bus shelter unit and can even provide power to advertising panels and schedule boards. The bus stop lights can easily be installed at any bus stop and provide the safety to travelers at night.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Bus Stop Lighting, Bus Shelter Lighting

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