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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

Adding Atmosphere to the Outdoors with Solar Powered Landscape Lights 

Posted by SEPCO

8/17/15 10:00 AM

Solar Powered Landscape Lights DayA recent project completed using a SEPCO solar power assembly to power multiple small LED landscape light fixtures to provide enough power to illuminate a small area all night. These lights can be used for tree up lighting, lighting small landscape features like a pond or statue, lights along a pathway and so many other applications. Solar powered landscape lights can easily adapt to these types of applications.

Small landscape lights powered by a single larger solar power assembly allows for more versatility in these types of applications. Noticing in the photo, not all fixtures are located in the full sun, allowing for complete charge if using the big box style fixtures with the small solar panel on each individual fixture. Using a single larger solar power assembly allows for the fixtures to be placed in any location, even shaded locations, with the solar power assembly placed in the sun taking full advantage of the sun’s power.

Solar Powered Landscape Lights Night

Secondly, the fixtures do not all have to match. Using multiple style of fixtures for different applications, all powered the same, makes sure that your system operates exactly how you want it to and not have parts of your landscape go out before the rest. If you want all the fixtures to operate dusk to dawn, using a single solar power source sized for the number of fixtures you will be using will ensure that the fixtures operate exactly the way you want.

Pathways that need a little illumination, or that tree that you have been grooming to perfection, or so many other applications, all can be illuminated easily with low wattage landscape fixtures and enjoyed anytime at night. Even overhead rope lights can now be illuminated using solar power assemblies to add a bit of atmosphere to your outdoor space. Next time you look to illuminate your space, contact your solar lighting specialist to see how they can assist you by using a single solar power source to complete your project.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Landscape Lighting

Solar Lighting Systems for Parks and Playgrounds

Posted by SEPCO

8/10/15 10:00 AM

Solar Lighting Systems for Parks and Playgrounds

Parks and playgrounds are a great place to gather with friends and family. From just playing on playgrounds to running around on a field, to walking down trails and relaxing in nature, there are so many things to do at parks. Most parks close around dusk, but there are ones that like to stay open a little later. Proper lighting should always be installed in parks; however, there isn’t always electric available. That’s where solar lighting systems come in to play.

Solar lighting systems can provide so much for parks. They can light signs, information kiosks, trails, pavilions, parking lots and so much more. Since they are independent from the grid, they can be easily installed in any location in the park and provide the light necessary for the application.

Timing is key to determine how long the lights need to operate. If the park closes at dusk, having the lights on an hour or two after dusk ensures that anyone still working on leaving can see. If the park is open later, the lights can provide additional safety and security for people visiting the park after dark. The lighting can also provide additional safety for parks department personnel that need to secure the area at night.

If the park is open early in the morning, before dawn, solar lights can also be programmed to come back on an hour or two before the sun rises. This way, people who are trying to get in that early morning jog can see where they are going and provide additional safety since their visibility will be increased.

No matter what the application is, solar lighting can help with any lighting problems a park has. Working with your local lighting designer or with the solar lighting company directly will help you determine the best solution to the problem.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Parking Lot Lighting, Sign Lighting, Parks & Recreation

Eco-Friendly Building with Solar Powered Parking Lot Lights

Posted by SEPCO

8/3/15 10:00 AM

Hilo Hawaii Solar Powered Parking Lot LightsLooking to build a new place of business or take over an existing building that has no lighting available? Well there is something you can do that will keep costs low, provide a sustainable option, and the installation will preserve the already installed structures. What more could you ask for.

Solar powered parking lot lights can be installed even on an already existing parking lot since all the wiring and electric needed is located at the top of the pole. There is no need to rip up the existing parking area to bring in outside electric, just set the pole, put the solar power assembly at the top with the solar light fixture below, and wait for dark. The light will automatically come on at dusk and run the scheduled operation schedule the end user requires. 

Since no trenching of existing parking lot infrastructure is required, the solar will save on costs of installation as well as provide a zero cost to the electric bill of the facility. This makes solar the go-to option for many existing parking lots that have older cables that are starting to fail. The solar will also provide LEED points for companies looking for that green solution. 

Decorative Solar Parking Lot LightDon’t want standard parking lot fixtures? That’s fine. With solar powered LED light fixtures there are many options available today. Decorative style solar light fixtures can be used to provide architectural fixtures that work well with the surrounding area. By utilizing similar, or even the exact same LED boards in some case, the decorative fixtures can provide the same lighting levels as the standard commercial style fixtures. This provides many more options for meeting architectural and aesthetic requirements of the area. 

These fixtures can also provide directional lighting for less light pollution, better visibility, more even lighting levels, and many are even dark sky certified, meaning the light does not trespass upward into the sky. Non dark sky certified lights provide a lot of wasted light and energy, costing more in the long run and harm the environment as well. 

What about building perimeters you ask? Solar lights can do that as well. There are wall mounted fixtures that can have the solar mounted on the wall or roof of the building. One solar power system can even provide power to multiple fixtures or even the lighted sign on the building. There are many options with perimeter lighting systems including style of solar light fixtures ranging from standard wall packs to larger flood lights. These lights can operate the same as the parking lot areas or on a separate schedule since they are independent from the rest of the light systems installed.

Finally, if you don’t want to pay a power company to power your lights, solar is a great option. Since solar power is renewable and doesn’t cost anything, there are no additional costs to companies who utilize solar for their parking lots. Ask for a ROI analysis from your provider to find out how much you can actually save. You may be amazed at the results.

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in May 2012 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, General Lighting, Parking Lot Lighting

Why Custom Solar Lighting Solutions are Important

Posted by SEPCO

7/27/15 10:00 AM

Custom Solar Lighting SolutionSolar powered energy is a fast growing trend and has been recognized worldwide as an affordable eco-friendly solution. It’s becoming common to see solar panels on the tops of buildings, and now more often, we see them popping up on streetlights, parking lot lights, signs, and so many other applications.

Consumers can even go to their favorite hardware store and purchase small, inexpensive solar lights for applications like gardens, paths, and accent illumination needs. These small units may require no more than taking them out of the box and setting them into the ground. But for more vital lighting projects like illuminating public roads, parking lots, parks, security perimeters and freeways, a greater level of expertise is required.

A long list of important factors must be considered when choosing the best solar lighting solution, including:

  • Selecting the most appropriate fixture and light distribution for the specific application
  • Evaluating the geographic location to determine sun hours and the length of the night
  • Meeting light level requirements and providing options for operation schedules.

When there is a clear understanding of the specific sizing and application needs, the results will be satisfactory for the client and will function properly.

When it comes to this type of critical solar power project, the concept of a “one solution fits all” can result in defective results and, unfortunately, create the impression that the solar lighting industry is not ready to play a prime role in illumination of our streets and roads. 

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When the appropriate system is applied correctly, solar powered lighting systems provide reliable, efficient and cost-effect solutions for a wide range of illumination projects. 

It is very important that subcontractors, project managers and end customers demand their solar lighting vendor treat each project unique and to take the time and analyze all of the details. Experienced and reliable solar lighting companies, like SEPCO, do this with every project no matter how big or small. Customers should insist the same from all of their potential solar vendors.

The basic operating principle at SEPCO is, “not all solar lighting projects are created equal.” We take the time to learn about and evaluate every aspect of each individual project to develop a customized solution. Understanding the goals of our client and exceeding their expectation is our number one goal.  Only trust experience and expertise when selecting a solar lighting solution.

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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 Power

Options for Commercial Solar Outdoor Lighting Systems

Posted by SEPCO

7/13/15 10:00 AM

Old-vs-New.jpg

About 15 years ago or so, there were very few options for commercial solar outdoor lighting systems, but as technologies advance, more and more options are available for a custom system for your application. Solar light fixtures have advanced through the use of LEDs and aimed optics to allow for a range of commercial and decorative style lighting systems. Controls have also advanced to allow for adaptive lighting, motion operation, split timing and so much more. Solar has also come down in price while increased in efficiency for the size of the panels.

Solar Light Fixtures:

Old style Cobrahead, flood and shoebox style fixtures were about all that was used years ago when it came to your selection of light fixtures. The need for reflectors, refractors, and so much other equipment was required to get the light to shine down on the ground. Uplight started becoming a large problem with the light fixtures casting light in all directions.

With new solar light fixtures, we are able to direct the light where we need it. Uplight has been almost eliminated and the style line has increased to almost infinite possibilities. Using the same light board in one fixture as another allows for a range of fixtures to produce the same lighting pattern and levels as there industrial counterparts. This is great news for anyone looking for an option to match the architectural needs of an area.

Control Options:

Controllers have advanced in so many ways. Instead of just dusk to dawn or dusk for a number of hours, we are now able to do split timing, adaptive controls and so much more. Split timing allows for the lights to operate after dusk and before dawn for areas where all night lighting is not required. Dimming the LEDs has also become an option to lower the requirements of the solar and the added ability to increase to full where motion is detected has allowed for this to be used in more applications.

Please note that many manufacturers will allow for adaptive lighting in all systems and you should always be aware of exactly the programming provided for your system before purchase. This should be especially paid attention to when strict dusk to dawn is a requirement of your project. Request an exact operation schedule that includes a light plan of the light at full and at dimming. This way you ensure you will never be left in the dark.

Solar Power Assemblies:

Solar has increased in the power output for size. What used to take up a large area at the top of the pole has now been able to become much smaller in size, allowing for more light and power than before.  This is great for aesthetics since no more do you need a huge power array for a single light; well in most cases anyways.

Costs on solar power have also decreased drastically making the systems more affordable than before. The combination of increased power per size and decreased cost allow for the pricier LED fixtures to become mainstream and allowing for a complete system that was once only a dream. Powder coating of the metal work ties in the system that much more.

In the end, commerical solar lighting systems are moving right along by advancing along with the technology available. This is allowing for more and more options for the end user to customize a system to their exact need. The advances that have taken place over the last 10 years have been astonishing and I am excited to see what the next 10 years holds.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, General Lighting, LED Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Difference between a Solar Street Light vs. Traditional Street Light

Posted by SEPCO

7/6/15 10:00 AM

Solar Street Light vs. Traditional Street Light

More solar street lights are being installed worldwide and are slowly taking over as the way to illuminate the streets at night, but what are their differences? Why are solar street light systems being used now instead of bringing in the electric and using a traditional street light? Here are a few differences and reasons these new systems are becoming so popular.

There are two primary types of solar street light systems: off-grid and grid-tied. Off grid solar lights use no power from the grid and produce their own self-sustaining power on each pole, allowing for a zero electric bill for the life span of the system. Grid tied solar light systems feed power from the solar panels to the grid during the day, then use the grid power at night. These systems are typically sized for NET Zero system design, meaning they produce enough power during the day to offset the electrical usage of the lights at night. Both system designs for solar street lights take into consideration multiple facets of a project; available sun, required lighting levels, spacing, wattage of fixture, and backup power (off grid only).

For years, traditional street lights do not take into consideration any of these requirements. Typically a 250-400 Watt metal halide lamp is used inside a traditional Cobrahead fixture. Spacing, light levels and even power consumption are not taken into consideration. As we advance in our technology and awareness of climate change and power conservation, things are starting to shift. Now, with new pole installations, even traditional street lights are starting to take into consideration more of what the solar lighting industry has been for decades.

Traditional old style street lights are slowly being switched out for newer LED fixtures, which require much less maintenance and provide better efficiency of used power. Much lower wattages are now being able to easily replace the old style fixtures. Also, with new LED technology, optics are able to be used to provide task specific lighting on the ground instead of old style refractors that just blast the light in all directions.

What does all this mean in comparison? If you are dealing with grid-tied electrical lights, the most feasible solution to offset or lower your power consumption is to switch to LED fixtures and to even install solar panels to feed the grid during the day. If you are dealing with a new project or an area where grid power doesn’t already exist and / or is difficult to bring in, off grid solar lighting systems is the way to go.

Different types of fixtures have been traditionally used; however, with LEDs becoming more wide spread in various fixtures, the allowance of more decorative style fixtures are now available with solar lighting applications. The LEDs are typically powered between 20 and 50 Watts and put out the same light levels as traditional high powered fixtures. The LEDs produce better light levels and allow for better visibility than before, while the long life extends the maintenance requirements.

In the end, knowing what your requirements are, understanding the cost differences between going solar, NET Zero or installing traditional electrical lights will help determine what the best course of action is. Using LED fixtures in all new installations will ensure that the lowest power consumption is being used while the best light levels are being achieved. It is amazing how far the technology has advanced over the last couple of decades, I can’t wait to see where it is in the next 10 to 20 years.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Street Lighting

How to Protect Your LED Solar Lights from Theft and Vandalism

Posted by SEPCO

6/8/15 10:00 AM

Keep LED Solar Lights Safe

With the increasing costs of energy and the jump in demand for a renewable energy alternative, solar is increasingly being a commodity worth investing in. Making sure your systems are safe from theft and vandalism is important to ensure the longevity of the system you purchase. Here are a few tips to make sure your systems stay safe for years to come.

  1. Install High on a Pole

Probably a minimum of 10’ should be where the solar should be mounted. These systems are not easy to just grab and go, and with a good height of installation, the systems are even more difficult. Instead of just being able to walk up to a power assembly, a ladder at minimum will be required to get to the bolts and bracketry that holds the systems together on the pole.

  1. Use Vandal Hardware

If the system is lower, using vandal hardware will require special tooling to be able to remove the systems from their mounting. This will make it even more difficult for systems to be taken apart in the field. Just make sure you don’t lose the key in case you ever have to move the system.

  1. Full Metal Back

If you are installing the LED solar lights in an area that is prone to vandalism, the backs are exposed to all types of things that can harm the solar cells. Having a system with a full protective back metal panel pan will help prevent anything from being able to damage the fragile backside of the solar panels. Vandals and wind-blown debris in a bad storm all can damage the solar. Having the option of using a full protective backside will keep those panels safe.

  1. Lexan Front Protection

Lexan is installed to protect the front of the panels. Today, most solar panel manufactures are building solar panels that are much more durable than ever before, check out this great video from SolarWorld:

 

 

If you have a system that doesn’t have durable glass like these modules, then using Lexan to protect the front of the system can be a great alternative. This is primarily suggested for areas prone to hail or areas close to sports centers such as golf, baseball, etc.

Talk to your manufacturer and see what options they have available for protecting the system.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Why Uniformity Is Important For Solar Street Lights

Posted by SEPCO

6/1/15 10:00 AM

Martin County Airport Night Solar Street Lights

Ever drive down a road and there is a whole stretch of lights, but all you see are small circles of light on the ground every hundred feet or so and nothing in between? This doesn’t really help with visibility. However, when you go down a road that has uniform lighting, with no dark areas between the lights, visibility is increased tenfold. Uniformity provides better visual assistance and does not put as much strain on the eyes. When designing a solar street light project, uniformity still needs to be taken into consideration.

IES standards are different between roadways. Large freeways and highways have much different light level requirements than urban roads. Even different cities and municipalities have their own set of standards that go above what IES standards are. Gathering this information and completing a lighting layout to match the standards will be the first step in making sure that the new solar street lights are uniform and meet minimum standards.

Most companies can provide you with the lighting layouts if requested. This is performed by an engineer within the company to ensure that the spacing, wattage, and light level requirements are all within the constraints of the system. If dimming will be used, a new rendering showing what the light levels will be when the fixtures are dimmed should also be shown. This will allow for a better understanding of what to expect when the fixtures are reduced.

Martin County Airport Day Solar Street Lights

There are also many fixture options when looking at solar street lights. We are no longer stuck with standard Cobrahead style lights, allowing for decorative and more modern options for different architectural needs. The implementation of LEDs allows for uniform lighting levels between various fixture sets. A bell style fixture which used to only produce a round area of light directly below the fixture can now provide different distribution patterns and allow for lighting of roadways with uniformity.

LED lights also provide much better lighting with much less light loss from wasted light. Older style fixtures such as metal halide and high pressure sodium had a lot of wasted light. The lumens of the lamp get thrown in all directions and the fixtures were designed to push the light out everywhere with no real task lighting.  LEDs provide task specific lighting and are pushing the light in only in the area that requires lighting. This additional efficiency allows for the use of much less power, fewer lumens, and better overall lighting and uniformity.

The solar allows for additional features such as easy installation, lighting where no power is currently available or difficult to bring in, and efficient use of LED technology since the LEDs themselves operate on DC, not on AC, and provide more efficiency of the fixture. The technologies now work hand in hand to provide the required uniformity with the use of solar for a complete solar street lights application.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Street Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Comparing Apples to Apples: Solar Powered Lighting Systems

Posted by SEPCO

5/11/15 10:00 AM

Solar Powered Lighting Systems

There are many variations when it comes to solar powered lighting systems and it is difficult to compare them to one another. Each manufacturer has its design parameters and understanding these differences will allow you to make an educated determination if the system will meet your design needs.

Solar Power Assembly

Every solar power assembly is sized specific to the light fixture that it is powering. The size of the solar power assembly is either determined with design requirements by the end user, or by a technician that uses a basic formula for all systems. This sets apart one manufacturer from the next. Systems that provide integrated solar power assemblies into an “all in one” solution have set the solar to provide x amount of charge no matter where the solar powered light is located geographically. Other manufacturers take into consideration the local conditions of the project and use those figures to determine how much solar is required to adequately power the light fixture.

Battery Storage Assembly

Solar panels charge the batteries during the day and the batteries power the light fixture at night. Pretty simple, but if the batteries are sized for only the amount of storage to operate the fixture for one night, the maintenance schedule will be much different from systems that provide a minimum autonomy. This also varies greatly between manufacturers. Depending on what the end user is expecting for maintenance and longevity of a system will help determine what suits the end user best.

Control Electronics

Different control options are always available. There are a lot of adaptive lighting controls on the market today being used by all different manufacturers. Some allow the system to do as it will when it comes to lighting as the controller, being the brains of the system, dims and turns off the lights as it sees it should due to battery discharge rates. There are manufactures that can provide strict dusk to dawn lighting with no dimming or adaptive controls. This is always completed by the system design engineers and should always be visible in the system specifications. You definitely don’t want to be left out in the dark when you least expect it.

Light Fixtures

Solar light fixtures have come a long way in the past 10 years with the integration of LED fixtures. LEDs have even advanced drastically over the last few years with many changes in lumen output and longevity. Looking at the lumen output, wattage, and longevity of the fixture will allow for the best determination of the amount of light output the fixture has as well as how long the light fixture will last. 100k hours is about standard today, but that is also increasing steadily as well as a higher lumen output per LED, allowing for the same amount of light out of a much lower wattage fixture than ever before.

Look over the specifications of different systems will show the differences and similarities allowing you to compare apples to apples.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Solar Power Sign Light Design: Step by Step

Posted by SEPCO

4/27/15 10:00 AM

Moraine-College-Solar Power Sign Light One of our most popular articles is Street Light Design and I thought it was about time to offer a step by step to sign lighting design. This will give you the information on designing a perfect sign lighting solution from the beginning to end.

Step 1 – Determine the size of the sign

First thing is how big is the sign? Is it single or double sided? Does the entire sign need to be illuminated or just a single portion? What about internally illuminated signs? Knowing exactly how much area is going to require coverage will help narrow down the design parameters quickly. Internal signs require additional engineering, but knowing the height, width and depth of the sign cabinet is part of the first step to determine how much light is going to be required.

Step 2 – Find out if electric is available

A lot of signs are installed in medians or out where standard grid power doesn’t readily exist. If you were to bring electric to the site of the sign, how much is this going to cost? Is this going to destroy surrounding area such as roads, landscapes, etc? Don’t forget to leave the repair work out of your cost figures.

Step 3 – Determine the lighting requirements

How much light will be required to adequately illuminate the sign? Any lighting company can help you determine what are the best light levels for a sign and offer suggestions. Also, does the sign need to be illuminated from dusk to dawn? For businesses, this could be a yes for nighttime marketing efforts. For an HOA, this may be no and will allow for the lights to turn off after midnight and then on an hour or so before dawn. Lowering power consumption helps on many levels.

Knoxville-Internal-Solar-Sign-LightStep 4 – Final all alternatives

Solar power sign light systems come in a variety of shapes, sizes, costs, etc. There are solutions out there online that are only a few hundred dollars and others that range in the thousands. Depending on the long term requirements and how you want the system to operate can determine what system you will need.

Step 5 – Get lots of quotes

The last step is to send your information to 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. Compare information from companies like light output, system components, warranty, life expectancy, etc. to help you determine what you are actually paying for and what you are spending.

If you take your time, do your research, and gather needed requirements, your next sign 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: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design, Sign Lighting

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