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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

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

How Does A Solar Light Work

Posted by SEPCO

3/30/15 10:00 AM

How Does A Solar Light WorkWhether you are talking about the small garden stake lights you find at any big box store or a commercially produced solar lighting system, they provide the same functionality. The difference between them is in the design. Here is a basic overview of how does a solar light work.

There are four major components to any light; the solar panel, battery, control electronics and the light fixture. During the day, the solar panel produces power to charge the battery by the photons produced by the sun’s rays collecting and stimulating electrons in the silicon cells. These electrons are knocked off and collected by the wiring of the solar panel and fed to the battery for storage. This happens from the time the sun starts to rise till the sun is set. Full power production doesn’t actually occur till mid-day; however, the panels can produce power in almost any circumstance there is sunlight.

The battery then stores the power produces during the day. The control electronics determine when it is dark out by noticing the reduced power production of the solar panels. This triggers the system to stop feeding the battery and turn on the light fixture. The light fixture will then feed off the battery for its energy to produce the light. The fixture then operates the schedule profile it is set to operate, whether that is dusk to dawn, or in some lights, when the battery is empty. The light will then turn off when the battery becomes too low or the control electronics notice there is power being produced by the solar panel again.

This cycle continues day after day.

The only differences between solar light systems are the operation profile and system components that are used to build the light. Small lights you find at a home improvement store for your garden provide typically one night’s worth of power. They charge small batteries during the day and operate the light fixture only as long as the batteries have charge. This full depth of discharge only provides a short period of time before the batteries would need changing.

Some larger solar lighting systems manufacturers think the above design is okay for commercial practices; however, there is a large system failure since there are differences between locations and applications that need to be considered when designing the system. Large commercially produced lights must take into consideration the project location, the application that it will be used, and other project specifics. A minimum of five nights autonomy, or backup power, should be implemented to lower the maintenance of the system and provide enough backup for little to no failures when there are periods of inclement weather.

Light fixtures specific to the application should also be used. If you have a large area that requires lighting, a small spot light will not produce the required lighting levels. Instead, using light fixtures that produce specific optics and distribution patterns will ensure the light fixtures meet the needs of the project. The lumen output of the fixture, not the wattage, also needs to be taken into consideration. A lighting analysis and calculations can show all this and can be provided by any reputable solar light systems manufacturer.

So that’s basically it. Sun charges the batteries with the help of solar panels during the day and then the light fixture feeds off the battery at night. Want to learn about other ways to use solar for lighting? Check out 3 Types of Solar Street Light Retrofit Systems and learn about the three different ways solar can be used in lighting applications.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

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

Advantages of Solar Power Lights at Military and Government Facilities

Posted by SEPCO

3/2/15 10:00 AM

Solar Power LighingThe US Government decided years ago to make their military bases and government facilities as green as possible. Reducing energy and fuel usage, becoming energy independent by installing solar and wind power, and increasing efficiencies in building all contributes to lower costs and energy strength. Using solar power lights is just another step in achieving their goals.

There are quite a few advantages of solar power lights at these types of facilities. Solar powered lighting can provide an off grid option for the facilities as they are not only self-sustaining, but also does not require extra pull from their solar and wind power applications needed for building power, lowering the amount of solar plants and wind farms needed. Since every solar powered light provides its own power, each light works independently from the other. This allows for two goals to be met: Energy Independence and Energy Security.

SolarPowerLighsBy having the lights work independently from the grid, whether powered by solar, wind, nuclear, coal, etc., will increase safety at the facility as no attack can take out every light simultaneously. The lights can also come equipped with a radio transmitter for intentional blackouts, but are not standard to most installations.

One great solar power light application is roadway lighting for the roads around and through the facility or base. These lights provide additional safety by adding visual assistance at night for traffic and pedestrians. It would also allow security to easily spot issues.

Another solar light application would be parking lot lights. At military housing, offices, and other government facilities there are always parking lots. These areas require adequate lighting for people going to and from work for safety to both their person and their vehicle. And using LED lights would give the added benefit of better vision due to the better lighting. LEDs also last longer, do not produce heat and are mercury free.

There are many other applications for solar powered lights at any military base or government facility. Making sure you do your research on the best possible light for the application is key to purchasing a long lasting light.

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Topics: Solar Lighting

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