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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

What’s The Difference Between Solar Pathway Lights?

Posted by SEPCO

10/19/15 10:00 AM

So all solar pathway lights are created equal? The short answer is no. There are many different style, sizes, and functionalities between different solar pathway lighting systems. Let’s look this over for a better understanding.

Residential Solar Pathway Lights

Residential Solar Pathway Lights Home Depot

There are many options to find in any store or online for residential pathways. From small post top pagoda style fixtures to overhead flood style fixtures, residential pathways can be illuminated by solar powered lighting systems.

These systems are typically lower cost and have a life span of a few years; however, due to lower initial costs, makes replacement of the systems not something that will break the bank.

Residential pathway lights have so many options when it comes to style and functionality. Decorative styles vary drastically and there is just about something for everyone.

They use integrated solar power systems with the solar panel and small rechargeable batteries. They can hold a charge to operate single use and are not sized for dealing with overcast weather, but work great for most residential applications.

Pedestrian Scale Solar Pathway Lights

Pedestrian Scale Solar Path Lights Inhabitat

Pedestrian scale solar pathway lights are more robust than residential and are a mid-grade option. They have brighter fixtures and are sized with a few days backup storage. They can either be overhead lights to shine down on a pathway or bollard style lights for lower lighting.

Pedestrian scale solar lighting systems also have integrated solar power systems that are built into the top of the overhead fixture or bollard fixture with the batteries stored inside the fixture head, similar to residential solar lighting systems. These batteries are a bit larger to allow for multi-day storage.

These lights are best for HOA and small park pathways that don’t have light level requirements and are not usually over 10’-12’ in height. Wattages can range, but are typically around 800-1500 lumens per fixture. (Check out Wattage vs Lumens for more information).

Commercial Solar Pathway Lights

Commercial Solar Pathway Lights SEPCO

Commercial solar pathway lights are much larger systems. These use customized solar power assemblies to provide enough power for the fixture to operate for a determined operation schedule and plenty of backup storage. These systems can also power multiple fixtures from a single power source.

Commercial pathway lights are much higher powered and can provide up to 100’ spacing while providing no dark areas. Commercial systems range from low bollards, small post top lights, to larger overhead lights. The solar power systems are sized for typically a minimum of five nights storage and use much higher powered fixtures than pedestrian or residential pathway lighting systems.

The solar power systems can also be easily placed remotely in a sunny location and allow the light fixtures to mount on separate poles wherever needed. This allows the lights more freedom on installation locations where integrated lights must be placed in sunny locations only as their solar is built into the fixture head. 

Overall, each system has its pros and cons. Knowing exactly the application you are wanting to provide lighting for will allow you to determine what the best option is for your budget.

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Img Ref: Home Depot, Inhabitat 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Pathway Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Why Trench When You Can Use Solar Lighting Systems?

Posted by SEPCO

10/5/15 10:00 AM

Trenching Equipment For Non Solar Lighting ApplicationsOne of the largest costs associated with new lighting projects is the cost of trenching in the electric from the main source. Trenching not only costs more, but it tears up the surrounding area and damages landscaping, structures, and pathways. This can be the most costly part of a lighting project since all surrounding areas now need to be repaired.


Why not go solar instead and redistribute the money used for expensive trenching and put it into a renewable resource with an actual payback?


Many times, the lighting is the last part of a project such as parking lots, roadways, signs, and many other projects. Once the lighting needs are discovered, trenching of the power is needed to provide power to the new lights. Imagine trenching through a new parking lot, tearing up all that freshy poured concrete just to bring in power lines. Not only does it cost for the equipment, but also repairing the damages to the parking lot, installing of the new lights, and now you have to pay the electric company every month for the electricity used by the fixtures.


Instead, solar lights are completely self-contained and installed at the top of the pole. The solar panel feeds the battery assembly during the day and the lighting controller turns on the light at dusk, drawing its power from the solar charged battery, for whatever operating profile is needed for the application. All the wiring is located at the top of the pole and therefore no trenching is required. The only installation required is the pole, which can leave the surrounding area undisturbed. And after a few short years, the lights start paying for themselves since there are no electrical costs associated with solar lights. Best of all, the low maintenance factor of solar lighting systems will allow for years of operation with no need to hire someone to come out and change out the lamps, photocells, etc. The only maintenance is the battery replacement, which if sized correctly, should be every 5+ years.


With solar costs going down and solar panel efficiency going up, going solar is becoming more popular. LEDs are becoming more efficient, providing more lighting than ever before, and have a life expecancy typically of 20+ years. Using solar lighting systems is starting to become more and more popular while becoming smaller and lower cost. So why trench...use solar light systems instead.


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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 Lighting Design, Installation

Solar Parking Lot Lighting Design: Step by Step

Posted by SEPCO

9/21/15 10:00 AM

Solar Parking Lot Lighting - Midway DodgeWe have gone over street lighting and sign lighting design, I thought it was time we went over parking lot lighting design. Here is your step by step guide.

Step 1 – Determine how large the area is that needs the light

Parking lots range in size and configurations, from a small parking lot at a park to a large area at a mall or office complex. Depending on how spread out the area is, or what obstacles are involved, parking lots need a little more finesse to get the lights in the right places. It is best to have a blueprint of the parking lot, or at least an aerial shot of the parking lot, will help determine the best places to install the lights into the parking lot.

Step 2 – Determine if electric already exists

Many times, parking lots can be installed before any lighting is even thought of. Or there are many cases where existing parking lots have issues with the wiring underground. This causes great concern and will be quite costly to replace since trenching of the parking lot will now occur to either install or repair the electric. Solar parking lot lights help lower costs by avoiding all the work of breaking up and then repairing the foundation of the parking lot, while also providing a faster installation.

Step 3 – Determine lighting requirements and needs

How much illumination is required by your area for parking lots? Do they need to be dark sky compliant? This information needs to be determined at the beginning stages of the design to allow for accurate lighting layouts. Different fixtures provide different lighting distributions and have different throws and BUG – Back / Uplight / Glare ratings. Also knowing how long the lights are required helps determine how much power can be pushed. Operating them only at full intensity when the area is active, and either dimming or turning them off in the middle of the night when there is no one in the area, can lower electrical costs and usages; however, if security is a concern, let your designer know this in advance.

Solar Parking Lot Lights day / night VA TempleStep 4 – Find all alternatives

Solar is a great option to reduce costs over the long term and can provide great alternatives to trenching for standard electrical lights. The solar parking lot lighting systems operate independently from grid power and allows for easy installation in most locations. This is great for new projects or areas where the parking lot has already been poured or where the electrical lines are damaged. If you want to replace your existing electrical lights with solar, check out our article about replacing existing grid lights with a solar lighting retrofit.

Step 5 – Contact companies for quotes.

The last step after gathering the above information is to contact 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.

If you take your time, do your research, and gather needed requirements, your next parking lot 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: Parking Lot Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Options for Commercial Solar Outdoor Lighting Systems

Posted by SEPCO

7/13/15 10:00 AM


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

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

3 Strategies to Help You Design the Perfect Solar Lighting System

Posted by SEPCO

5/18/15 10:00 AM

Solar Lighting System Design

Not all solar lighting systems are created equal. Each has their own unique qualities and benefits. Understanding system differences along with your own requirements will allow you to build the perfect solar lighting system solution for your project while working with your designer. The three strategies of designing the perfect solar lighting system below will help you best determine what you need and how to achieve the best outcome.

1. Know how much light is required

Does your lighting project require IES Standard light levels? Or is there more requirements in your area? Talking to local code enforcement will help you determine if there are any guidelines you must follow or if there is no set numbers to the type of lighting required. IES Standards are a good guideline for most projects; however, different municipalities have different variations to the standards that they can enforce.

If you are in an area where IES Standards are okay, letting your lighting designer know this information will help them work to determine what type of light, distribution and brightness will be required for your project. Providing the designer with additional information, such as the length of the roadway, size of the parking lot, dimensions of the area, etc, will allow for the designer to provide additional information such as a light layout to show uniformity and light levels across an entire project.

2. Understand system constraints

Depending on the installation area and system requirements, some projects are just more feasible than others. A 70 Watt LED fixture operating all night will require one size of solar power assembly to operate the fixture from dusk to dawn in one location, but a completely different size in another. This is due to the solar radiance that is available in any specific location. Instead of just looking at a certain wattage, looking at light level requirements should be the first step to determine what is required for the project. Decreasing the wattage and adding a pole or two in many cases can actually create a more feasible project in the end and still provide the correct light levels.

Storage requirements also vary from one location to the next. From the Tennessee / Kentucky border south, five nights autonomy is adequate for backup power; however, the further north you go, the more storage the system will require. Also, look at local weather patterns. How many days of cloudy / overcast weather does the area typically receive? Understanding this along with how cold an area gets will help determine how much is adequate for backup storage to ensure system operation and longevity.

3. Determine operation schedules

Solar lighting systems can be provided with multiple operation schedules to meet the needs of the project. Determining the operation schedule when initially designing the project will help ensure that the system will operate as needed and is sized accordingly. Dusk to dawn operation is the most popular configuration; however, split time and dimming helps reduce the requirements of the solar allowing for smaller power assemblies. Do not just assume that the fixtures will operate dusk to dawn, full intensity, unless this has been determined at initial system design. Many companies use control electronics that override the system to provide adaptive lighting controls that are outside the original design requirements. Instead, work with the design team to understand the exact controls being used for the system being installed. If dimming, split time, motion, or any other operation profiles are allowed, make sure to specify this initially.

Understanding these three important design requirements before getting a final system design will ensure that your system will operate the way it is required with the correct lighting levels, uniformity, operation and sizing for the specific project. One size does not fit all in any solar application, lighting or power, and should be specific to each individual project. This ensures you will never be left in the dark.

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Topics: 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

What Light Pollution Means to the Future of Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

4/6/15 10:00 AM

Florida Coast by The City Dark DocumentaryWe are from a small town, so the difference between us and a place like New York City as far as light pollution is way different; however, we all experience some form of light pollution. Light pollution isn’t something you think of, but does it really affect us?

Light pollution is the way light shines upwards illuminating dust and debris in the air and creates a cloud effect that blocks out the night sky. Since the beginning of time, we have depended on the night sky for information in regards to location, seasons, direction, etc., but with modern technology, we don’t rely on this for our information, but does it still affect us? And if so, what can we do to change the light pollution factor of areas?

Granted, all light cannot be lost at night and we will never have the dark sky at all times at night that happened hundreds of years ago, but light pollution can be reduced. Providing light in the areas they are required at the times they are required, and using dark sky compliant fixtures, will lower the amount of light pollution and increase our visibility to the night sky. The US spends 1.5 billion dollars every year on wasted energy due to light pollution. Towns all over the US are setting light ordinances moving towards using full cutoff fixtures only to preserve the night sky as well as reducing costs.

I recently wanted a documentary on this very subject called The City Dark and learned a lot about how we see the night sky in different locations. The films looked at the light in New York City and out in Arizona and the differences were amazing.

The light pollution doesn’t just affect animals, but humans as well. The US National Library of Medicine did a study on the health effects of light pollution.  Decreased melatonin produced in the body effects our hormonal system and sleep cycles. Melatonin deficiencies cause an increased risk of cancers, especially breast cancer, and it is unknown what other risk factors this produces. Many sleep disorders are also caused by light pollution. The study says we are only at the tip of the ice burg in research at this point.

Turtle Friendly Solar Light in Bradenton Beach FloridaSo what does this mean for the light industry? California has taken the light pollution into consideration, as well as the wasted energy, and implemented Title 24 Energy Efficient Standards. These standards are for residential and non-residential areas to decrease their use when the light is not required, like after a facility is closed, and using full cutoff fixtures with motion sensor or adaptive lighting controls. This is set to lower the consumption of electricity in the state.

Other states, like Hawaii, require LPS lamps for their telescope areas with a full cutoff fixture so there is little to no light pollution and any light will not affect their telescopes when looking at the night sky. Areas like Florida are required to use amber color light with full cutoff along coastal areas due to sea turtles. All these different steps are being taken to help reduce light pollution and the affects they have on nature.

What can you do? Take steps to not waste light where it is not needed, provide high efficiency lights, look at local ordinances when installing new lighting and turn it off when you don’t need it. Small steps can be taken in both a residential and business to ensure that we all do our part in reducing the impact we have on the environment and us as a species.

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Topics: Solar Lighting Design, Turtle Friendly Lighting, Dark Sky Friendly Lighting

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