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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

Quick Overview of Sign Lighting from Big to Small

Posted by SEPCO

12/11/14 9:30 AM

Signs provide advertising and information to travelers day and night; however, if they are not properly lit at night, miss visual impact by someone driving by. There are many ways to light up a sign at night, including the use of solar when electric is not readily available. Here are some great tips and information for different types of sign lights from big to small.

 

Large Billboard Salt River Devco

 

Large billboard lights require quite a bit of lighting to see easily at night. Billboards are typically used for advertising along highways of local businesses and can generate great traffic for these businesses from travelers. Making sure they are properly illuminated during the night time allows for your message not to be missed. A typical billboard needs around one bright fixture every 10 feet to allow for proper illumination levels and to make sure none of the message gets left in the dark.  These can easily be solar powered as the solar panels can be mounted on top of the billboard to charge the batteries during the day and then power the lights at night. Best of all, there is almost never any shading concerns on a billboard. Since billboards are typically installed in the middle of nowhere and have no ability to install typical electrical grid lines, solar is a great option for these large signs.

 

Large Monument Sign Moraine Valley Community College

 

Large monument signs for communities, offices, businesses, etc. can also require multiple fixtures to properly illuminate the sign. These styles of sign lighting systems have fixtures mounted near to the ground angled upwards towards the sign face. These signs can be located along the side of a roadway or in a median. You can either decide to light up just the logo and information on the sign, or the entire sign along with surrounding landscaping. Solar can easily adapt to these signs as well since there is not always power located where the sign is installed, especially in a median, and the trenching involved with bringing in standard electrical power is costly and tears up the surrounding areas.

 

Small Sign Savannah HOA

 

Small signs typically use a single flood fixture and require much less lighting than larger signs. These too have ground mounted lighting; however, the light fixtures can also be mounted from the top of the sign. These too can easily be powered by solar power systems and typically require small solar power systems. For extra impact, additional fixtures can be used to light up the surrounding landscape to really light up the sign area.

 

Internally Illuminated Sign Denver Children Advocacy

 

The final topic to discuss is internally illuminated signs. These are typically either on a building face or stand alone along a roadway. Internally illuminated signs mostly used long fluorescent tube lights; however, there is a huge transition to LED strips to new signs as well as upgrades to older sign boxes. There are many options available with LED lights that can be installed within a sign box and can be as comparable to sizing in regards to the required lighting as a standard flood system to requiring much more power than an externally illuminated sign.

 

Speak with your sign company when deciding what type of sign you are having designed and the options available when it comes to lighting. Knowing the lighting requirements before the final sign is built will help you determine the best type of lighting and to get the most for your money. Most sign companies work with lighting companies directly and can help you determine what the best course of action is. If you are requiring a solar solution due to a lack of traditional power where the sign will be installed, contact your solar lighting designer to create the perfect solar sign lighting solution for your sign.

 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Getting Better Solar Lighting Results by Following 3 Simple Steps

Posted by SEPCO

12/9/14 9:30 AM

Better Solar Lighting ResultsPurchasing a solar lighting system for any application can be a daunting task. There are so many options and decisions to make that you can easily get lost in the specifications. There are three simple steps you can take to ensure that you at least have good results with your system, no matter what the application.

Step 1

Use LED fixtures that provide a high Lumen per Watt output. This information can be found on any specification sheet, and if it is not right there, ask for it. A high wattage LED fixture does not mean that it provides bright lighting; it all depends on the Lumens provided from the LEDs. Knowing the available Lumens per Watt for the LEDs can help you determine which fixture would provide the required light. Want to know more about the difference between Watts and Lumens, check out Wattage vs Lumens: Know the Difference for Better Lighting.

Step 2

Make sure your solar power system provides enough power during the day and provides plenty of backup storage. Solar lighting systems should always be designed for worst case scenario since if you use more than you put in, the system will begin to fail. Sizing your system with summer or even yearly average sun will not ensure that your system will operate when the days are short and nights are long. Make sure your system always provides around 20% over for power generation and you have a minimum of five nights autonomy for those times of inclement weather. This will guarantee your system operates even when the weather is bad for days at a time.

Step 3

Make sure to follow installation instructions carefully and provide shade free south facing site for installation. Reading the installation manual before starting the installation will allow you to decide if you have everything necessary and alert you to any special needs of your system. There can also be labels on the system itself pointing you as to what is needed. Finally, ensuring the system faces directly south and has no shade on the solar panel all day will make sure that the solar lighting system can stand up to the test of time. If there are trees nearby, make sure they are trimmed well.

Following these three simple steps will guarantee that your solar lighting system will provide the best result possible.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

7 Questions That Level the Commercial Solar Lighting Playing Field

Posted by SEPCO

11/6/14 9:30 AM

Commercial Solar Lighting Playing FieldSolar Lighting is not all the same. Yes, they include panels, batteries, light fixtures, control electronics and brackets for mounting the fixture and solar; however, there are many differences when deciding the best solution for your project. Here are the 7 questions you should ask to ensure you are getting exactly what you are looking for and to be able to compare the offerings of different solar lighting manufacturers.

  1. What is the type of solar module used?

Is the solar module single or multi-crystal panels? Mono (single) and Poly (multi) crystal panels, though vary in efficiencies, are both great for energy production and work well in off grid solar situations. Making sure you are purchasing quality solar panels will ensure their long life span and energy production. Some unknown brands of solar panels will state that they provide the same power; however, they typically cannot stand up to the test of time like well-known solar panel manufacturers do, as well as back their products and stand by them on the warranties.

  1. What type of fixture is being used?

All fixtures are not equal. Finding out the lumens per watt provided by the fixture will allow you to determine the light output of the fixture. Also, you need to find out how long the fixtures have been in production and if they are from a reputable company. You don’t want a fixture that hasn’t been field tested for some time by a company that has no experience in the lighting industry. Especially with LED fixtures, you want to make sure the fixture will last as long as the system does.

  1. Is there protection for the solar?

Protecting your solar power system is a great way to safeguard that your system will stay standing for years to come. Some companies, such as ours, use panel pans to protect the fragile backside of the solar panels. Vandal hardware can also be used to make sure that the system cannot be easily removed from installation site. Finally, higher quality solar panel manufacturers use tougher glass material on the front of the panel so not to get damage from wind-blown debris and storms that include hail.

  1. What are the controls of the system?

Knowing exactly how your system will operate will guarantee you are getting exactly what you are expecting from your solar lighting system. Some companies hide in the fine print that their systems in fact operate all night; however, after so long, it will be at a reduced wattage, sometimes as low as a fraction of the original wattage requested. Make sure you get the control profile of the system that matches your needs. If dimming is an option on your project, great, but make sure you know how much the fixture will be dimming. If no dimming is allowed, make sure to read through the fine print. Learn about all the control options available before you finalize your design.

  1. Is there enough storage for inclement weather?

Five days storage is the minimum required backup for most areas; however, the further north your installation site is, the larger the storage will need to be. Five days does not cut it in New York like it does in Texas since the depth of discharge on cold batteries is much larger than in the warmer weather, lowering the life of the battery and increasing down time and maintenance costs. There are also many more overcast days in the north during the winter than in the south. Know the amount of storage that is appropriate for your area and verify that there is enough storage for your systems to operate all winter long.

  1. What type of materials is used in construction?

Materials may not seem like a very important discussion initially, but the way the systems, including the mounting brackets, fixtures, etc. are constructed will determine how long your system will hold up in the field. Marine grade aluminum is one of the best materials used in the industry since it does not corrode or deteriorate and can last as long as the complete system. Other metals, such as steel, tend to rust (unless galvanized) and powder coating the system can also improve the life of the metal as well. Plastics are a definite no-no in the main construction of the system as sunlight tends to break them down and cannot withstand the long lasting needs of a commercial solar lighting system.

  1. What type of pole is the equipment mounting to?

Finally, what type of solar light poles is the equipment mounting to? Is it round? Square? Steel? Aluminum? There are many questions that need to be asked before installation. We never recommend using a square pole since the solar power system needs to face due south and this does not always allow for the fixture and the solar to face the correct directions. A round tapered pole is best as the taper allows for added strength to withstand the added weight and EPA (effective projected area) of the system as a whole. If you purchase the pole from the manufacturer, make sure it will withstand the local AASHTO wind ratings, is made with a long lasting material and compliments your project as a whole.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Give Me 10 Minutes, I’ll Give You 3 Truths About Solar Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

10/9/14 9:30 AM

SolarLighting1.jpg-1There is a lot of information bouncing around about solar lighting. Some people love it, some people don’t. There are many pros and cons with solar lighting, but the one thing that always seems to get lost in the shuffle is the reason behind using solar lighting systems. Here are some truths behind solar lighting:

  1. Truth – You want a green option, but can justify the costs.

The initial costs behind a quality commercial solar lighting system can be daunting; however, incentives are available that help lower the costs. Also, take into account the lack of electric bill and very limited maintenance costs that are needed for the next 25+ years. With rising costs of dirty energy sources and lowering resources of these forms of energy, solar is a great option and the costs can easily be justified.

  1. Truth – What do you do when there is no power nearby?

When no power exists nearby, there are two options: trench in standard electric or install solar lighting systems. Trenching in power is a costly expense, not just bringing the power where it is needed, but also all the damage that needs to be repaired from the trenching. Will this tear up a parking lot or roadway? What about additional construction that may be done in the future, will it damage the underground wiring that you just brought to the site? Solar lighting systems are all in one systems and do not require underground trenching or wiring that can be disturbed over time or damage a property. Everything is on a single pole and completely stand alone from the other lights.

  1. Truth – I have electric already, but want to look at using solar instead.

This is typically not a justifiable cost since there is electric already at the site. Using off grid solar lights when there is already electrical lights won’t really save you anything immediately. The payoff or ROI is quite long when electric already exists. There are a couple things you can do to provide a green solution while not having to go completely off grid. The first thing that needs to happen is switching to LED fixtures to lower the power consumption. Next, you can switch to grid tied solar lighting systems that feed the grid during the day and then the lights draw from the grid at night. If done right, you can have a NET Zero project that is sized properly so you generate during the day what you use at night. Finally, you can use a battery backup system where the grid and solar work together to charge the batteries and then the lights operate off the batteries at night.

Solar isn’t for everyone, but it is a great alternative to standard electric power. There is never a “one size fits all” solution, especially with solar lighting, but working with a knowledgeable solar lighting company or representative will ensure that you get the best bang for your buck. Make sure you know all the truths about your project before you make the final decision.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

My Pole or Yours? Why Solar Light Poles Differ

Posted by SEPCO

10/7/14 9:30 AM

Solar Light PolesSo you are looking to purchase and install a solar lighting system; however, you are now having to decide if you should source a pole locally or get the one that comes with the system. Poles can be a large expense of any solar light project; however, there is good reasoning behind the costs associated with a pole provided by the manufacturer of the solar lighting system. Here are the differences:

1. The solar light poles that are provided by the solar lighting system manufacturer is typically specified to hold the weight of the solar power system. These poles are stronger and can tolerate more of a load than just any pole.

2. They also provide additional support for the effective projected area (EPA) for wind loads in certain areas, especially along the coast. Certain areas require that a pole handle a specific EPA for a specific wind load. By customizing the system with a pole that can provide the strength to handle the wind events will ensure that your system will still be standing, even after a storm.

3. The poles are built to last as long as the system operates, which can be 25 years or longer. I have seen poles needing to be replaced since they did not use quality poles in my area on standard lighting systems. The amount of trenching and construction that was required to replace all these poles was just a waste. Providing quality poles in the beginning would have provided a much longer life than the five or so years these were installed.

There are many varieties of poles, and depending on the needs of your project, a custom pole option can easily be provided. From direct burial, anchor base and transformer base poles to steel, aluminum, even fiberglass; each pole can be designed to withstand the solar weight and EPA to provide a long lasting system.

Sometimes there are existing poles on a project. These poles are typically not a good idea as they are not built to withstand additional weight of the solar. You can install the solar nearby on an additional pole or speak with the original pole company to decide whether or not this will withstand the additional weight and EPA.

If you want to source your own pole, make sure to ask your system engineer to provide you the weight and EPA of your system and pass this information along to your pole company. They will ensure that your system will be standing for years to come.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design, Poles

Planning and Budgeting For Your Commercial Solar Lighting Project

Posted by SEPCO

9/23/14 9:30 AM

Planning_Budgeting_Commerical_Solar_Lighting_ProjectPurchasing a good quality commercial solar lighting system can be a daunting task and the numbers alone can make you cringe. The savings are sometimes missed when you are looking at the initial costs of a project. But don’t be disconcerted, there is are ways to help budget your commercial solar lighting projects and make them more affordable. Here are a few tips that can help make or break your project.

1. Find out what your budget is and tell your specifier in the beginning stages of the project. If they know what your budget is, they will be more apt to follow with that then just quote you whatever they think will work. Giving them something to go on takes away the initial sticker shock of a purchase and allows them to work within your budget when designing the initial project.

2. If you don’t have a budget planned out, but you want to find a way to lower the costs from what the original quote was, check out incentives for using renewable energy. There are grants and tax incentives available for just about any business looking to use solar lighting for their facility. Some great resources are: The Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE), Department of Energy and contacting your local power company for additional information.

3. Complete the project in phases when the entire project cannot be purchased all at once. Breaking the project down to ensure that the most appropriate and important part of the project can be completed first will allow you to budget better for the overall project and break up the investment over time.

4. Don’t forget to take into consideration the short and long term costs associated with a commercial solar lighting project such as installation and maintenance. Review all documents to ensure that the company stands by their product with a warranty and provides you’re the length of coverage for each component, not just a system as a whole. Since different parts of the system have a range of life span, the warranty should reflect this and not just be an overall warranty on the product.

These are some of the best tips to making sure your commercial solar lighting project stays within your budget and the project is finished with great success. Working with your solar lighting specifier will ensure that your project will meet your needs and not kill your bottom line. 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Solar Lighting Fixtures Are Versatile and Adapt To Needs of the Project

Posted by SEPCO

9/16/14 9:30 AM

Why so many choices? There are multiple fixtures that can be utilized with a solar lighting system, and each fixture can be used for more than one type of application. Providing different options allows for customization of a system to provide the necessary lighting while staying with the look the customer wants. Here are some of the best examples:

Small Flood Solar Lighting Fixtures

Solar Bus Shelter Lighting

The InGrade solar fixture can provide great lighting for smaller applications such as a sign light, bus stop, bus shelters, flags, area and landscapes, walkways and so much more. This fixture has the ability to be used inside an enclosure or on its own mounted in fixture housing. The picture shown is a great example of using this fixture in a bus shelter mounted within the battery assembly; however, the same fixture can be used for a bus stop light by just making a few adjustments to the overall system. This is definitely a very versatile fixture.

Large Decorative Solar Lighting Fixtures

Solar Street Lighting

The Urban solar fixture can be used for larger applications for roadways, walkways, parking lots, parks, area, pavilions and so much more. These decorative fixtures provide amazing lighting due to the LED technology, are dark sky compliant, and can even be configured to be turtle friendly with ease. These fixtures mount on the side of the pole from a decorative arm bracket or from above underneath a roof structure if needed. They provide a range of optics and distribution patterns that allows for adaptive lighting to whatever the need of the project without losing light levels on the ground.

Standard Solar Lighting Fixtures

Solar Lighting Fixture

The Viper fixture is another versatile fixture. It is a great cross in style between a standard Cobrahead and Shoebox style fixture and easily can adapt to many different situations. This fixture is typically used for roadways, parking lots and area perimeter lighting; however, it can be used for just about all overhead lighting applications. This fixture provides a lot of light even at lower wattages and also offers a wide range of optics and distribution patterns for adaptive lighting. The same fixture can be used with different optics on different areas of the same project ranging from Type II to Type V Square distributions and many in between. Best of all, this fixture is dark sky compliant so all the light is pushed where you need it.

As every customer has a different application, customizing the fixture to the needs of the project will provide the most efficient solar lighting system. There is no reason to use large floods on smaller applications, just like you wouldn’t want a small, low wattage fixture to light up for security, roadway or parking lots. Make sure your fixture does exactly what you need it to do, or don’t hesitate to ask for a different option. Your lighting designers are there to provide you exactly what you need for your project.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Street Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

How to Efficiently Use Solar Flood Lights for Security Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

9/2/14 9:30 AM

Solar Flood LightUsing solar flood lights around a perimeter of a building can increase security, but these bright lights do not need to operate at all times. Since most security flood lights shine outward and cover a large area, they can use a lot of power and produce glare or light trespass on nearby areas. There are different ways to utilize solar security flood lights around a building without disturbing the nearby area, keep the area secure and not breaking the bank. Here are a few options to consider.

1. Motion Activated Solar Flood Lights

Having the security lighting off unless motion is detected is one of the most popular setups available for solar flood lights. These use the least amount of power as the lights are only operational when they are needed. Once the motion is gone, the lights turn back off after a period of time. This option offers the lowest cost and least amount of light trespass as the lights can perform exactly as needed to secure the perimeter of a building for surveillance.

2. Lower Light Levels that Motion to Full Brightness

If all night lighting is required, having the security flood fixtures at a low wattage to provide enough lighting to see, but not out a large distance from the perimeter. Then, when motion is detected, these lights turn way up to max brightness to provide the distance lighting for security purposes. Once motion has stopped, the lights go back to their original lower wattage to keep the area properly lit. This option, though using more power, can provide all night lighting for people that are constantly surveillancing the area or use cameras without night vision.

Solar Security Light System

3. Adaptive Lighting Solar Flood Lights

Having the lights come on at dusk and stay on for a couple hours, then go down to a lower wattage and be motion activated for the remainder of the night is the final option to cover. These types of applications will use the most amount of power as the lights need to be powered almost all night at full intensity with only a period of time during the late night to be using a lower wattage.

Those are the three most efficient methods of using solar flood lights for security purposes around a building. This doesn’t mean you cannot keep your security flood lights on all night at full intensity, but for the most efficient solar security light systems, allowing the lights to be adaptive to the environment and the circumstance will lower the solar power requirements without having to lose out on any of the security features.
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Topics: Security Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Achieving NET Zero with Off Grid vs Grid Tied Solar Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

8/7/14 9:30 AM

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

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

Off Grid Solar Lighting

Off Grid Solar Lighting

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

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

Grid Tied Solar Lighting

Grid Tied Solar Lighting

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

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

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

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

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

Posted by SEPCO

8/5/14 9:30 AM

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

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

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

Benefits of solar LED road lights include:

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

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

LED_Solar_Road_Lights

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

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

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

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Street Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

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