There is a lot of information bouncing around about solar lighting. Some people love it, some people don’t. This usually depends on if they have had firsthand experience with solar in the past or not. Sometimes it is more of an aesthetic thing – I’ve heard a lot of people call solar ugly. I personally find it beautiful.
There is also a lot of misinformation bouncing around about solar lighting as well. Many companies have muddied the water with hiding information, providing false expectations, and selling cheap systems that last only a year or so.
We wanted to sit down and go through some of these truths and see how solar lighting systems can actually be very beneficial, provide a green alternative to traditional lighting, and provide some great returns on investments.
Here are some truths behind solar lighting:
The initial costs behind a quality commercial solar lighting system can be daunting, especially when you do a quick search online and see all these cheap systems that are available on the market today. These systems are cookie cutter and don’t provide you with actual specified lighting or power requirements. Instead, they provide you with vague system information and no support.
Custom designed systems on the other hand are much higher cost comparatively. These systems are manufactured to meet a lighting requirements, and operation requirement, and have components and poles designed to meet specific needs. These types of systems also have a support and warranty that far outlast the systems you can buy online.
There are also many incentives available that help lowers the costs. Federally, there is a corporate tax credit that can be used, as well a many state and local incentives. Contact your local power company as well as many have their own incentives that they provide customer who choose to implement green technologies. Many of these incentives can also be used for the installation costs as well.
There are also many grants available for choosing a renewable alternative. Many cities and municipalities, along with many businesses, apply for grants to increase their efficiencies for specific projects. These grants can include the change or addition of a solar lighting solution.
Finally, when looking at the overall cost of the system, you need to remember the lack of electric bills and limited maintenance costs that are needed over the life of the system, which with well-designed systems, can be 25+ years. With rising costs of non-renewable energy sources and lowering resources of these forms of energy, a solar lighting system is a great option, and the costs can easily be justified.
When no power exists nearby, there are two options: trench in standard electric or install a solar lighting system.
Trenching in traditional 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.
All these different problems need to be accounted for when deciding if you want to use solar or not for a project.
Solar lighting systems provide power exactly where you need it with no trenching required. These systems do not damage property, require any downtime to the area, and no damage can be done to the underground wiring because there isn’t any.
Everything is on a single pole and completely stand-alone from the other lights. The solar panel collects the energy during the day, storing in the battery bank. The light or equipment then operates from the battery bank at night. Once dawn comes back around, the lights shut back off and the solar begins to refill the battery bank again.
This is typically not a justifiable cost since there is electricity already at the site. Using off-grid solar lights when there are already electrical lights won’t really save you money immediately and will cost quite a bit more than initially expected. The payoff or ROI is quite long when electricity already exists, typically around 10 years or more.
Instead, there are a couple of 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. Remember that there is not a watt to watt equivalent to old-style lighting and having a new light plan done by a lighting engineer will be better than arbitrarily choosing to go from a 400 Watt MH to a 300 Watt LED when a 100 Watt could easily provide the correct light levels.
Next, you can switch to grid-tied solar lighting systems that feed the grid during the day to offset your nightly usage. The lights draw from the grid at night and the panels feed the grid during the day.
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. This will take special discussions with your power company to determine if this is something that would be okay to install. Who knows, maybe you will find more incentives by going this route.
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. These are a solution where blackouts and brownouts are prevalent, and you don’t want to be left in the dark.
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 commercial 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.