There 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:
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. The 30% Federal Tax Incentive is still going on for a while longer before it begins to drop and there are many state and local incentives available.
Also, when looking at the costs of the system, one needs to 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 non-renewable energy sources and lowering resources of these forms of energy, solar is a great option and the costs can easily be justified.
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 for most applications. Everything is on a single pole and completely stand-alone from the other lights.
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 money immediately, and will actually cost quite a bit more than initially expected. The payoff or ROI is quite long when electric already exists, typically around 10 years or more.
Instead, 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. 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 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. This will take special discussions with your power company to determine if this is something that would be okay to install.
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 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.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in October 2014 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.