So you are looking to purchase and install a solar lighting system; however, you now have to decide if you should source a pole locally or get the one that the manufacturer can provide with the system. Poles sourced locally are typically lower in cost, and using existing poles on a job can lower the costs even more. BUT there are many differences between standard light poles and poles that are manufactured to deal with the added weight and EPA of the solar power assembly, most of which is typically mounted at the top of the pole.
Since poles can be a large expense of any solar light project, let’s go over the reasoning behind the costs associated with a pole provided by the manufacturer of the solar lighting system.
The solar light poles that are provided by the solar lighting system manufacturer are 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. Solar power assemblies range from around 150 pounds to over 500 pounds. SEPCO battery boxes are now designed to be mounted either up high or down low on the pole, providing the ability to bring most of the weight much lower than previous designs.
They also provide additional support for the effective projected area (EPA) for wind loads in certain areas, especially along coastal areas where hurricane winds are more common. Certain areas require that a pole handle a specific EPA for a specific wind load, up to 170 mph in some areas. 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. We work with pole companies to ensure that the project installation location is considered with the sizing of the solar power assembly when specifying a pole to go with the system.
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 local area on standard lighting systems. The amount of trenching and construction that was required to replace all these poles was just a waste, especially since the original poles were installed only a couple years before. 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, concrete and even fiberglass; each pole can be designed to withstand the solar weight and EPA to provide a long lasting system. Poles can also be powder coated to match the rest of the project when custom powder coating is being used.
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. This is where a structural engineer can be very helpful if you determine to reuse the existing poles. The only possible exception to this would be concrete poles.
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 the pole will be manufactured to meet these requirements and your system will be standing for years to come.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in October 2014 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.