The basic controls of a solar light system are, for the most part, quite simple. The solar lights turn on at dusk and off at dawn if using dusk to dawn configuration, or turn on at dusk and operate according to the preset configurations. We wanted to cover exactly how the solar lights understand when dusk and dawn is by breaking it down.
The solar panel generates power during the day. The control electronics know when the solar panel is generating power and feeds it to the battery assembly. As the sun sets, the panel generates less and less power, and once a specified threshold is met, predetermined by the manufacturer, the controller will switch and the lights will turn on.
At dawn, the panel starts to generate power again as the sun rises. This triggers the control electronics to make another switch to turn the light off and start feeding the power being generated into the battery assembly again. This process is repeated daily.
If an adaptive lighting control is being used, or a split time operation, the system is set at the factory for dusk for x number of hours after dusk and a x number of hours before dawn operation, with either a reduced or off operation in between. Once the system is installed, it understands when dusk happens and then guesses on dawn; however, learns quickly to actual dawn time. To have the system working perfectly only takes a night or two of the controls learning the exact times of dawn to know when the system should work.
Split time and adaptive lighting operation schedules are becoming more popular since during the times when there is little to no activity, typically after midnight and before 5 am, the lights can either shut down or reduce, allowing for smaller solar power assemblies or more wattage during the full illumination periods.
The control electronics control the lights to whatever preset operation is required by a specific project. There is no longer a requirement for a photocell on the solar light fixtures, which typically needs to be changed out due to failures, since the solar panel acts as the photocell with solar lighting systems. This reduces failures from having additional electronics that can fail and cuts maintenance costs.
Want to learn more about control options available with a solar lighting or power system, check out Control Options for Solar Lighting Systems.