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The Ultimate Guide to Solar Pathway Lighting

SEPCO 1/16/23 6:30 AM
The Ultimate Guide to Solar Pathway Lighting
The Ultimate Guide to Solar Pathway Lighting

Pathways and walkways connect people and spaces, providing a way to move about in an area, and allow for travelers to pass safely through a region. These pathways can be used at any time of the day or night, and providing adequate illumination allows these spaces to be used more safely at night. Safety and security of the people and property around a space is key, and lighting plays a huge role in doing just that.


There are many cases where grid power wasn't introduced to an area, either for lack of infrastructure or development of the space didn't consider the need for lighting. Plus, lighting often exists from the original installation but has become broken or had issues over time. This is an excellent place for solar to step in and provide a solution.


A solar pathway lighting system can be placed in many spaces where traditional grid-powered lighting cannot. A solar solution can be installed anywhere that has full access to sunlight during the day and provides the needed illumination at night when the space is still in use. Best of all, the solar will not disrupt the area's natural state and can even provide added benefits to these remote areas.


Over the course of this guide, we will look at different types of pathways, how they can each benefit from lighting, and how solar can play a part in providing a green alternative to traditional lighting systems. This will help you determine if the lighting is needed for your next pathway project and if solar is the best option for you to implement.


Types of Pathways

There are a couple of types of pathways, each with its own lighting needs. Bike pathways are typically larger and have faster-moving objects than standard walking pathways. A hiking path is an entirely different animal with its own special rules. Let's take a look at each of these in more detail and see which type of pathway your project would fit in best.


Bike Paths

A bike path is typically a larger pathway that is very smooth and well-maintained. These are used for people to commute from one area to another without needing a car. A bike path can be used at various times of the day and night, requiring added illumination as objects move more quickly. In addition, obstacles need to be visible to ensure the safety of people moving along the area.


High-output fixtures should be used to provide a higher level of illumination than on other types of pathways. To reduce the energy load the lights can operate via a motion sensor with the fixtures set at a reduced output until motion is present. High-quality and reliable motion sensors should be used that can pick up the movement from a distance and can keep up with the speed of movement is key to ensuring this safety.


Solar pathway lights are a great way to provide this illumination when standard grid power has not been introduced to the area or during the design phase to ensure a green option for lighting. The solar pathway lights allow the site to be adequately illuminated while also producing energy from the sun and not from dirty fossil fuels. These systems can also benefit from the use of motion sensors but can also operate a full output all night without adding a considerable cost.


Walking Paths

A walking path is typically only 5' wide and has lower required illumination levels. These are usually around a park, neighborhood, or community area. These lights are usually more decorative in nature and provide illumination not only on the pathway but also the area around the pathway.


Since movement isn't as fast as with a bike path, walking pathways can reduce the light levels a little if necessary. However, the lighting of the surrounding area is good to ensure that people have good visibility while they are moving along the pathway, like for people walking their dogs, to keep them and others safe.


Solar can fit these projects well for the same reasons as bike pathways. Solar is an excellent alternative to traditional power and can be installed anywhere along the path. Solar can also be installed in a remote location with the light fixture where it is needed, sometimes even under a tree. As long as the solar panel has full access to the sun, the light fixture can go just about anywhere.


Hiking Paths

A hiking path is not always used at night, but there are times when having a light would be beneficial, especially out at national parks or campgrounds, to help people navigate back to their campsite after dark. Unfortunately, these lights are not evenly placed along hiking trails but more at the trailheads and maybe even some intersections in the area.


Since these lights are not needed as much as other pathway lights, having them only on when motion is detected is a great way not to disturb the natural area. Having a marker light, or having the light operate at a reduced output, would let people know the correct direction to move towards if they become lost.


Solar provides a solution because it can be installed in just about any location. In addition, these would only require minimal solar power systems since the lights wouldn't operate all night. The solar lighting system can also be attached to wood poles, which is what is used on most remote sites.


Solar Pathway Light System Components

The components that make up a commercial solar pathway light system are basically the same as other commercial solar lights. Each light consists of a solar power array, battery backup, DC light fixture, controller, fixture bracket, and a pole in almost every setup.


For overhead lights, everything exists on one pole, with the power located at the top of the pole facing south and the light fixture below, typically a few feet below the solar, and mounted to face the direction required to provide the light in the correct area. For bollard setups, there are a couple of schools of thought happening, which we will go over later in this post.


Understanding these components and how to decide if they are appropriately manufactured will help you determine if the system you install will last. So let's look at each of those components in some detail.


Solar Power Assembly

The solar power assembly is comprised of a solar panel, bracket for mounting the panel on a pole, and some metalwork to attach everything together. The framework should withstand high winds, snowfall, and other weather conditions.


The solar should also be sized appropriately to ensure that it can fully charge the batteries the next day in the worst possible conditions. Making sure that the solar can provide enough energy to recharge the batteries will ensure that the system will operate night after night without fail


Solar Battery Backup

The solar battery backup must be adequate to ensure the system has more than one or two nights of energy supply. This is to allow for the system to stand up in bad weather and always provide adequate power for the following nights.


Having such a large backup also ensures that the system's maintenance schedule is pushed out, requiring less maintenance over the course of the system's life. The lower maintenance schedule also allows for lower overall costs of the system as a whole.


Solar Light Fixtures

Pathways typically use one of two types of light fixtures; either overhead or bollard style. Overhead fixtures can be standard / industrial in design or decorative. As long as the fixture provides adequate light for people on the pathway, either choice will work. Let's take a look at both options.


Overhead Solar Pathway Light

Overhead light fixtures typically cover 75 to 125 feet between light poles and require the least amount of fixtures. Either decorative style, like the SolarUrban, SolarSlide, or SolarLondon can be used or a more industrial style, like the SolarASL or SolarViper. Each of these lights provides plenty of illumination and can be used in a Type 2 distribution pattern to ensure the pathway is covered.


Bollard Solar Pathway Light

A bollard used in a symmetrical or asymmetrical distribution pattern will cover about 25 feet of area. This is only because the lights are usually no higher than 42 inches above ground level and cannot allow light to disperse too far from the source. These are used along areas where you don't want vehicles or large objects to enter or where only a couple is required for a decorative project. We do not suggest using a SolarBollard for large installations as they are not as cost-effective.


Let's compare an integrated solar bollard and a commercially designed bollard lighting system.


Integrated Solar Bollard

There are solar bollards that have the solar panel integrated inside the bollard fixture at the top. These are great because even the battery is housed inside the bollard's structure. However, these have many problems, such as shading, snowfall, vandalism, operation, etc. They tend only to have enough solar energy stored for a few hours of operation at best, and any issues with the tiny solar panel will cause the system not to operate correctly. These installations are perfect when dealing with areas with great light exposure and do not allow any underground conduit to be installed.


Remote Solar Bollard

In a remote bollard system setup, the bollard light fixtures are installed separately from the light fixtures, and a single power source typically operates multiple light fixture. This allows for brighter light fixtures and a good amount of solar to produce the power needed to operate the fixtures as specified. It also provides for the power source to be located in a sunny location with no regard to where the bollard fixtures need to be installed, including under trees or in a shady area.


Solar Controls

The controller is what keeps the system operating normally and holds the programming for the lights. The solar panel produces a charge during the day, and the controller tells the system to store that energy. At night, when the panel stops producing a charge, the controller tells the system to operate the fixture, using the stored energy and operates the system per the preprogrammed instructions. The control ensures that the batteries are not overcharged during the day and drained beyond a specified amount at night. All this control keeps the system operating at peak performance and increases the system's lifespan.


Operation Profiles

Solar systems have various operation profiles. The most common is dusk to dawn or dusk until a set time. Motion sensors can also be used to either only illuminate the pathway when people are active or for the time after the lights shut off, in case the area becomes active again. Having the lights shut off and switching to a motion-sensing setup can help reduce the solar system sizing or increase the number of bollards that are able to be powered by a single solar system.


Solar Light System Poles

The poles needed for a bollard installation are only required with a remote option but are always required for overhead systems. The poles provided for overhead installations are quite different from what is provided for a solar lighting system.


Solar poles are typically very large, with a 4-6" tip and an 8-14" base, and should always be round. Square poles do not allow for mounting the solar and fixture in any direction and tie you to four direction orientations. Bollard setups have remote poles and are usually direct burial poles with the solar mounted at around 5 to 10 feet above grade.


Standard light poles are too weak to handle the weight and EPA of the system and can quickly fail, falling over and damaging property, and putting people in harms way. This is all before a high wind or snow event, which can be even more dangerous if the pole is not manufactured specifically for the project.



After looking at the various types of pathways and how solar can play an integral part by providing an alternative solution for lighting. We also looked at the various components and how each piece plays a role in providing the solution. You can see why solar pathway lighting can be an important decision to make. Solar pathway lights allow for illumination where standard grid power is not cost-effective to install, or where a green alternative is requested for a new project. Solar can also be used for applications that are remote and do not have access to traditional power sources.