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Solar Lights: Benefits, Available Options, & Buying Guide

Research data shows that by the year 2024, the market for solar lighting systems in the US will exceed $10.8 billion. There is an increasing awareness among consumers to use energy-efficient solar lighting systems, which helps reduce the monthly energy bills as well as lowers the environmental footprint. Other favorable conditions leading to the increased use of solar lighting systems include government initiatives and innovation and advancements in solar lighting technology.

Solar Lights Along the Pathway

What are solar lights?

Solar lights, like solar panels, harness the renewable source of energy from the sun. This perennial source of energy is not likely to disappear and can be tapped as a source of energy for a long time to come. Over the last few centuries, other natural resources across the globe have been steadily depleting due to indiscriminate use and the ever-increasing needs of mankind. Sun, on the other hand, is and will be available as an infinite source of light and energy.

A solar light, also known as a solar lantern or lamp, draws its power from the sun. Solar-powered lights consist of a solar panel, a built-in battery that gets charged using the sun, and a lighting module. Some of the advanced solar lights have a control panel for switching between lighting modes, and an integrated motion sensor to activate the light when there is a movement within the sensing area.

How does a solar light work?

The most important part of a solar-powered light is the solar cell. Solar lights work through the photovoltaic effect when the solar cell converts the sunlight into electric currents.

The solar cell of a solar light consists of semiconductor materials with positively and negatively charged electric fields. When the sunlight passes through the solar cells, the electrons in negatively charged layers get activated and move into the positively charged areas.

Diagram of the General Work Mechanism of a Solar Light

These discharged electrons become a direct current of electricity through the wires that are embedded in the solar cells and to a battery that stores the electricity until needed. The battery gets charged through the day from the sunlight and the sunlight helps the conversion to electricity.

When it gets dark, the conversion process of sunlight to electricity stops. There is a photoreceptor on the light that detects the darkness around and the light comes on because of the light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The charged battery supplies the necessary electricity through the night.

Naturally, you need adequate sunlight for this process. Therefore, it makes sense to ensure that the solar light is not hidden from the direct sunlight with shaded areas. Solar lights are most effective during the summer months as winter brings shorter daylight hours and, in some areas, snow.

Benefits of using solar lights

An objective comparison between traditional lights and solar-powered lights will show the numerous benefits of using solar lights.

Traditional lighting

Traditional lighting uses a high level of energy with 90% of the energy getting released in the form of heat. The installation of traditional lighting is neither cost-effective nor eco-friendly. It also requires materials such as wires and electrical devices as well as an electrician, which adds to the cost which is not good since food, taxes, and gas prices are all increasing.

Is it cost-effective?

The initial investment in installing traditional lighting may be higher because of the need for wiring to connect to the energy grid. The cost of producing this energy is also higher.

Is it eco-friendly?

Traditional lighting causes more pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, leaving little room for reducing the carbon footprint.

Can it be damaged?

Traditional lights when placed outside can be damaged in extreme weather. Inner fittings may also suffer damage when attempting to replace old lights with new ones. Over time, the wiring may need to be replaced and original fixtures may need replacing.

Is it safe?

Traditional lightings are more prone to causing accidents through damaged wires. Short circuits are fairly common and can cause an electrical shock or other accidents.

Solar lighting

It goes without saying that solar lights are eco-friendly. They are capable of using natural resources from the sun and produce electricity. They are also cost-effective and do not require grid power, and need little to no maintenance. This is especially beneficial to people living in areas that are off the grid or where the cost of energy is unaffordable.

Environmentally friendly

Solar power is a source of renewable energy. This makes solar energy the best way to transition to a sustainable and eco-friendly source of electricity. The electricity converted by the solar cell and stored in the battery is used to power the efficient LED lighting modules. This process gets repeated day after day and ensures that you do not need any other form of energy.

Cost-effective

Installing solar lights is inexpensive and at a lower cost than if you were to trench grid power. Solar lighting does not need any underground conduit to the light poles as seen in the traditional power supply. The wires are on top of the poles and of a low voltage making it safe and easy to install.

Zero energy bills

Solar-powered lighting systems can reduce energy bills to almost zero. Commercial solar light systems may be costly at the time of the installation. But over time, the reduction in your energy usage costs will make it a prudent investment.

Easy installation

Solar lighting can be installed by anyone, without any fear of going wrong or getting hurt. Young adults can also safely and easily install solar lights in homes and commercial buildings.

Low maintenance

LED bulbs last for over twenty years, unlike traditional bulbs that need regular replacement. With proper installation, the solar system’s battery will only require maintenance work every five to seven years. The only other maintenance will be to routinely check and clean the glass grid to ensure a longer lifespan.

It is safe

Solar-powered lighting does not need to connect with the electricity grid and uses only DC current in low voltage, they do not need wiring. So, it is safe to install and use. Solar lights can be installed anywhere in your homes, including the gardens.

Lifespan

Solar LED lights last much longer than traditional incandescent lights making them more economical and affordable.

Aesthetics

With the increasing popularity of solar lights, aesthetics has also come into play. There are multi-functional and decorative light fixtures available in the market.

What are different types of solar lights?

There is an increasing awareness among people to follow eco-friendly practices and solar lights fall perfectly into that category. They have become popular not only in residential properties but also in commercial areas. Solar lights can be effective inside and outside regardless of the size of the property or garden. Replacing traditional lighting with solar lighting makes for a great start to using renewable energy.

Part I: Residential outdoor solar lights

Solar Powered String Lights Over the Garden

There are various types and designs of solar lights that will be suitable for the outside areas of your homes. You may need solar lights for the garden or yard, or even the pathway leading up to the front door. A variety of lights are available including solar path lights, solar lawn lights, solar deck lights, solar fence lights, solar string lights, hanging solar lights or lanterns, solar wall lights, and solar spotlights.

All of these lights can provide more than adequate lighting at zero cost. Furthermore, solar-powered lights with new and innovative designs add an interesting and decorative touch to the different areas you can install outdoor solar lights, especially during outdoor activities and during the holiday season.

Installed in the driveway or pathway ensures that the family and visitors have solar lights undamaged in extreme weather for safe movement through the year.

Part II: Commercial solar lights

Commercial solar lights have been steadily gaining popularity over the last several years. They offer eco-friendly alternatives that also provide light in areas that may be off the grid. Just as it is in residential areas, the use of solar lights in commercial spaces can result in saving money from the electric bills freeing up funds to use on other areas of the business.

Some examples of commercial solar lights include solar sign lights, solar street lights, solar lights for parking lots, and solar path lights. Commercial solar lights provide the same measure of security as traditional lights but at a much lower operational cost.

Solar Street Lights Along a Road Under the Blue Sky
© SolarBuy.com

What to look out for when choosing solar lights?

Now that you have decided to opt for solar lighting, there are factors to consider before choosing the right solar lights. The three major factors are the type and brightness of the solar lights, the battery, and the solar panel. The type of solar lights you choose will depend on the location of its installation and its brightness. Below are some of the questions you must ask yourself:

Where do I plan to install the light?

This is the first step towards moving to solar light installation. The answer will depend on the areas you want to be lighted and how much brightness will be needed in each of the areas. For instance, pathway lights and step lights will need different levels of brightness. Both areas do need lighting; however, step lights can be softer than solar path lights.

How many lumens do I need? (Brightness)

Once you have decided on where you plan to install the solar light, you will be able to decide on the level of brightness you need. The below chart can help you:

Types of Solar LightsLumens Range
Step Lights12 to 100 lumens
Landscape Solar Lights50 to 300 lumens
Hardscape Solar Lights (on Walls)50 to 190 lumens
Solar Path Lights100 to 200 lumens
Pond/Swimming Pool Solar Lights200 to 400 lumens
Motion Sensor Solar Lights300 to 900 lumens
Solar Flood Lights700 to 1300 lumens

Which lighting mode do I need?

Do you need the solar lights to flash or to remain static? Solar lights can come with different modes with some having more than one lighting mode. These lights can also come in a dual function mode where you can choose between lower lighting lasting longer hours or brighter lighting for fewer hours.

Battery charging time and working time

Batteries for solar lights are of four types: lithium-ion, lead-acid, NiCAD, and NiMH. Of these, lithium-ion is the more popular choice because of its small size and high capacities.

Batteries for solar lights get charged on solar power during the day. There may be less daylight time for the battery to get charged during winter and it depends on where you live. This may be a deciding factor on how long you expect the solar lights to function during the night.

What is the waterproof grade I should look for?

You will need to decide on the IP rating you need depending on the location of the solar lights. IP stands for ingression protection and applies to the measurement of protection against dust, sand, water, etc.

The IP rating comes with two numbers. The first number is for protection against dust, sand, etc. and the range is 0-6, and the second number is for protection against liquids with a range of 0-8. The higher the numbers, the stronger will be the protection.

The ideal rating would be IP65 if you are looking for maximum protection for your solar lights. The below chart should help you with the decision:

1st Number - Against Solids2nd Number - Against Liquids
0-No protection0-No protection
1-Protection against solid objects greater than 50mm1-Protection against water drops
2-Protection against objects greater than 12.5mm2-Protection against water drops of 15-degree angles
3-Protection against objects greater than 2.5mm3-Protection against water sprayed at 60-degree angles
4-Protection against objects greater than 1.0 mm4-Protection against water splashes
5-Protection against dust5-Protection against water jets
6-Dust tight - Zero dust ingress6-Protection against powerful jets and heavy seas
7-Protection against temporary submersion in water (30 minutes at 3 feet)
8-Protected against permanent submersion in water (up to 13 feet)

Length of wires for solar string lights

If you are looking to buy solar string lights, you would need accurate measurements of the area in which you plan to string the lights. The length of the wire used to string the lights will vary and your need will be based on the distance you wish to cover. Generally, solar lights will have around six to eight inches of wire in between 2 bulbs.  

Do I need extra tools for the installation?

Tools for solar light installation will depend on the type of lights. An electric drill, angle finder, drill bits, and a measuring tape.

How about the advanced features?

A few solar lights come with additional features such as a motion sensor, a timer, colored lenses, etc. Your choice of solar lights will depend on whether you are looking for decorative accent lighting, solar path lights, or solar spotlights. Having a motion sensor on outside solar lighting is a common practice. Colored lenses add a touch of elegance without lowering the brightness in gardens. A timer will allow you to store the electrical charge for special occasions and give you a longer run time.

Looking into the future: What to expect in the solar lighting world?

As of 2018, less than 2% of solar power has been harnessed. However, the amount of solar power collected over the last two decades increased from 2000 to 2019, 300-fold. Solar panel technologies continue to evolve and the innovative uses of solar power are emerging leading to advanced solar lighting capabilities.

Solar lights now add a decorative accent to residences and commercial spaces in their new forms making them aesthetically appealing. Solar panels used in the lights may also become less noticeable. Solar lights also have the potential for higher capacities even as they become more compact in design. Moreover, they are expected to work at higher levels of efficiency.

Key Concepts

Rapid advancements in solar lighting technology and innovation are helping make solar lights a smart choice. The world still has a long way to go in terms of tapping the full potential of solar power, and solar lighting is going to play a vital role in expanding the use of renewable energy for both household and commercial purposes.

Solar lights can brighten your homes and offices without hurting your wallet. Having your residential or commercial spaces converted to solar lighting also makes a strong environmental statement even as it provides safety and brightness, while cutting your energy costs down. Clearly, solar lighting represents a win-win for all—our planet needs it, and so do we.

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