What is Solar Lighting?
Sometimes we get caught up in our daily grind that we forget to go back and mention the fundamental basics of what a technology is. For example, in a simple sense, solar lighting can be thought of as solar – meaning the sun; and lighting – meaning provides light. So, let¡¯s now discuss the different technologies referred to as solar lighting but have different ways of using solar and lighting.
What is Solar Lighting?
Solar lighting can be thought of in many different ways. Either the sun is providing the light directly, like through a window or skylight, or capturing the sunlight for use at another time, like with photovoltaic lights.
Each of these ways to utilize the sun for our lighting needs has different variations, allowing you to find the perfect solution for your needs. For example, if you are lighting a space inside a home or building and are looking for a natural way to accomplish this, a solar skylight would be the best option.
If you are trying to provide light to an outdoor space at night, then off-grid solar lighting systems would be the best option. Within off-grid solar lighting systems, there are many variations that we will cover. In the end, I think you will have a better understanding of the various technologies, uses, and what would work best for your next installation.
Solar Sky Lights
There are solar skylights that interact with the sun and clouds to dim and brighten indoor lighting.
There are also ones that bring in light with no way to dim except by using blinds.
Some skylights open to let out hot air and use solar energy to power the control arms.
Finally, solar tubes or sun tunnels can bring light to interior areas that may not have windows.
These various technologies are used to conserve energy, either by reducing HVAC use or by allowing daylight to provide the required lighting to the space.
Some building light controls sense when the sun is available as natural daylighting and when it is not available, or cloud cover has formed, dimming the daylight. These controls then increase or decrease the use of electrical lights inside a building depending on the ambient light.
All these various options are used for indoor spaces, either with homes or commercial spaces. These costs vary from a couple of hundred dollars to well over $10K for a complete purchase and installation. It is always less expensive to think of these setups during the beginning phases of a construction project and not long after the project is complete.
The second and most common way we at SEPCO refer to solar lighting is an off-grid solar lighting system. These systems feature a photovoltaic (PV) module or array that collects energy from the sun and stores it in batteries to operate the required wattage of light at night.
This solar lighting system is generally used for energy savings, cost savings, and environmental reasons. These systems are called grid-free or stand-alone, meaning that they generate their own electricity at that specific site. No power is used from the grid, and no moving parts to worry about breaking.
One great benefit of these types of systems is it cuts down on construction costs of underground wiring. Instead of bringing power out to a site, dropping a meter, trenching the power out to all the various locations of the project, paying a monthly energy bill, renting the poles and fixtures, etc., you drop a pole and set everything on a single place. There are no energy bills for the systems, and the only maintenance is a battery change every so often, depending on your system.
This type of solar lighting works for both home installations of small landscape and pathway lighting, large-scale projects for manufacturing sites, parks and recreation, new construction, updating outdated sites, and everything in between.
Off-grid solar lighting systems allow the end-user to have light where they need it most, for as long as they need it to run. In addition, custom-designed systems provide a little more configurations than what you find in big box stores or online retailers.
Hybrid Solar Lights
The third technology gaining momentum in solar lighting is the grid-interactive solar lighting systems, sometimes referred to as hybrid systems. These systems have three meanings within their meaning.
One type of hybrid system is a system that generally only has solar modules and no battery. This system usually has a meter and what it generates while the sun is out goes directly into the grid. These are common among areas that utilities provide incentives for power generation. These systems are usually on a light pole but do not provide any power to operate the light. These systems are also sometimes referred to as peak reduction units.
The second hybrid system has a solar module and a battery with a lighting system. The solar generates the power, provides the energy collected into the battery, and operates the light for specific hours. Then the system switches back to grid power. This system is common where electricity is available at the pole, but the customer would like to offset the electricity costs. Either the light fixture needs to be bright, and the solar would have to be too large to operate it in a stand-alone fashion or the pole is existing and is limited on the amount of batteries and solar that can mount to it.
The third hybrid solar lighting system is where 100% of the power generated can operate the light fixture, but for additional security, it would like the grid available to switch on in case the weather does not keep up with the system.
So now you know the main differences between the three main types of solar lighting. What type of solar lighting do you notice installed where you live and work?