Solar Outdoor Lighting

I want to tell you a story about my personal experience with outdoor solar lighting. It pretty well illustrates the way these solar systems have evolved over the years.

Many years ago, when we remodeled our house, I had the electrician put a ground-falut fixture in the crawlspace on the south side of our home. I had the intention of “someday” putting up some outdoor lights along the path and steps to our back door.

Well, a lot of years went buy and those lights never got installed. Not that I didn’t spend time thinking about it and wondering if I should get regular lights or go with low voltage.

My First (Not so Good) Experience with Solar Lights

Then I saw some solar lanterns in a catalog. They promised 5 hours of light on a charge which would typically be enough for where I wanted to use them. I liked the idea of not having to mess with wiring and of course I loved the fact that they were solar powered. I ordered a couple to try them out.

They were awful.

The construction was flimsy and their performance was worse. They had a tiny (like 3” square) solar panel on the top. Even with a full charge, the bulb barely glowed after dark. These lights didn’t provide any light on the path.

Worse, where I needed the light only gets about 4 hours of light in the morning. What little glow there was in the bulb only lasted about an hour after sunset.

Obviously that was a disappointing experiment.

The Next Try Was Better...

A couple of years later the local hardware store started carrying some solar lights. By this time LEDs were available, and I knew that solar panels had become more efficient.

The solar panel on these fixtures was larger and even though it was attached to the top of the fixture it was adjustable so I could position it for the best sun exposure.

I decide to buy two of them to give them a try. I was pretty well pleased with these fixtures.

I use one to light a couple of stairs leading onto a deck. The fixture is shaded in the morning, but gets filtered sunlight from about noon on. Under those conditions it produces a very usable light for several hours after dark.

I placed the other one along a path that is more shaded throughout the day. It produces a usable amount of light but only for an hour to depending on how bright the day was.

These fixtures were a huge improvement.

Better Still...

I'm very pleased with the most recent fixture I bought, which was two years ago. LED and solar panel technology has continued to evolve, but the main advantage of this fixture is that the solar panel is connected to the fixture by wire.

This means that even if the fixture needs be placed in the shade you can position the panel at a distance where it can get more sunshine. It works quite nicely.

That's my experience with outdoor solar lighting so far, and I expect it to get even better.

Components of an Outdoor Solar Lighting System

Outdoor solar lighting makes a lot of sense for many applications. It’s really come into its own over the last few years .

One reason is the growing interest in using alternative energy sources whenever possible.

Also, as my little story illustrates, the fixtures have become much better.

A solar powered outdoor lighting fixture has three main elements:, a bulb, a solar panel and a rechargable battery. The solar panel generates electricity during the day which is stored in the rechargeable battery to light the bulb at night.

More complicated systems with larger batteries may have a controller to keep the battery from overcharging.

The solar panel is often part of the fixture, but in many applications it makes more sense to have the panel separate from the fixture. As I mentioned above, if the panel is separate, it can be positioned for best sun exposure.

The improved performance of solar panels is another factor that has contributed to the increase in interest in outdoor lighting fixtures. Their efficiency has increased and their cost has come down.

Another very important factor has been the development of LED light bulbs. These bulbs produce the most light with the least amount of electricity of any bulb yet developed.

Combine the ability to produce more electricity with better batteries and bulbs that need a minimal amount of electricity to produce light and you have solar lighting fixtures that compete very well with traditional wired fixtures.

Most outdoor lights made for home use will typically produce light for between 4 and 10 hours after charging on a reasonably bright day.

However, I’ve seen commercial systems designed for uses such as lighting parking lots that have larger batteries and solar panels that can provide lighting for five nights after a single day of sun exposure.

Advantages of Outdoor Solar Lighting

There are many advantages to outdoor solar lighting systems. Here are a few:

• They don't require wiring. This means there especially suitable for remote over locations where access to the grid isn't available, but even a suburban homeowner can benefit from not having to deal with the hassle of running power lines outside.

• They're safe. Even though Brown fought protectors have reduced the danger of running wires and wet environments, a solar system eliminates the need for potentially dangerous currents in the first place.

• Flexibility. You can position the fixtures rev you want them without having to worry about how many are on the line a whether or not you can run the wiring to that position.

• They're environmentally sound. These fixtures produce light with zero carbon emissions. Though the batteries need to be replaced every few years, they can be recycled.