Solar Lighting: The Real Deal

Some people swear by solar lighting; others want to go near it. It’s popularity continues to grow due to rising electrical costs and better products.

And, solar lighting is regularly highlighted on popular television channels such as HGTV, the DIY Network and the Fine Living Network. So why are so many people still reluctant to go with solar lighting? Let’s sort out some often cited myths from the reality of solar lighting.

Fiction: Solar Lights are All the Same
Many people were with their initial experiences with solar lighting. Some wanted to help the help the environment and save on electric bills. Others found solar lighting appealing because it allowed them to install illumination without the hassle and landscape disruptions associated with electrical wiring. They had the right idea, they just went about it the wrong way.

Fact: Solar Lights Aren’t Created Equal
Solar lighting technology has advanced rapidly over the past couple of years, and will continue to do so. That doesn’t mean that all solar lights incorporate the latest technological advances, or that they even incorporate basic design common to any quality lighting feature.

The lifetime of any outdoor light depends greatly on its construction. While more expensive solar lighting fixtures make this a priority, this is not so for many cheaper models. Some lighting manufacturers (solar and traditional electrical) can take short-cuts that impact both the initial quality of the light output, as well as the lifespan of the fixture.

One reason solar lighting gets a bad name is because many inexpensive fixtures use inferior techniques for the solar panel, the bulb (be it LEDs, halogen, CFLs or incandescent), not to mention the solar panel and the housing.

Small amounts of moisture fog the lens, reducing illumination; larger amounts destroy fixtures completely. When selecting solar lighting, look for the words “rust-proof,” “weather-proof,” or “weather-resistant.”

And, make sure that the manufacturer uses the latest technologies, and this doesn’t mean just the LED itself. While accent lights generally are fine with an LED alone, lamp posts and flood/spot lights should incorporate an additional type of mechanism, such a reflector, to maximize illumination.

Fiction: It’s Not Sunny Enough Here
Lots of folks that think solar lighting can only work in geographic regions recognized for sunshine such as Southern California, Arizona, or Hawaii. Sure, if you install solar lights in a shady area or have an extended span of bad weather, the quality of light output will be reduced.

Fact: Solar is Thriving Across the US
Okay, maybe not in Alaska during the winter, where it can be dark up to 24 hours a day.

But you’d be surprised. Pennsylvania? Connecticut? Oregon? Yes, and even in Alaska!

For example, in May 2011, the mayor of Philadelphia opened a new park called “Race Street Pier. Among its features are “200 LED solar lights in the pavement that compliment the lights of the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Philly skyline.”

Businesses and universities throughout the Northeast including Massachusetts-based “Stop & Shop” and Wesleyan University in Middleton, CT all have made news lately for moving significant amounts of electrical demand from traditional grids to solar panels.

In the Pacific Northwest, Oregon is often recognized as a “national leader” in solar energy. Not only are several solar panel companies located in the state, through 2011, Oregon homeowners can use state and federal incentive to cover the cost of up to 80 percent of solar panel installation.

The state of Oregon itself also relies on solar lighting for critical functions. The iconic 4.1 mile Astoria-Megler Bridge is installing solar navigation lights. A big deal, since they are required by the U.S. Coast Guard for bridges that span navigable bodies of water that see a significant amount of nighttime activity.

Nearly all states have tax or rebate incentives in one form or another that encourage residential and commercial customers to move towards renewable energy, including solar and wind technology. The variety of programs (and what is covered) varies greatly from state to state.

While some of these states are recognized to be “sunny” or in the “sunbelt,” many are not. According to DSIRE, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, states that lead the nation in promoting solar technology for homeowners include expected “sunny states” like Arizona, California and Hawaii.

But Oregon, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and others all offer considerable incentives for renewable energies and a lot of it is solar. In Wisconsin, Madison Gas & Electric even has a “Clean Power Partner Solar Buyback Program.”

What does this have to do with solar lighting? If major grocers place use solar power to protect their perishable products, states and municipalities throughout the US rely on it for power and public lighting, why wouldn’t shouldn’t homeowners and small businesses?

Fiction: Incandescent Bulbs Give Best Light
Okay this isn’t fiction, it’s a preference. Many dislike solar lighting because it relies on LED bulbs and to a lesser extent, halogen or compact florescent bulbs. Many people prefer the amber illumination of incandescent bulbs. It’s a look and feel people that makes people comfortable.

Fact: Incandescent Bulbs Are History
Yes, it’s true: incandescent bulbs are going away.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 imposed new restrictions on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. A key part of this bill will phase out incandescent light bulbs in favor of lower-wattage, energy-saving bulbs. Low-wattage bulbs means LEDs, CFLs, and halogen.

Manufacturers of these bulbs recognize that the amber tones of incandescent bulbs are what most people are used to and continue to work way to get this kind of light into their fixtures. Incandescent bulbs will be hard to find in a few short years. By 2017, China (who makes 70% of incandescent bulbs) will no longer produce them.

Still doubt the progress solar lighting is making? Go to YouTube and search for an HGTV or DIY Network videos and see how ancient the fixtures highlighted as recently as 2008 look compared to the options available today.

You’ll likely be convinced that solar lighting is a “Real Deal” for you.

copyright 2011,

AM McElroy has 20 years of experience in customer communications and marketing/sales within the financial, high-tech and engineering sectors and recently turned her enthusiasm for solar lighting into an e-commerce site,
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