Solar Lights – Buyer's Information & Tips
Solar Lights Are Great, But They Have Limitations
by Damien Andrews
Solar lights for consumers have been around for many, many years now. Still, however, there are a number of misconceptions about solar lights and what they will and will not do. Following are some things you should know before you decide to go shopping for solar lights.
At the heart of all solar lights is the solar collection system: a photovoltaic module or panel. These are commonly referred to as solar panels. Solar panels are most effective when pointed directly towards the sun. In solar lights, the solar panels collect energy which is then directed to a battery. The solar-charged battery then powers the solar lights. The solar panels attached to solar lights are too small to power the lights directly. The size of the solar panels attached to solar lights determines how quickly the battery can be fully recharged. Of course the number of hours of sunlight, and the angle at which that sunlight strikes the solar panel is also critical.
A rechargeable battery is one of the two components in solar lights which will have to be replaced occasionally. The storage capability of the battery and the amount of draw placed on it when the solar lights are turned on, determines how long the solar lights can be illuminated between charging cycles. The storage capacity of a battery is customarily expressed in amp hours (Ah). The more amp hours a battery has (the higher the number of amp hours) the greater the battery's storage capacity.
Batteries lose their charge more rapidly as the temperature around them decreases. Lithium batteries will hold their charge better in colder climates. If you are considering installing solar lights in an area that gets a long winter of sub-freezing temperatures, consider getting rechargeable lithium battery solar lights.
Solar lights make an excellent choice for landscape and outdoor decorative lighting, especially when running 110 volt wiring is impractical. Most of the solar lights used for these purposes are very, very low wattage – some are as low as 1 watt. This means that the batteries that power these solar lights will yield satisfactory results.
Solar lights that give off a lot of light, and in the world of solar lights that's somewhere near a mere 20 watts, require a large battery and a larger solar panel to recharge that battery in a reasonable time frame. Solar lights that do provide 20 watts of light will almost invariably have an automatic shutoff – to turn the solar lights off after 10-20 seconds. This is due to the fact that the battery will not last long at all under the 20 watt demand.
Solar lights will save you money on your electrical bill, but they will likely not save you money. Considering the cost of the solar lights, and the cost of replacing the battery as necessary, running some low wattage lights on 110 volt house systems will almost invariably work out to be cheaper. Of course, the costs of wiring lights in some locations alters that equation dramatically. If it will cost you $500 to have wiring run to your landscaping, then solar lights will be much cheaper to employ.
Taking into account the manufacturing of solar lights, solar panels and batteries, the use of solar lights is not all that environmentally friendly. There is also the consideration of proper disposal of the exhausted batteries, which is always an environmental and safety concern.
Solar lights are often an excellent choice for security lighting in remote locations. That is to say, locations where running 110 volt wiring is impractical or cost prohibitive. Security solar lights usually detect motion and turn themselves on for a short period of time: 5-20 seconds. In the consumer's arena, these security solar lights are not very powerful, and will not stay on for very long. The idea being, once these security solar lights come on, any evil-doers will leave for fear of being seen. These solar lights are also excellent for scaring off unwanted animals at night.
If you do install solar lights, here are some tips that will help you get the most out of them:
Install the solar panels where they will be in direct sunlight for as many hours a day as possible. Don't put them under eaves or tree limbs or where building shadows will shade them.
Make sure to keep the solar panels on your solar lights clean and free of debris.
Make a note on your calendar to change the angle of the solar panel on your solar lights so that it aims directly towards the sun for winter and summer. Some people change the angle of the solar panels on their solar lights four times per year.
Test your solar lights annually, to determine if you require a new battery. There's no point in having solar lights if they won't turn on when you need them.
If you intend to use solar lights that are designed so that the solar panel is not attached to the solar light, such as in solar shed lights, be sure that you order solar lights that come with an adequate length of wire to run between where the solar panel must be placed and where the solar lights will be placed.
Solar lights are wonderful things, but they have limitations which need to be considered before purchasing them. Before you purchase and install solar lights, make sure they will do what you want them to do.