Plenty of authorities are thinking about implementing exterior lights with solar technology in a bid to up their sustainability credentials whilst saving money, and we don’t blame them.
Solar-powered lights generate free electricity from the sun’s rays, making them a cost-effective and eco-friendly solution. Plus, these lights are usually rather durable, which means minimal maintenance requirements. Sounds ideal, right? Yes, but only if these assets are suited to your proposed installation site.
It’s just like the early challenges of electric vehicles (EVs); when they first came about, public EV chargers were scarce. For anyone driving hundreds of miles every day, the risk of a dead battery in the middle of nowhere meant traditional vehicles were always going to be more practical. But for drivers only using their EVs to potter about town a couple of times a week, that was fine — they’d rarely need to top up mid-journey anyway!
Essentially, before you swap to solar, you’ve got to decipher whether the challenges of solar-powered lights are enough to make you stick with traditional lighting for the meantime or take the plunge. Here are some of the challenges in question to help you work that out…
You might need to cough up a lot of money upfront
High upfront costs come hand in hand with solar-powered lighting. This can be particularly troublesome if you’re low on cash, as you might not be able to spend loads on city-wide upgrades. On the other hand, initial expenditure may be a non-issue when compared to the potential costs of providing new power connections at certain sites and long-term savings.
For instance, you can expect to pay upwards of £20,000 to install a power point for a new streetlight located along a remote footpath if it’s metres away from the nearest one — and well over £100,000 if multiple points are needed on one street. Plus, you’ll avoid the painful monthly bills that come with traditional electricity.
At the end of the day, solar will always be a big investment, but it can be worth it if you’ve got the budget. Plus, a good lighting consultant (like us!) can help you choose the most cost-effective equipment to lessen the blow.
Installation can be tricky, to say the least
Most of the time, it’s difficult to put solar lighting equipment in the right place. To stay lit, solar panels require the correct orientation to ensure direct sunlight for most of the year, and shadows (from obstacles like buildings and trees) can quite literally get in the way of this. Plus, shading can occur when the solar panels are mounted on the lighting asset’s pole.
That being said, it’s certainly possible to install solar-powered lighting properly — especially if you know what you’re doing and the site’s located away from obstructions. For example, car parks can be the perfect candidate for these assets; often situated in wide, open spaces where sun exposure isn’t usually an issue.
So, if your site’s surrounded by obstructions, maybe steer clear. But if not, you’ll be alright with a lighting consultant’s help; we can map out where to fit the lights to avoid obstructions and ensure a reliable power supply as part of a proper lighting plan.
They’re not exactly cut out for the Great British weather
Solar-powered lights rely on clear skies to generate enough electricity and stay on when they’re needed, meaning you could struggle to keep the lights on when it’s overcast or raining. Debris can also land on top of the solar panels attached to lighting assets during bad weather, which can block sunlight and interfere with power generation — problematic if you need the lights on 24/7.
However, if the lighting you’re thinking about installing’s only needed at certain hours of the day, solar-powered lighting could still provide what you need when you need it. Plus, with accurate lighting planning, sensor-based dimming and switching options can adjust light levels in line with pedestrian or vehicular traffic — preventing wasted energy and making your supply last longer.
Put simply, it’s best to go back to the drawing board if you need constant light, and if not, get a lighting consultant to suggest ultra-efficient systems and products to produce as much power as possible when it’s sunny.
It can be difficult to achieve the required brightness levels
Say you’re thinking of implementing a street lighting scheme that’ll be adopted by the local council. Solar-powered lighting could get in the way of your planning approval, as variables like brightness depend on how much sun your lighting assets receive during the day — making it difficult to prove that your lights will be consistently bright enough to meet the British standards.
But you guessed it — if your proposed lighting scheme’s non-adoptable and doesn’t need to meet the British standards, you’re probably good! Good-quality solar-powered systems allow you to draw on stored energy for many days when the UV levels aren’t high enough to recharge batteries fully, so you shouldn’t have extended periods of time without light (which is key in autumn and winter!).
All in all, we’d suggest looking at other options if you’re working on an adoptable scheme and considering going ahead with solar if not. Either way, as a lighting consultant that offers support at the approval stage, we can help strengthen your application and win the right people over.