Solar Street Lights: Bright Solutions for Cash Strapped Agencies and Businesses

While a lot of the news on solar street lights recently has been on installations in Haiti, Nairobi, India and other places around the globe, many US states and municipalities also are choosing to go green to stretch tight budgets and help with the growing desire to be environmentally sustainable.

Cities and states throughout the United States are looking towards solar to save energy costs and help meet their environmental sustainability goals. So too are universities, businesses, ports and other entities responsible for providing safe and reliable lighting for streets and roadways, sidewalks, parking lots, jogging or biking paths, and more.

Recently, the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC) at the University of California at Davis California cities recently announced the research studies that indicated California cities could save as much as $675 million over the next 15 years by switching to more efficient street light technology. A significant amount of this savings will result from retrofitting existing pole lights with solar fixtures.

In a separate project, the US government recently solicited bids for 20 solar street lights to be installed at Port Hueneme Naval Base in California in southern California.
And it's not just states known for sunshine that opt for solar. Last summer, the City of Boston announced a plan to retrofit 600 historic gas lamps in key neighborhoods with solar fixtures, saving the City roughly $140,000 a year in fuel bills while reducing carbon emissions. The $450,000 cost of the devices will pay for themselves in by eliminating gas costs in a little over three years.
In Kentucky, both municipalities and the Kentucky Department of Highways are looking at solar as a cost-effective way to illuminate streets that currently are dark.

Why Solar for Street Lights Is Growing in Popularity
Along with savings in electrical costs, solar options offer a lot of convincing benefits that make them a viable choice for roadways or other remote areas not easily accessible by on-grid power.
Whether the choice is made to install new lights in dark areas, or to retrofit existing street lights, there are many reasons to go solar.

One reason is that the newest solar street light technology lets fixtures provide system autonomy (reliable back-up power stored in a large battery) for up to 3 to 6 days depending on location and on as little as 3.6 hours of sunshine (including winter) when the solar panel is properly positioned, even in winter.

They have been tested and proven effective for dusk to dawn reliable lighting in all US States excluding Alaska, which experiences extremely long nights for significant parts of the years.
Reducing environmental impacts and immediate savings on electrical costs are not the only reason that solar street and pole lights are gaining favor.

Unlike their counterparts powered by gas or electricity, solar technology allows street lights to be installed virtually anywhere. This is a particularly cost-effective solution for areas that don't have a readily available on-grid power source.

Even a mile or two of streets not near an electric power grid can be extremely expensive to light. Permits, engineering, and construction to install the electricity are costly. Add to that costs to replace concrete, asphalt or landscaping from trenching, and the upfront cost rises.

When the street lights begin working, the public agency or private entity responsible for the lights will see a dramatic and immediate spike in electrical bills as soon as the lights are installed.
The combination of relatively low installation costs with minimal disruptions to property is making solar options popular choices for many business, industrial, institutional and educational campuses as well as remote recreational areas.
Let's just assume that a business or campus wants to add roadway or parking lot lighting. Even with a nearby electrical source, monthly costs include charges for line voltage, metering and electricity. Most street lights also use relatively inefficient high-pressure sodium fixtures as opposed to the LED fixtures generally used for solar street lights.

Low Maintenance Costs and Lifespan Compared to Traditional Options
Many people drive on roads each night that have street lights, but they don't work because the responsible party doesn't have the resources to either replace the light bulbs, or to run them once they are replaced. And often, it's not just the light bulb itself that needs replacement but other parts such as wiring, mounting posts and more "miscellaneous" items.
In comparison, solar industry experts cite the lifespan of a self-contained solar street lighting system as able to last up to 100,000 hours, whereas conventional lighting systems generally require replacement or significant maintenance after only 10,000 hours.
Lighting fixtures and solar panels both have long lives. Solar panels for street lights can last up to 25 years, LED lights last around 5 years and batteries typically last between five to seven years. Replacement batteries usually cost around $200 dollars, while replacing fixtures and controllers runs around $600. So, the upfront costs of LED lights more than pay for themselves.

Cost Comparison: Traditional Electrical Grid Lights to Solar Options
Along with environmental benefits, the costs of newer commercial grade and solar street lights make economic sense.
A traditional commercial or public pole light that is 26-feet high, with 250 watts of light would cost around $4,700 over five years including: purchase cost of pole and lighting fixture, trenching and metering; installation and maintenance; and electrical costs. In comparison, the same solar pole light would cost only $3,500 for a five-year savings of $1,200 and a payback period of.7 years.
In past years, federal funds have been available to (largely under the 2008 Stimulus Package). While these have been trimmed back and a recently proposed bill for new solar transportation initiatives was defeated by Senate Republicans, many states and counties still offer incentives. So, in addition to grant installation, maintenance and utility costs, the upfront costs to purchase solar fixtures may be eligible for grants or tax incentives.

Variety of Options Available
Solar street lights are available in a wide variety of strengths and heights for complete installations and retrofits for existing lights. In addition, some solar light manufacturers make and sell street light fixtures and controllers to solar engineering firms to incorporate into street fixtures (or other applications requiring strong and reliable light) that meet the specific needs of their own customers.
For those wanting to save costs on installation, electricity and maintenance costs while helping the environment, solar street lights are a pretty bright idea.
AM McElroy has over 20 years experience in corporate communications, technical writing and marketing/sales within the banking, civil/environmental engineering, high-tech and natural sciences (physics) arenas.

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