Solar power can be used in many ways. Aside from a traditional rooftop solar panel installation, you can take advantage of solar energy with solar lights that capture, store, and use the sun’s energy to light up your property.
Solar lights basics: how do they work?
There are many different types of solar lights available, from lawn lights to string lights and more. Solar lights work like a miniature version of a rooftop solar panel system with one important distinction: solar lights must include battery storage. During the daytime when the sun is shining, solar cells attached to the light generate electricity and store it in a battery. Most solar lights include a darkness sensor so that come night time, they will automatically turn on and start using their stored electricity. While many solar lights have their solar cells built right into the same unit as the light itself, some products will have lights separate from the solar panel providing power to it.
Most solar lights are LEDs that only use a small amount of electricity. Because of this, many solar lights can run for a full night (if not more). Most solar lighting systems have a “nightly run time” rating that indicates how long you can expect lighting given a certain amount of sun exposure. Keep in mind that these run times will vary significantly from the actual lighting time you get from your solar lights, as factors like shading, geographic location, and cloud cover will all impact how much sun the attached solar cells can convert to electricity.
How do solar cells generate electricity?
A standard solar panel (also known as a solar module) consists of a layer of silicon cells, a metal frame, a glass casing, and various wiring to allow current to flow from the silicon cells. Silicon (atomic #14 on the periodic table) is a nonmetal with conductive properties that allow it to absorb and convert sunlight into electricity. When light interacts with a silicon cell, it causes electrons to be set into motion, which initiates a flow of electric current. This is known as the “photovoltaic effect,” and it describes the general functionality of solar panel technology.
To learn more about how solar panels work, check out our blog on the topic.
Types of solar lighting
There are many types of solar lighting solutions. Here are some types you might find, and their common applications:
Solar lawn, garden, and path lights
One way to use solar lighting is in and around gardens and paths. Many solar garden lights are small and easy to install – simply bury the pointed end in sunny ground space and you’ll be good to go. It’s important to be conscious of how close your solar garden lights are to plants and anything else that might cause shade so your lights are exposed to enough solar energy during the day to keep your property illuminated at night.
Solar garden, lawn, and path lights are relatively low-cost products; they typically cost usually somewhere between $5 and $20 per light, depending on quality. Products like the GOBULB 4-pack of lights and the GIGALUMI 6-pack are examples of the kind of garden lighting products available.
Solar Christmas lights and solar string lights
Another popular solar lighting option is a solar Christmas light string. Unlike solar garden lights, these products often come with a separate unit to house detached solar cells. Solar Christmas lights look like a normal set of holiday string lights, except instead of attaching to an extension cord, they hook up to a small solar panel that can be placed in a sunny spot to charge up its battery during the day.
Solar Christmas lights are more expensive upfront than traditional string lights, but you’ll save money over time by not using electricity from the grid. You can expect to pay between $10 and $30 for a standard set of solar Christmas string lights.
Solar flood lights
Solar lights can also be used as security lighting around your property. Solar flood lights will often come with a larger solar panel than solar garden lights in order to power a more robust LED. Additionally, solar flood lights typically have a motion sensor attached so that the light only turns on when someone is approaching. A common use for solar flood lighting setups is as security lights near a front door or garage.
Buying a solar flood light will cost more than solar garden lights, as flood lights are more powerful and require a more robust solar setup. Products like the JPLSK outdoor flood light and the LEPOWER outdoor security light are examples of what you might find when shopping for solar flood lights.
Solar street lights
You may have noticed small solar panels mounted on light poles when driving down the highway – these solar street lights are a way for municipalities to save money and time on public lighting setups. Solar street lights provide many benefits, including little to no maintenance needs, low operation costs, and low risk of accidents.
Save money with a solar panel installation
Solar energy can do a whole lot more than power your lights. The best place to compare options for home solar installations is the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. By registering your property to get solar quotes, you can compare offers side by side from qualified, pre-vetted installers near you. If you want to see how much you can save by going solar, check out our Solar Calculator for an instant estimate based on your unique property.