If you are not familiar with solar lamp posts and other forms of outdoor solar lighting, do not feel bad – most Americans are not either. But this is rapidly changing as ordinary homeowners increasingly look for simple and proven ways to combat skyrocketing utility bills.
Perhaps you've also begun exploring some of the more popular energy-saving strategies, such as:
• Installing a smart thermostat to control heating and cooling
• Replacing older appliances with ENERGY STAR alternatives
• Switching out incandescent light bulbs with LEDs or CFLs
Of course, every improvement in energy efficiency helps. But for truly optimal savings, you must expand your thinking. Instead of focusing on improvements exclusively within the home, you should view your entire property as one energy-consuming unit. The lamp posts and lights in your garden, for example, are major electric hogs that often get overlooked. Out-of-sight and out-of-mind, they're easy to forget – even by trained and licensed energy auditors. And yet, these very lights carry tremendous potential for long-term electricity bill reductions.
According to the US Department of Energy, nearly 20% of average residential electricity spending goes toward lighting. A significant percentage of that goes towards outdoor lighting since they typically operate for long periods of the day. And these “hidden” costs are not exclusive to residential power consumers. In many cities across the country, streetlights and other external lighting represent the single largest energy-related municipal expense.
When you total up all of the costs together, the numbers are staggering. In a groundbreaking study by Florida Atlantic University's physics department, researchers discovered that when you combine all residential, commercial, and municipal external lighting together, the US spends about $ 11.6 billion annually. Of that figure, approximately 30% is what they call “wasted lighting” ($ 3,487,306,003)!
How much of this $ 11.6 billion comes out of your pocket directly? A lot more than you probably realize. Obviously, you do not have the same lighting needs (or bills) of a small-scale city. But even if you have just 1 or 2 outdoor lamps on your property, you're still throwing away money month after month. And those prices are trending upwards as utilities continue raising their rates. In some cases, we're talking about hundreds of dollars a year in unnecessary charges to illuminate your home's garden at night. Imagine what you can do with the extra money! If you're okay with forking out that type of money year after year in external lighting costs, there's no reason to read on (from a financial perspective!). The system already works for you.
But there is a growing movement across the country to reduce these unnecessary charges as much as possible. The trend first started when budget-strapped cities began outfitting highway signs and street lights with solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. Rather than strictly exclusively on the utility grid, these local governments realized they could illuminate their communities using clean and free sunshine. And far from being an expensive upgrade, replacing grid-tied lamps with solar powered alternatives turned out to be an affordable investment that quickly paid for itself. In the past 5 years, solar costs have come down even more, bringing the technology within easy reach of everyone. Better still, the payback periods are even shorter.
To understand why this is, let's do some quick calculations. We'll keep the numbers conservative and the math very simple. Let's assume that your monthly electricity bill approaches $ 200 (which is pretty reasonable). And let's also assume that external lighting accounts for only 3% of that total bill (which is even more reasonable). This means you're spending an average of $ 6 a month to illuminate your property at night.
Now, imagine you bought a solar lamp for $ 59 (yes, they do exist!). With this solar lamp model, it'll take you fewer than 10 months to fully recoup the upfront cost of switching out your current lamp posts with the solar alternative. After this 10-month breakeven point, all of your additional lighting needs are 100% free. And the return on your investment only grows with time as utility rates continue to increase. If electricity prices double overnight, for example, you'd end up saving $ 12 a month instead of only $ 6. That's one of the major beauties of solar energy. You're forever protected from future price hikes. (Of course, if you choose to replace your existing bulbs with LEDs, your breakeven point will be longer. solar. So why go only halfway?)
And those are just the financial savings. You must also factor in the environmental savings that solar lamp posts provide:
• The average garden light stays on about 10 – 12 hours a day.
• A grid-tied, 40-watt incandescent light bulb left on for that long generates nearly 200 pounds of C02 every year.
• Switching to energy-efficient light bulbs can help reduce that pollution somewhat – but not completely. Even grid-tied LEDs still pollute.
By contrast, outdoor solar lamps do not pollute. Solar technology relies on an infinite source of clean, free, and renewable power.
The financial savings, as well as environmental responsibility, are obvious benefits of using solar powered lights. There are, however, numerous additional benefits:
– Solar powered lamps are incredibly easy to install. Since there is no wiring involved, they require do not require a licensed electrician or professional experience. By simply following the manufacturer's instructions, you can have your solar lamp lighting up your garden in no time.
– The placement of conventional outdoor lamps are limited to where electric wiring can easily reach. Not so solar powered lamps. These can be installed at the precise location of your choosing, as far as that may be from any source of artificial energy. You can now illuminate any part of your landscape, placing the lamps at the most strategic locations.
– Light fixtures powered by the sun require very little maintenance. The LED (light emitting diodes) light bulbs that they use can last for decades, and the rechargeable batteries, which store the sun's energy, can last for 1-2 years before losing efficiency.
– Your lights will continue to shine in the event of a power outage.
Here are some tips for successful installation and maintenance of solar powered lamps:
– The amount of sunlight your solar lamps receive will directly affect its light output. Try to install your lamps where they will receive at least four hours of direct sunlight daily.
– In the northern hemisphere, wall mounted solar lamps should face south; otherwise they may not receive sufficient sunlight.
– Keep a distance between these lamps and artificial light sources. Nearby sources of light may confuse the automatic sensor which turns the solar lamp on at dusk and off dawn.
– After installation, leave “off” for one to two days, to allow the battery to charge completely and effectively.
– For optimal performance, clean your lamp's solar panel periodically. Make sure they are clear of dirt, snow, or dust. However, take care not to use abrasive cleaning agents.
– If you are shooting the lamp, remove the batteries to best preserve their strength.
When prospective customers first hear about outdoor solar lamps for the home, they think it's some futuristic technology from a sci-fi novel. And despite a number of years ago, they would have been right. But solar-powered lighting is not futuristic anymore. The technology exists – and it continues to help tens of thousands of residential, commercial, and even municipal customers dramatically reduce their utility bill spending.
And as they watch their bills shrink, these same customers are also shrinking their carbon footprints as well. They're helping to make the planet cleaner and greener – while saving money in the process. And the best part is – making the switch from traditional lights to solar-powered alternatives is an investment that can pay for itself within months (not years).