SOLAR OUTDOOR LIGHTING
Most homeowners put a lot of effort into landscaping. For many of us our yards and
gardens are a continuing source of recreation and pride. Solar energy systems can
further enhance the experience by providing lighting and other features which
highlight our landscaping efforts while saving us money at the same time:
Advantages of Solar Outdoor Lighting
Photovoltaic outdoor lighting systems have grown rapidly in popularity. They can be used to mark
pathways, highlight gardens and yards, and illuminate shadows around your home to improve security.
Photovoltaic outdoor lighting provides a number of benefits compared to standard landscape lighting:
1. Photovoltaic lighting systems are much faster to install then conventional lighting because it is
not necessary to run any wiring. You just put them where you want them and away you go!
2. Solar lighting systems are safer since there is no wiring to trip over or get shocked by.
3. Photovoltaic lighting provides far greater freedom as to where you place your lighting since no
electric wires need to be run from your house to the point where you want to have the light.
Have a large yard; PV lighting is the perfect solution. Lights can be placed anywhere you want.
4. For existing gardens and landscaping PV lighting is less environmentally disruptive. There is no
need to dig up your plants or your yard in order to run the wiring.
5. Solar lighting saves money! Solar lighting will not add to your electric bill and there is no need
to pay for wiring or installation.
6. Solar lighting is more uniform. With many low voltages lighting systems the lights will show a
drop in power after the first few lights, meaning that the ones placed further away from the
transformer will be dimmer than the ones closest to the house. With solar landscape lighting all
of the lights will be of uniform brightness as they draw their power from the sun and not the
All of these benefits have led to a tremendous growth in the implementation of solar lighting.
Nonetheless there are a few downsides to using solar lighting that you should be aware of. Solar lights do
require sunlight to recharge the small batteries that are in each light. If your garden or yard has a lot of
shade or if you live in a very cloudy part of the country the batteries may not receive a very strong charge
and may be a bit dim. You can help circumvent this problem by avoiding putting the lights in direct shade
Most solar landscaping lights are not as bright as incandescent lights of the same size. In the last few
years almost all solar lights have gone over to using LED's rather than incandescent bulbs which has
improved brightness considerably. The LED lights also last a lot longer on a day's charge because they use
so little electricity. The more LED's you use the more illumination you will get. In general most solar
outdoor lights will illuminate for 8-10 hours based on the previous day's charge. One way around the
brightness issue is to use a small solar panel in conjunction with the LED lights. Because the solar panel
can absorb much more light energy than a single standalone solar cell on an individual light much more
energy is stored and the lights can be brighter.
Types of Outdoor Solar Lighting
There are several types of solar photovoltaic lighting packages. Let's review these:
Standalone LED Landscape Lights - Solar landscape lights look like conventional
landscape lights but require no wiring. Most are between 6 to 16 inches tall and are
built around a center stake which can be simply pushed into the soil. Almost all solar
outdoor lights made today use light emitting diodes (LED's) for illumination. They
combine one or more LED's with a single solar cell on the top of the light, a small
battery, and a sensor which turns the light on at night and off at sunrise. Because
LED's use very little electricity these types of lights can provide much brighter and
longer lasting illumination on a single day's charge. Most will last provide light for 8-10 hours on a single
Solar Lamp Posts - Another type of solar lighting that can be used are standing
lampposts. These lamp posts come in a variety of styles, many of which are based on
old English or French lamp designs. Except for their height they are built the same as
other landscape lights with one or more solar cells mounted on top to collect energy,
usually two or more LED lights, a small battery and a sensor which automatically
turns the lamp on and off.
Solar Flood Lights - Another approach is to combine a small solar panel with LED
lights to create more powerful flood lights. With these types of lights a separate solar
panel is used to generate electricity. Most panels are designed to hold 2-4 solar cells.
The panel can then be connected directly to a single flood light with multiple LED's or
to multiple flood lights. If multiple lights are used with one panel then there is usually
wiring that runs from the solar panel to each light in the group. The longer the wiring
the more flexibility you will have on where to place the lights.
Solar Home Security Lights - Another common use of solar lights is home security.
These types of lights are similar to solar flood lights but usually include a
motion sensor so that they only come on when the sensors detect motion. Because no
wiring is required solar security lights can be put in places that otherwise might be
difficult to run wiring to. This makes them useful for both residential and commercial
security lighting. Like flood lights, security lights are usually connected to a separate
solar panel which generates energy to recharge the batteries for the light. Since these
type of lights are usually only meant to run for a short time once triggered they can
make use of multiple LED's to ensure strong illumination.
Specialty Solar Lighting - There are an amazing number of different kinds of solar
lights and you can find one for just about any lighting scenario. Because solar
LEDlights are compact and require no wiring then can be used in a wide variety of
landscaping scenarios. One type of solar light is Floating Lights which can be placed
into a garden pond or pool. Many of these are shaped to look like lilly pads or other
aquatic plants. There are solar lights that are designed to look like rocks or stepping
stones so they look natural in a garden setting. There are solar lights that have been
built into bricks so they can be embedded into brick pathways. There are solar lights
which are designed to be used as driveway markers. Our favorites are solar lights which have been built
into garden statuaries like frogs or garden fairies. If you can think of it there is probably a solar light for
Decorative Light Strands - For holidays like Christmas or Halloween it is sometimes
fun to put up outdoor light strands. The nice thing about solar light strands is thatyou
can put them wherever you want without the need for long extension cords. We have
seen some homeowners create some impressive displays using decorative solar
lighting around trees in their yard at Christmas time using solar lighting. Strand type
solar light use a separate solar panel and then have one LED for each light. Some
systems use different colored LED's while use a white LED with a colored fixture. One
thing about these types of lights is that they tend to run out a little faster than solar
landscape lighting because there are so many LED's on each strand (25-50 lights per strand depending
upon the manufacturer). But all the ones we have tested will go at least 4 hours and many will go 6
Getting the Most Out of Solar Lighting
As with any lighting, how you use the lighting can make a big difference in its impact. Here are a few tips
for getting the most out of your solar lighting:
Select a focal point or main element around which to build your lighting plan
Consider the impact of tree and roof shading upon the placement of the solar cells. Consider
how much shading each light might get during different parts of the day and adjust their
Experiment with both down-lighting and up-lighting to get the maximum effect.
Make sure the solar cells or solar panels face to the south to take full advantage of the sunlight if
Consider how regular yard and garden maintenance will impact the placement of lights. Don't
place lights so close to the edge of your yard that they might be hit during routine lawn mowing
Match the color of your lights to your landscaping. Choose verdigris and black for fixtures that
you want to blend in with surrounding foliage. For fixtures that will be close to your home's
exterior use colors that match the houses color scheme.
When using lights for path lighting aim the lights so as to minimize glare on someone walking
down the path. It’s a good idea to test this at night just to be sure.
Don't be afraid to experiment. One of the great things about solar lights is that you can keep trying them
in different locations until you find the placement that perfectly matches the look you are going for. The
sky (or the sun) is the limit!