How Do Solar Lights Work?

How Do Solar Lights Work?
  • Les Jardins
  • May 22, 2023
  • No Comments

Solar lighting can create an elegant, well-lit atmosphere, all while illuminating a darkened space and removing the need for electrical wiring or complicated installation. Solar lighting is also more optimal for the environment, as sunlight is a renewable energy, and solar-powered lamps do not emit greenhouse gases like carbon.

Although individuals passing by or enjoying the glow from nearby solar lights may understand they are powered by the sun and appreciate the environmentally friendly nature of the lamps, they may or may not understand the mechanics behind this type of sunshine-powered lighting, how to best maximize solar lamps’ power or the benefits of switching from more traditional lighting systems to solar.

From the Sun, Stored in Cells

To fully appreciate how solar lights work, it’s key to start with the concept of cells. All outdoor solar lighting utilizes sunlight, converting it into a type of electricity through solar cells.

These cells are known as photovoltaic (PV) cells, and they are especially capable of absorbing the sun’s energy, which they do throughout the day, as long as sunlight is available. Once the PV cells in a solar lighting fixture have absorbed the sun’s rays, they create an electrical charge that moves throughout the light fixture’s dark panel.

The solar cells are connected to the light’s battery, and it is this battery that does the work of converting and then storing this power. This power essentially exists as a form of chemical energy until it is needed to produce light.

Once it is dark outside, a photoreceptor detects this darkness, and the battery in the light fixture begins powering a light-emitting diode bulb (LED) by utilizing this stored energy. The diode in an LED is a type of semiconductor that ensures electrons can move between two different points, which creates electromagnetic energy. This electromagnetic energy serves as light for the solar-light fixture when darkness has set.

The light radiates from the solar-light fixture until daylight begins again, when the photoreceptor detects the light and shuts off, or until all the electricity from the fixture’s battery has run out.

How to Maximize Solar Power

When considering whether to move to more solar-powered lighting, it’s important to take into account certain geographic and location-specific realities that may impact how well solar lights and panels can absorb energy and convert it to light.

Most areas of the United States are well-suited for solar-powered lamps or lighting systems. However, it’s crucial to consider the lamp or lighting system’s required hours of sunlight before moving forward with an investment in solar. The solar cells in the lamp or lighting system must be able to achieve that recommended threshold of sunlight on a regular basis.

If it’s determined that a specific city, town or more remote location receives enough sunlight for solar lighting, then the exact position of where panels will receive sunlight should be taken into consideration. If the lamp is a self-contained unit, then it must be placed in sunlight. However, if your lighting is separate from the larger solar cell panel, then only the panel needs to be situated in a sunshine-filled location.

Depending on how sunlight an outdoor solar lighting system receives during the day, the lamps may give off light throughout an entire evening, or the nightly run time may last for a shorter period of time than expected.

During the winter, when there are shorter days and less available sunlight, the operating times for solar-powered lamps or lighting can be reduced by anywhere from 30 to 50%. However, this can often be mitigated if the lighting system has been sized in a way to specifically offset these daylight changes during the winter season.

For those in areas with significant snowfall during the winter months, it’s important to position solar panels in an area where they will not be blocked from the sun by inches or feet by snow, or where snow can at least be easily cleared when needed.

Additionally, if there are trees, bushes or other foliage nearby, those installing solar lighting systems or panels must ensure that foliage does not create so much shade that it could impact the panel’s ability to receive sunlight and convert that sunlight to power.

Benefits of Sun-Driven Energy

When it comes to why an individual, family or business may want to move toward more solar-powered lighting, there are numerous reasons to consider.

Certainly, solar lights are more environmentally friendly, as they are powered by sunlight, which is a reliable, renewable energy. Unlike many other forms of energy, solar does not emit carbon or other harmful greenhouse gas emissions. As an increasing number of people and businesses are making changes to be greener and more carbon-conscious, investing in solar lighting can be a fast and impactful way to meet some of those goals.

Solar-powered lamps can also be more cost-effective in the long-run. After an individual or business makes the investment of switching to solar, it does not take long to see electricity-bill costs come down. This reduction in electricity costs will result in multiplied savings over time.

When a natural disaster or power outage happens, solar lighting systems can also be significantly more secure than more traditional lighting. As other buildings in a neighborhood, office park or city block lose power–including their electricity-powered lights–the building with sun-powered lighting won’t be impacted in that way.

Solar-powered lighting is also much less maintenance than more traditional electric lighting. While solar-powered panels and lamps require occasional cleaning and battery changes every five to seven years, there is quite a bit less maintenance involved than with electrical lighting that can require frequent servicing and upkeep.

Additionally, solar lights are often much safer than electric lights, simply because they do not have or require wiring. This prevents people from tripping on wires (or having to deal with the chaos of keeping cords hidden or neatly organized). Crucially, pets and children are also safer around solar lighting systems, as opposed to more traditional lighting where they can get caught in, chew on or even potentially harm themselves with electric cords.

Beyond all these important factors, solar lighting can also just be aesthetically pleasing, which is certainly another factor to consider when thinking about moving to solar.

How and Where Solar Lighting is Used

Solar-panel lighting is currently used in many different settings and contexts. Solar-powered lamps are often used as street lights, providing cities, suburban areas and towns with an efficient and cost-effective way to illuminate parking lots, city streets, highways, sidewalks and more. Increasingly, there are solar-powered traffic-stop lights in many areas, as well.

Solar sign lights exist in some sunshine-heavy areas, lighting up street signs, store signs and even large billboards with a solar-driven glow.

More cities and towns are also investing in solar floodlights, which can be used during natural disasters or other serious emergencies in lieu of floodlights powered by electricity or back-up generators.

Businesses, government bodies, non-profit organizations and homeowners may also choose to invest in powerful solar lamps as security lights, installing and setting them up around a building or home to cast extra light and prevent trespassers. Many of these solar lights can also be connected to timers or motion detectors, turning on only during certain periods of the night or when motion from a person or animal is detected.

On a much smaller scale, there are also solar-powered desk lamps that can be used in a work or home office setting. Some have built-in solar panels, while others are connected to a larger external PV panel that’s installed at a home or office building. Many others have outdoor solar-lighting fixtures around their yards, gardens, landscaping, playground, fish pond, outdoor patio furniture, walkways and more.

Convert to Solar with Les Jardins

Les Jardins specializes in a wide variety of solar panels and outdoor solar-powered lamps, table lights, lanterns, architectural lights and lightscaping, all while putting special focus on cutting-edge style and modern design. We ensure all our solar lamps generate between 300 to 500 lumens of warm light (300K), depending on the specific lighting piece, and the LED light comes in a variety of gradients, which can be brightened or dimmed to one’s liking or specific needs.

Find our entire list of solar-powered lamps, panels and products here. If you would like to learn more about our wide range of solar-lighting options, fill out our contact form, or call us at 1-833-JARDINS.

  • Share this article