5 Fast Facts About Solar Powered Lighting

For small facilities where the logistic of bringing electricity to the dock isn’t feasible there is good news, your options for solar powered lights are improving. But don’t get your hopes up for running an entire marina’s lighting needs on solar lights, it is not in the cards quite yet.

Off-the-grid lights for remote boat docks

Pole mounted, solar powered lights at Townsville Recreational Boating Park in North Queensland, Australia enabled the city to provide safe access during non-daylight hours without the need for running power down to the docks.

A marina’s lights serve two main functions. The first and most important function is safety. There are codes and regulations that govern lighting requirements for marinas and boat yards to ensure the docks and upland areas are well lit. The second function is that of aesthetics and user comfort. Many marinas add supplementary lighting to improve the user experience and to create a warm and inviting atmosphere for their tenants.

As we discussed in our previous blog post about alternative energy sources, different facilities have different incentives in mind when researching alternative power source options. The same is true for solar lighting.

Whether a facility is considering solar lighting for economic, environmental or power accessibility reasons there are five things to keep in mind.

1. For most marinas, going 100% solar lighting just isn’t practical yet.

The solar lighting technology has improved greatly over the years. Components have gotten smaller and more efficient. Yet, without a connection to the grid (or other backup power source), even the best solar lights have a hard time storing up enough energy to provide a quality, uninterrupted light into the early morning hours 356 days a year.

The simple fact is that most solar lights were never designed to operate as primary light sources. Even with advancements in technology, the photovoltaic (PV) modules on most lighting equipment are small and inefficient. Thus, limiting the light’s ability to store up enough energy for continuous use.

2.Incorporating solar lights on power pedestals isn’t cost effective.

Power pedestals are often the main source of light on the docks. The lights in these units are specifically designed to meet safety codes and building requirements while minimizing light pollution.

According to Marina Electrical Equipment (MEE), a leading U.S. provider of marina power pedestals, given the constraints of current technology there simply is not enough room on the units to install a PV module capable of producing sufficient “juice” to run a quality light that’s up to safety codes.

Without an adequate PV module, battery back-ups and other equipment are required to keep the lights on during long periods of cloud cover, leading to a solution that is currently cost prohibitive.

“We just haven’t found a technology that’s financially feasible to collect enough solar power to keep the lights lit through the night,” shared an MEE spokesperson.

3. If your motivation is monetary, consider switching to LED bulbs as a cost-effective alternative.

The mass production of LED light bulbs has greatly reduced the price of these low-cost, energy efficient alternatives. On average, an LED bulb in a power pedestal will cost around $0.30 per month to operate. You can run quite a few LED bulbs for the price of what you would pay for a reliable solar powered lighting setup.

4. Looking for an aesthetically pleasing light source? There are plenty of solar options available.

Many companies offer standalone solar lights rated for use in marine environments. They are great for accent lighting. These lights don’t require any additional wiring.  They rely 100% on solar energy.

Solar powered accent lights can easily be assimilated into docks, gangways or along bulkheads. They perform much like the solar lights used in residential applications to illuminate paths and gardens or to operate security lights.

5. For small facilities in remote locations without power, there are a few solar lights on the market that may prove viable.

There are several manufacturers working to address the limitations of traditional solar lights by creating a more efficient charging mechanism. The goal is to develop a product that can store enough energy to power a light for in excess of 120 hours.

It is important to note that there is still some concern about the use of solar products as a primary light source in critical public access areas. If the systems cannot provide adequate illumination at all times it can pose a safety hazard. But for facilities in remote locations where the only alternative is no lighting at all, they may be worth looking into.

Several boat ramps in Australia, located in isolated areas, have found themselves in this situation. Bellingham Marine Australia, has found three international vendors who produce a solar light option that has some merit as a primary light source for these remote facilities.

All such options are pole mounted and come with a multiyear warranty. The lights range in price from approximately $2,000 to $8,000 per unit. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. If you’re interested in more information about solar light options for your boating facility please contact us at bmi@bellingham-marine.com

As a side note, rechargeable solar batteries are the major cause of failure in solar lights. Any facility using this type of light should note the life span and plan on the added cost of battery replacement.

Article Take Away

Technology is continually advancing and financial hurdles are shrinking every year. For now, the best bet for meeting critical power needs around your marina, whether it is for lighting or other needs, may be to invest in large PV modules. These modules can curtail your dependence on traditional electricity and give you the maximum return on your investment.

As for accent and security lighting, look for solar products that can guarantee an adequate charge.  Your early morning guests will appreciate the added light and ambiance. Be sure to consider placement in non-critical locations, so that if you’re without sun for a period of time the safety of those navigating the marina in the dark will not be compromised.

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