In areas of the world that lack dependable electricity, outdoor illumination is usually non-existent. Lack of lighting is a safety and security concern, especially in cities or along roadways. Hidalgo, Texas (US), located on the US/Mexican border is a rural area with low income communities called colonias. These colonias have little infrastructure. With a high crime rate, the need for improved street lighting was paramount. When legislation was passed authorizing the installation of lighting, with fees to be collected from residents to cover the cost of electricity, the county authorities turned to a solar solution.
Ease of installation
Commercial solar LED lighting systems proved to be less expensive to install than grid-connected lighting, mostly due to the fact that wires didn’t have to be strung or buried and there is no assessment from the utility to bring power to the site. There is also no bill to the county or residents for the electricity, because it is free. And with LEDs as the light source, they are long-life, offer high brightness and visibility and require little maintenance.
According to Matt Ellenberger, Vice President of Sol Inc., a specialist in solar outdoor commercial LED lighting and the company that designed and manufactured the lighting fixture, lensing, the electronics and the optical end of the lighting system, the lifetime of these lighting modules that power the lighting systems is typically 25 to 30 years. The LEDs have useful life of about 65,000 to 70,000 hours, which will last between 12 to 20 years depending of course on whether they are lit from dusk to dawn or just at certain times.
Ellenberger noted that LED lighting has come a long way in recent years. "Years ago they could light facilities but they didn’t give enough lighting to meet industry standards Today, we meet illumination standards for most applications and the LED lighting performance is far superior."
The way the lights work is they are powered by solar panels, from 1 to 4 per lighting system. And 4 batteries are used to store the sun’s energy so the lights work at night or during periods of cloudy days. The batteries last about 5 years and, according to Ellenberger,"Battery maintenance is the only thing you need to do on regular basis."
Sol Inc. has stayed with the same battery technology for years, but they are looking at lithium ion, which has the potential for longer life.
Just as LED technology has come a long way since Sol Inc. has been designing lighting systems, battery technology has improved as well. Ellenberger noted that while battery technology has improved a lot recently, they have stayed with the same technology that they‘ve used for a few years but are looking at lithium ion, which has the potential for longer life, though he noted that it does come with some added cost.
Improving security and quality of life
The lights were installed at bus stops, local parks and other areas where safety and security were an issue. Colonia residents have seen an improvement not only in security but their quality of life has improved. As colonia Muniz resident Maria Melchor stated, "Colonias are forgotten when it has to do with infrastructure. It’s much better now. With lights, there’s security."
Written by Anne Fischer, Managing Editor, Solar Novus Today