There is no doubt that solar power has been a fantastic source of renewable energy.
Several studies have shown that using photovoltaic panels to generate electricity has a significant impact on reducing the overall carbon footprint. According to SEIA, the solar industry has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 1.6 billion trees.
A 2017 study by Nature Energy claims that solar energy has an “amazingly low” carbon footprint – it’s clear that solar energy has definitely helped us all breathe a bit easier. We have the power of silicon for this.
Additionally, under Swanson’s Law, the price of solar cells has dropped significantly, showing that the future of energy still lies in solar energy. This is an important way of using renewable energy for commercial and residential uses, transportation and even waste recycling. Solar energy is much cheaper today than ever and is at the forefront of a green energy revolution that will continue to push back the deepening energy crisis.
However, this does not mean that solar energy is initially inexpensive. Using green energy is essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but many fear that solar energy will break even. Admittedly, solar panels can cost more to power up upfront, and the breakeven point can sometimes last for several years, especially for residential applications.
However, there is one application of solar energy that usually breaks even on the first day of installation. When it comes to public lighting, using solar panels to power lights is actually a lot cheaper than you might realize. The reason for this is that solar panels provide the energy for the lights instead of expensive underground infrastructure. A single commercial light fixture that uses solar can save hundreds of dollars on the first day of installation with no trenching, backfilling, wiring, or power charges (solar power is free, by the way).
However, it is not common for public utilities to install a single luminaire. City streets, streets and parking lot lights are often used in projects with multiple lights at the same time. A common number of lights for a parking lot is around 10 lights in total. So take the trenches, cabling, backfilling and energy fees (one year) for a single luminaire and multiply them by 10. You get a general fee for how expensive it is to connect and operate luminaires for just one year.
How about 10 years? The price can definitely add up. This also depends on the location of the lights themselves. When installing new lights in a parking lot, you need to hire workers to break up the concrete and then connect the lights to the electrical infrastructure underground. Then there is the process of re-paving the property.
Some lights need to be installed in terrain that just doesn’t work well when digging, especially in drier climates where the ground is much more like rock than dirt. In order to dig into this area, you will need to hire workers with special equipment who can dig deep into the ground.
The average depth of a power outlet is about 24 inches, so it’s not a flat-topped trench either. And there’s also the time it takes to complete the job just to power the lights in question – which may or may not be near a central electrical outlet.
With all these fees, equipment, and labor costs, how much do you think it would cost to dig a linear foot? As expected, there are many factors, but the average cost per linear foot can range from $ 8 to $ 25. So if you need to daisy-chain 10 lights (which is likely to fail if one light has a connection problem) and each light is 25 feet away, you will see $ 200 on the low end and $ 625 on the low end high quality. This does not include refill fees, equipment rentals, or man hours. The price still adds up.
This is especially the reason why solar lights are so popular for public utilities. The effort and the price for the connectivity are eliminated because the energy comes from the sun. It is an environmentally friendly energy solution that is cheaper than traditional lighting. Pretty big win-win.
If you are out with friends or family at night and come across a public light, whether it is a street or parking lot light, check to see if it is solar powered. There’s a lot of science in this little panel, and it’s helping us see a cleaner, better future. Solar lights are only a small part of the overall renewable energy revolution, but they are also helping businesses and cities provide power to commuter areas in a very cost-effective way.