How to Set Up Solar Lights
Bright solar powered lights have many uses from security lighting to solar shed lights. The most basic solar light unit is composed of a solar panel that charges up a battery. The battery is then used to provide power for one or more lights. The lights may be activated by a motion sensor or a timer or an on/ off switch. The table below illustrates the basic structure of a solar lighting system
When selecting components for a solar lighting system follow these steps:
- Estimate how much light you need, choose an appropriate LED light, calculate the power used by the light unit in one day (night)
- Choose a battery with enough capacity to provide at least three times the daily power consumption and then still have a reserve of about 50% charge.
- Select a solar panel that will recharge the battery in less than 4 hours of full sun.
- Use a suitable solar regulator that is able to process the maximum amperage of the solar panel
Use adequate electrical cable to minimise voltage drop losses and choose wiring connectors, switches and fuses that comply with safety regulations.
A typical solar lighting system is shown below. A solar panel provides power to keep the battery charged. The charge controller, also known as a solar regulator, keeps the battery properly charged and it also controls the power used (the load) by cutting off power if the battery charge runs too low. Some include lighting control that only allows the light to come on at night.
A solar panel is installed on a roof - pole or ground mounted is also available.
It is is wired to a 12 volt battery via a controller which regulates the solar charge going to the battery and may include a timer to activate the lights if required.
The controller is therefore the heart of the system, the central component controlling battery charge and lighting power.
>Once the solar lighting system is installed it does not require any ongoing maintenance, the solar panel will keep producing electricity during the day and the controller will regulate the charging of the battery to keep it fully charged while switching the lights on at night and off at dawn.
Click on the components for more information
LED Lights can be directly powered by 10 to 30 volts DC and can be connected directly to any 12 or 24 volt power supply. Most are waterproof for external use. All are suitable for solar lighting.
12 volt solar panels are used to generate 12 volt DC electricity which is then stored in 12 volt batteries to power 12V appliances and lights or converted to AC electricity by an inverter to power 240VAC appliances and lighting.
Choose a solar regulator with a maximum amps rating about 50% higher than the maximum amps from the solar panels.
Batteries are used to store solar power. Their size is measured in Amp-Hours (Ah). For example a 50Ah battery will provide 5 amps for 10 hours, but then it would be completely flat and that will cause internal damage. Do not deplete any battery by more than about 50% before recharging because it will shorten its life.
Solar panel mounting
Install solar panels securely in a location with maximum sun exposure. Panels installed horizontally will allow debris and leaves to build up on the cells and render the module ineffective, Tilt-mounted solar panels perform best, they should face due north (in Australia) and be tilted at least 45 degrees to get as much winter sun as possible.
Timers, Switches and controllers
Solar lighting controllers and switches are used to control lighting periods and power supplied to various loads
Cables and connecters
Undersized cables and poor wiring connections will reduce solar panel and battery performance. An undersized cable could be losing valuable solar power due to voltage drops. Poorly fitted connectors could drain power and even be potential fire hazards.