Is solar lighting right for your business?

Garden Stake Lights

With summer just around the corner, there’s no better time for businesses to consider utilising solar lighting.

Powered by daylight

Solar lighting utilises energy from the sun, making it the most energy efficient lighting source available. Natural daylight is absorbed via a panel and then converted into an electrical current and stored in a rechargeable battery. As a result, solar lights are free to operate, enabling businesses to reap the rewards through reduced energy bills.

In addition to cheaper energy bills, businesses that make the switch to solar lighting are also able to reduce their carbon footprint and environmental impact. This can create a positive public statement about the organisation to customers and employees, showcasing the company-wide commitment to caring for the future of the local community and the rest of the planet.

Many solar light fittings have built in sensors, further improving their efficiency. For example, a dusk to dawn solar light will only turn on at dusk when night falls, and then switch itself off again at dawn when sunlight is detected. Others have PIR motion sensor technology and will only activate when motion is detected – ideal for low footfall areas, or improving nighttime security.

Tamara Solar LED Outdoor Wall Light with PIR Sensor

Solar lights are incredibly flexible and mobile, making them an ideal option for positioning in hard-to-reach areas, out buildings, environmentally protected land, locations that are far removed from existing electrical connections, or areas where no grid infrastructure exists. Furthermore, barriers such as tree roots, underground utilities, or other obstacles that may cause issues for trenching standard electric lighting cables are not an issue for solar lights. If a time comes when the lights are no longer needed, they can be also be packed away easily, with minimal disruption. There is a solar light fixture to meet every business’s outdoor lighting requirements, including:

    • Illuminating spaces – Solar lights are able to provide many of the practical benefits of hard wired lights, without needing an electrician to come and install them. Whether a light is needed for illuminating walkways, pathways, or signage, there are many styles to choose from.
    • Improving securitySolar security lights come in a wide range of styles, including flood lights, motion sensor (PIR) lights, and dusk to dawn lights.

Lutec Sunshine LED Solar Floodlight with PIR Sensor

  • Adding atmosphere – Decorative solar powered lighting such as spotlights, fairy lights, feature lights, and festoons, can completely transform the appearance and ambience of any outdoor space.

Solar Colour Changing LED Festoons

Despite its numerous benefits, solar lighting technology is unable to match the sustained power output of mains lighting.

Although solar energy can still be collected during cloudy and rainy days, the efficiency of the solar panel can drop due to the fact that solar lights require quality natural daylight to charge fully. Light output can therefore be significantly impacted by weather and seasonality, particularly when there is less daylight to absorb during the winter months. Their efficiency is also affected by their positioning and something as simple as an obstacle casting shadow, a fallen leaf, or dirt can all block the solar panel’s cells from the sun, and therefore limit a battery’s ability to charge fully.

Additionally, while some solar lights boast up to 12 hours of illumination from a single charge, a battery recharge will always be inevitable at some point. For this reason, solar lights aren’t always suitable for settings where round the clock illumination is needed.

Installing solar lighting within a commercial environment can offer a number of benefits to an organisation’s bottom line, the environment, and the company’s reputation. For advice on selecting solar light products for your business, contact our Technical Advice team here.

Dimmers – Trailing vs Leading Edge

Dimmer Switch

Dimmers allow you to achieve the exact light level that you desire in a room and consequently alter the mood. There are various types of dimming options available, but the most popular are ‘phase control’ (or phase-cut) dimmers. Phase control dimmers work by chopping out parts of the voltage and reducing power to the light source. The two types of phase control dimmer available are ‘trailing-edge’ and ‘leading-edge’ and they work in different ways which ultimately affects their compatibility with certain light forms:

  • Leading-edge: inductive loads (e.g. magnetic low voltage transformers), resistive loads (e.g. incandescent).
  • Trailing-edge: capacitive loads (e.g. electronic low voltage transformers, LED drivers), resistive loads (e.g. incandescent).

However, as well as the above, there are also other differences between the two types of dimmers…

Leading-edge dimmers (TRIAC dimmers)

Leading-edge dimmer switches are cheaper and simpler than trailing-edge, and were used originally to dim incandescent and halogen bulbs or wirewound magnetic transformers. They use a ‘TRIAC’ (Triode for Alternating Current) switch to control power, and are sometimes called TRIAC dimmers.

Many existing leading-edge dimmer switches have a relatively high minimum load, which often rules out their use with modest LED or CFL lighting circuits. However, leading-edge dimmers are by far the most common dimming control in existence.

One example of an excellent leading-edge dimmer switch is the BG Screwless 1-Gang 2-Way 400W Dimmer

Trailing-edge Dimmers (Reverse phase dimmers)

Trailing-edge dimmers are more sophisticated than leading-edge dimmers. They provide a much smoother dimming control, absent of any buzzing noise, and is ideal for use in most premises.

A trailing-edge dimmer has a lower minimum load than leading-edge dimmers, making it a better choice for dimming modestly sized low-powered lighting circuits.

LED lights and dimming

Unlike incandescent bulbs, which are all dimmable by default, LED retrofit bulbs have a built-in driver in their base. The driver converts AC power to DC power and maintains a constant current to the LED. This is at odds with a phase control dimming system, since the driver attempts to compensate for the sliced-out portions of input voltage.

LED fixtures such as downlights usually include the LED driver, either of a ‘constant current’ or ‘constant voltage’ type, depending on the LED array design. In either case, the same issue arises: the LED driver or power supply will try to patch up the missing parts of input voltage.

However, LED compatibility problems can exist, and some dimmable LED driver designs will only work with selective dimming control systems. These problems can show up in a number of ways, including flickering, flashing, and dead travel.

How to avoid LED dimmer compatibility issues

For an LED lamp or luminaire to work with a phase control dimmer, the electronics of its driver must be compatibly adapted.

Leading-edge dimmer switches are sometimes called ‘incandescent dimmers’, because they were originally designed to handle the resistive load of incandescent light. Existing dimmer switches tend to have high minimum loads and may require multiple LED lamps in order to even have a chance of working.

For an increased chance of compatibility, trailing-edge dimmer switches tend to work better with the capacitive load of an LED driver. The Varilight V-Pro LED Dimmer 1 x 300W is from the award-winning V-Pro range. It has an industry-wide reputation for delivering one of the best LED dimming performances available.

Research & Investment

If you’re installing a dimmable LED circuit from scratch, it’s worth checking out the bulbs that you’re likely to use and then look for a list of tested dimmer switches. Most leading bulb manufacturers test their dimmable lamps with a variety of switches and publish lists of known compatible models.

Similarly, you can upgrade your existing dimmers and so avoid compatibility headaches. What’s more, such an investment is likely to extend the lifespan of the lamps you buy, giving you an added incentive.

Remember, also, that LED bulbs are more complex than incandescent, so sticking to the same model of bulb is advisable when you find a winning formula. Once you have everything working, the many benefits of LED dimming will become apparent, to you and your business!