It’s Wind! It’s Solar! No, It’s Hybrid!

Boston Replacing Gas with Solar Solar

Photo from Boston Globe, 6/06/11

Lots of states, cities, companies and universities have been using solar lights for a few years now.

In fact, the City of Boston just announced a plan to retrofit 600 historic gas lamps in key neighborhoods with solar lights, saving the City roughly $140,000 a year in fuel bills while reducing carbon emissions. The $450,000 cost of the devices will pay for themselves in by eliminating gas costs in a little over three years.

There’s been a lot of news lately about other cities, private companies and universities using solar lights for roadway, park and parking lot lighting.

What hasn’t been talked about much are hybrid lights, those powered by solar panels and wind turbines. And they are a great solution, as few places are without wind or sun for any significant period of time.

Before discussing hybrid solar/wind devices for lighting, let’s clarify how they differ from “hybrid solar lighting.” Hybrid solar lighting uses photovoltaic panels on rooftops to collect the sun’s energy and directs it into special interior lighting fixtures via fiber-optic cables.

Wind /Solar Hybrid is Different than “Hybrid Solar” Technology

Advanced “hybrid solar” technology is used by corporations, health facilities, universities and public buildings for indoor electricity for lights and for hot water. A recent example is Boston’s Thomas P. “Tip” Federal Building. The building installed hybrid solar technology in 2011 with funding by the 2009 the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka the Stimulus Bill.)

While hybrid solar technology goes quite a way toward saving energy costs and reducing pollution, it almost always is supplemented by traditional electrical sources. In addition, current installation costs to-date limit its economic feasibility to large buildings rather than most residences.

Wind/Solar Hybrid

Solar/Wind Hybrid Street Light

Hybrid Street Light with Solar Panels & Turbines

Hybrid wind/solar technology combines solar panels with wind turbines to generate power.  For years, it’s been successfully used throughout the world, particularly in Africa and Asia. Along with lighting, applications include powering the entire power needs of villages.

However, hybrid solar/wind technology has only recently evolved as a truly viable economical option for industrialized areas. For example, it has a strong foothold in the more “modern” areas of Asia such as Hong Kong; Australia also uses it regularly.

Mostly it’s used for lighting, though continued improvements will undoubtedly expand its viable capabilities.

In the United States, hybrid solar/wind is being used more and more. As with all solar lights, batteries play a big part. The best solar lamp posts for home use currently use Lithium-Ion (Li-on) batteries with about 3.2 volt with a charging capacity of 1,500 to 3,000 mAh. And these lamps work extremely well for their intended purposes.

In contrast, commercial grade light posts (both solar and wind/solar hybrids) have batteries of 12V and 100AH. And, the solar panels are also significantly larger.

Cost-effective and simple to install, they provide strong, bright lighting for:

  • Large parking lots such as those for shopping  and corporate centers as well as medical facilities
  • Streets
  • Sidewalks
  • Jogging and bike paths
  • Farm & ranch lighting
  • Campus lighting
Solar/Wind Hybrid Street Lights

Wind/Solar Hybrid, Bright & Reliable

Solar panels for wind/hybrid solutions last up to 25 years; turbines have an operational life of about 20 years. Batteries for the system last between five to seven years with a replacement cost of around $200 dollars.

Benefits of Wind/Solar Hybrid Solutions

Wind/solar hybrid solutions offer significant benefits over traditional grid-based electrical counterparts in terms of the environment, ease of installation and cost-efficiency . Many benefits are the same provided by quality solar lighting fixtures for the residential user, but on a larger scale.

For example, hybrid lights require no line voltage, trenching or metering. There are no costs to replace concrete, asphalt or landscape. And, just as a low-voltage electrical or gas lamp post can be retrofit for solar, wind/solar posts systems can be installed on existing street light poles.

Hybrid Wind/Solar Street Lights in Residential Neighborhood

The Prentiss Creek Subdivision in Downers Grove, IL, was the first residential subdivision in the United States to use  hybrid street lights. Completed in 2010, the self-contained system should last for up to 100,000 hours, compared to conventional lighting systems that must be replaced after 10,000 hours.

Other benefits:  saving 500,000 kilowatts of electricity and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 350 tons over a 30-year period.

Cost Comparison: Traditional Electrical Grid Lights to Wind/Solar Hybrids

Along with environmental benefits, the costs of newer commercial grade and wind/solar hybrids make sense. The following is a graphic for solar street lights, hybrids are a bit more expensive.

Solar Streetlights vs. Traditional Grid Streetlights

Comparison: Traditional Grid vs. Solar Lighting Options

A traditional commercial or public street light that is 26-feet high, with 250 watts of light would cost around $4,700 over five years including: purchase cost of pole and luminaire; trenching and metering; installation and maintenance; and electrical costs.

In comparison, the same solar light would cost only $3,500 for a five-year savings of $1,200 and a payback period of .7 years.

The savings for wind/solar lights are not as substantial but still are impressive, considering the flexibility these provide to facility managers.  The five year savings for a wind/solar hybrid lights over traditional electric street lights is approximately $862, with an average payback period of 2.1 years.

Savings Wind/Solar Hybrids Provide over Electric Counterparts

In addition, there are various state and federal incentives available to those who purchase, install and operate these solar or wind/solar hybrid solutions.

All in all, wind/solar hybrid solutions are pretty super.

Copyright 2011, AM McElroy, www.SolarFlairLighting.comwww.SolarLightingSmart

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