A question about solar lights

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A question about solar lights

Postby carefactornil » Thu Oct 13, 2011 8:49 am

Hi,

Planning a big maze for 2012. It'll have bridges, i.e. a 2nd level at 2m high so some health and safety issues and therefore lighting is more important.

I'd like to use various lighting sources, but in particular some solar-powered fairy lights.

I'm in the UK and have found some nice ones here:
http://www.thesolarcentre.co.uk/product ... 404-7.html

Whilst they have a really long potential display time, they only go for 8 hours before auto-switch off. Potentially they can last for 20+ hours but only if you hit the power switch again. Spoken to the manufacturers and it's a design decision based on the UK market and not the Nevada desert... There doesn't seem to be any way round it apart from physcially pressing the button. Gluing it down isn't an option!

I have been to BM before but my question is, based on other people's experience about solar lights, what time do they come on at night at BRC? I know it'll probabably be something like 7ish but if someone's got a more solid answer that's going to help.

Also, what time is there sufficient light before sunrise to not need lighting? In other words, when do solar lights auto detect they should switch off? I'm assuming it's more than an 8-hour duration.

I might be able to still use these lights if I go to the maze every night some time before 8 hours prior to sunrise and "reset the counter" by pressing the button. They automatically come on when it starts getting dark so covered for the first part of the night - just would need to schedule a visit some time during the night.

Any thoughts appreciated, timings etc. Ditto, if anyone knows of a similar product in the US that works all night (auto-switch on a plus!) on solar power, then feel free to point me at those. Will also look into other lights with batteries, larger power sources, but keen to be as green as possible.

Thanks,

Cheese Simon, UK
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby junglesmacks » Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:04 am

My own personal experience with solar lights is that they are very dim, and don't provide a full nights' worth of light. Others have had different experiences, but those are mine. For this year, I converted my solar lights to simple battery pack operation and they worked flawlessly.

Personally, I would recommend running the lights off of a 12v deep cycle battery source, and then solar charging that battery itself rather than rely on the individual solar battery packs of the strings. I would also have a spare, charged battery on hand at all times. This way if one fails or your charging system fails you are fine.

Also.. I doubt you cold fully drain one of those batteries with just some LED strands for the week. Depending on how many you are running, I'm betting you could go the whole week without even a charge. That's a thought as well.. just have a backup battery and swap it out rather than deal with solar charging altogether.
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby carefactornil » Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:23 am

Thanks. I do own one of these fairy light sets and they do seem a "cut above" the other types of lights out there in terms of brightness. They also have 6 different settings for flashing, cycling, fading, etc, which look very cool.

But even if I could swap the solar on these out for a battery, then the switch to choose mode and power on/off is between the power source and the lights, so I'd still have the 8-hour challenge.

I would like to use these ones I have as they do look really good and bright and come in a variety of colours, even if there's other lighting too.

But will look into some of the other options you mention for batteries.

Any other comments welcome folks!
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby BBadger » Thu Oct 13, 2011 10:24 am

Ouch! That's like $150 for a strand. White LED Christmas lights are easy to come by, and those "fairy lights" only look like they do because they're dim, and densely packed in the example photos. If you can find those fairy lights cheaper than that without the solar, get them instead and use a 220AH deep cycle battery or two.

Solar power has its place, but a good rule of thumb with solar power is that unless you're making a 30-year-long utilization investment you are better off with batteries or mains power. When those sites say something like "iPS technology" what they really mean is that the LEDs will still light up but will be incredibly dim near the end because they're using circuitry that draws the last bit of power from those batteries. If you want to decorate your yard for 30 years, sure, go ahead and drop $150 a strand.

But to answer your question:

You might as well construct your own light-sensitive or time-based shut off mechanism. They're not hard to wire up, and are cheap. If you need help with it let us know and we can tell you what to get and what to wire up. I don't know if such a mechanism is compatible with those strands in particular (maybe they will reset to a default mode), but that'd be the general method of automating your project's lighting. Another reason to get a deep cycle battery-based system is that you can also centralize a lot of your power and shut-off electronics without relying on a separate bank of solar-powered strands.
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby junglesmacks » Thu Oct 13, 2011 11:29 am

Big question:

How many feet of lighting are you looking at using?

Not sure what your budget is or how many Euros you have coming out of your ears, but you may be looking at a small fortune just in pre-done lights vs just buying raw LEDs which are running around $0.03/each these days.

If money is no object, I would use LED rope lights running off of a 12v deep cycle battery in conjunction with a simple timer. I would use one battery to light and have a spare to swap plus a quick charger that I could plug into a running genny somewhere.. or, do the solar thing if you don't want to deal with finding a generator to plug into.
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby carefactornil » Thu Oct 13, 2011 12:16 pm

BBadger wrote:Ouch! That's like $150 for a strand.

Not sure where you're getting that figure from. £70 = $110 but I'm paying £48, which is $75 for 28m.

BBadger wrote:those "fairy lights" only look like they do because they're dim, and densely packed in the example photos.

I've got these lights. They do seem pretty bright compared to the others I've seen, so I'm not going off the photo.

BBadger wrote:use a 220AH deep cycle battery or two

I've only looked at a couple of UK sites but these seem to cost £240-450 ($380-$710). Even at the cheap end, that's quite a bit.
Would one of these run all my lighting needs?
The maze is 25m x 25m x 4m (high). So it'll be lit round the edge and then over the various bridges at a minimum. Plus whatever else I can afford to do.

Thanks for the links on constructing my own stuff. Right now I've got bigger challenges with the main maze that I need to get sorted. In some ways, I'd rather keep the lighting as simple as possible, but I'll look into it.
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby carefactornil » Thu Oct 13, 2011 12:30 pm

junglesmacks wrote:Big question:

How many feet of lighting are you looking at using?


I don't know at the moment. I have 3 of these 28m (90ft) fairy lights. The maze is 64ft square. So those 3 would go round the perimeter. I need some stuff for the handrails of the bridges but that's probably 60-80ft total. Anything else is probably optional. I'd like to have as much lighting as possible but don't have a specific lighting budget. The maze itself will cost heaps, so it's getting that sorted first and then seeing what's left to add "extras". There'll be other things that help with lighting it - the maze I did in 2009 had CDs round the permeter which were very cheap and highly reflective, as well as bike lights on the outer corners.

I've used rope lights (If you mean these http://www.festive-lights.com/commercia ... 4QodN2xMJw) in my house before, but never running off a battery, but they are very cool and we've seen loads at BM on vehicles, camps, etc.

junglesmacks wrote:If money is no object

Wouldn't that be nice! Unfortunately I work for the Lottery folks in the UK so I can't play the game...
I reckon the maze will be a good $5000 just for materials. And I'm assuming at the moment I'll have to fund it all personally, which is a lot for me. Sure, I'll look to raise funds, approach BM for a grant but I'm planning on worst case scenario.

On the other hand, it IS doubling as our wedding venue, so it's gotta look frickin' awesome! But we have plenty of ideas on that which don't involve lighting... :mrgreen:
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby junglesmacks » Thu Oct 13, 2011 1:06 pm

A "marine" grade deep cycle boat battery will only run you about $80 here in the states from Walmart.. FYI
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby shroom » Thu Oct 13, 2011 6:35 pm

I have a lot of different types of solar lights in my yard. I love them but they dim as it gets later and off before morning.
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby MyDearFriend » Sun Oct 16, 2011 10:10 am

I brought strings of solar-powered xmas lights to BRC. They cost, I think, about $10 per 15-foot string. They were very easy to work with as I could stick them up any place without having to connect them to a power source.

The lights turned themselves on at deep dusk (about an hour after sunset) and stayed on until the twilight before dawn (about an hour before sunrise). This was perfectly adequate illumination for finding our camp, our chairs, our drinks :P and for sitting around socializing.

I don't know what the difference would be between my cheap xmas lights (made in China for the US market) and your pricey English Fairy Lights. :? The other consideration is, that my lights are seasonal items and only available here around the holidays.
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby some seeing eye » Sun Oct 16, 2011 4:35 pm

Simon, You are on the right track with solar that stores enough energy by day to power by night.

Suggest talking with deep playa experienced art installers and the BM organization Artery about practical defense against theft and art care on playa. You may want to camp with your art.

Second connect with the Alternative Energy Zone about solar and battery expertise ae-zone.org. They have their own year round message board. But their message board puts your email in the clear, use a disposable one. You will likely be able to charge batteries if you can haul them at Snow Koan Solar.

If coming from UK, make friends with Reno, Nevada burners, many cool ones.
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby teardropper » Tue Jan 10, 2012 2:15 am

junglesmacks wrote:My own personal experience with solar lights is that they are very dim


Yeah, most are just that, but I have a bunch. Most run off 1.2 volt ni-cad or NMH batteries. I just found some, the independent garden style lights, that have 3.2 volt lith-ion batteries and super bright LED's. They are bright and last all night, I think. Still checking on that. But at about 41˙ north latitude in January, there is not the "10-12 hours" the manufacturer says to give them at full sun to charge them. But I have checked them after 9 hours on and they are all still on and very bright.

For an installation I, too, would use a panel and a small battery.
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby carefactornil » Tue Jan 10, 2012 2:23 am

Thanks, perhaps you can let me know more about these lights, perhaps a URL link?
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby teardropper » Tue Jan 10, 2012 2:36 am

Simon, if you're talking to me, I got them at the local Home Depot. Have not done any search for them, do they sell them online? They weren't particularly cheap, but they cast bright circles on the ground. I need a bunch, so I will continue to use what I have, and put the good ones where I need them most.

Last year I replaced all the little, I think 2 or 300 ma/h ni-cads with larger, 900 ma/h NMH AA batteries. I charged them full in my charger before leaving for BRC and they did last a little longer. But I think to get real brightness you would have to have 2 AA batteries, or more. These 3.2 volt lithium-ion rechargeables seem to be what I have wanted.
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby robotland » Tue Jan 10, 2012 8:08 pm

Regardless of what lights you choose I would suggest either a manual (on/off) system or timer so that you can fine-tune the turn-on time. With a maze, especially a two-story one, you want to make sure the lights are where they're needed starting in the shadowy dusk hour. Lots of LED lights are so damned effective you could just leave them on all week depending on number and draw- The nice solar light strings I've used are Phillips....but while I love the lights I'm less impressed with the responsiveness of the solar panels and light/dark sensors and usually cut them off and replace with a 4.5 volt (three AA) battery box and switch.
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby Father_Burn » Sun Feb 19, 2012 5:24 pm

A few of us got solar powered rope lights at home depot for our bikes. They were awesome. Relatively bright, and stayed on all night. Even when our bikes didn't get full sun all day. There is an off switch that turns the lights off, but they still charge. They aren't very expensive either. Make certain to dust off the panels occasionally throughout the week.
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Re: A question about solar lights

Postby gyre » Sun Feb 19, 2012 5:52 pm

Teardropper, be sure you are looking at rechargeables.

They make up to D cell nimh.
Be sure they aren't fake.

You should talk to the georgia folks that did a great maze.
They only lit enough to keep you from getting lost.
Very effective maze.
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