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Keeping up with growing populations, tight budgets and citizens pushing for lower carbon emissions are competing priorities for municipalities and counties across the country. But municipalities are increasingly finding creative solutions to step up to the challenge.

One example is the City of Beaumont just outside of Los Angeles, which is the fastest growing municipality in California. The city has installed solar powered lighting for over 10 years and, in 2015, decided to be the first in the country to insist on solar powered fixtures for all new street and park lighting. Since then, hundreds of solar streetlights have been installed.

 

Solar Streetlights as the Cost-Effective Choice

Not only did going solar reinforce the city’s position as a leader in sustainability in city planning, it also eliminated ongoing electrical costs and the risk of copper wire theft. But the most significant savings was the reduced install costs. Solar powered lights mean that there is no need to dig trenches for wires or to create a connection to the grid. With a usual cost of $25 a foot to trench and remediate for wires, this can quickly escalate with rocky or otherwise tough terrain.  

“These lights produce a great deal of light reliably and are really a fantastic solution,” said James Love, CEO of Beaumont Electric. “And in terms of install, there is nothing easier, wired or solar.”

 

All-in-one solar streetlight

Choosing First Light

While Beaumont had previously installed distributed solar solutions, it has more recently opted for First Light’s SCL2 self-contained fixtures in both single and double mounted options depending on specific application. A major reason for this was the increased reliability and easier install compared to traditional solar solutions that have separate solar panels, batteries and light fixture which each have to be installed on a specially designed bracket. These brackets have to be redesigned for every project to accommodate different panel and battery sizes, position to face the sun and windloading.

In contrast, self-contained fixtures are designed to be installed and automatically adapt to the changing conditions it finds itself in. They are significantly smaller and therefore require the same poles and windloadings as regular wired lights. This also eliminates the need for modelling to account for latitude and estimations on the worst-case scenario for light in the short days of winter. This greatly enhances reliability and maximizes light performance. 

 

Pushing the Potential of Solar

Better reliability for solar lighting has come from a push for continuous improvement. For First Light, this means testing every component in a variety of real-world and controlled conditions for robustness and reliability. It is based on this constant testing and looking for improvements that First Light has been able to develop reliable, self-contained fixtures. One of the biggest changes this testing has prompted was changing the batteries in our entire product line from lead-based to lithium which dramatically improved performance and reliability. Our tests showed that even the best lead batteries (which are still used in many solar lights) last only 2 to 3 years before failing and needing to be replaced. There lifespan tends to be even shorter in hotter locations or locations where they routinely don’t charge fully.

Lithium batteries, however, have proven reliable regardless of partial charge. Our tests have also shown that their lifespans are reliably 8 to 10 years (and counting).

 

Solar Streetlights, Beaumont, California.

More Solar Streetlights in the Future

With solar proving to be cheaper and more reliable, Beaumont is showing no signs of going back to wired electrical lighting. With more population growth expected and new neighborhoods under development, solar streetlights remains the standard. Now, the neighboring city of Banning is also considering the switch from traditional wired lighting to solar.