How Do You Maintain a Solar Photovoltaic LED Lighting Installation?

Genesee Entrance Monument – Solar PV LED

Outdoor Lighting Perspective’s solar photovoltaic (PV) LED lighting system has been operational at the Village of Genesee’s entrance monument for two years now. A few weeks ago we completed the Year Two annual maintenance for the system – and it continues to illuminate the monument nightly with the free energy captured by the sun.

 
The solar PV LED system consists of the following: a 3.7W LED lighting fixture supported by a strut to provide downlighting (Genesee is dark-sky compliant); a solar mast that supports the 16- by 20-inch solar PV panel and equipment bay; the equipment bay contains the solar gel battery and system controller. Every solar PV LED lighting system should be checked and maintained on an annual basis, and this is especially true for a mountain installation where the site can experience very high wind loads.
 
To see some of the issues we faced at this year’s maintenance visit, please watch the video below:
 
 
As you could see in this video, we did have to replace the LED fixture on this visit because the electronics had become corroded due to moisture entering the fixture. We suspect that a seal had failed perhaps due to the buffeting by the high winds. The on-site checklist that we follow for this type of maintenance is shown below:
  • Confirm that the current levels of the solar array and load do not exceed the controller ratings.
  • Tighten all terminal connections. Inspect for loose, broken or burnt wire connections. Be certain that no loose strands of wire are touching other terminals.
  • Test that the LED fixture is working.
  • Inspect the equipment bay for signs of dirt, insects, moisture, and/or corrosion.
  • Ensure that the air flow around the controller is not blocked.
  • Check that the controller functions and LED indicators are correct for the system conditions at that time.
  • Clean the PV array and reconfirm that the array is oriented correctly.
  • Re-confirm that the correct battery type is indicated.
  • Check and re-tighten as needed the ground wires by the fixture as well as by the PV array.
  • Inspect and re-tighten as needed the mounting system for the fixture.
  • Re-touch paint as needed on the solar mast and equipment bay.

As with any type of lighting system, annual and preventive maintenance will ensure that the lights will be on when you need them.

Solar Photovoltaic/LED Dark-Sky Compliant Entrance Lighting

Continuing our theme of highlights for 2009, the most interesting project was our solar photovoltaic lighting installation for the Village of Genesee. We had received a request from the Villages’s property management firm to provide lighting at two entrances – one with power and one without power. The site without power therefore would require the installation of an off-grid solar photovoltaic lighting system.

Site without Power

Both sites required that the fixtures be dark-sky compliant; i.e., the fixtures must point downward so as to not discharge any light into the night sky. In addition, both installations had to withstand the extra wear and tear of heavy snowstorms, the excessive mountain winds, and last but not least, the large herd of elk.

What made this installation feasible was the introduction of the next generation LED (light emitting diode) fixture that draws only 3.7 watts. Our manufacturing partner is now providing us with very high-quality LED lighting fixtures with excellent color and lighting effect. By changing the lens optics, we could vary the lighting effect to create just the right lighting for the monument signage. A photo taken during the actual evening demonstration is shown below.

Evening LED Demo

On the solar photovoltaic (PV) side, the technology in terms of cost and quality has also improved significantly over the last few years. Coupled with the advances of the LED lighting technology, a high quality, long lasting solar PV/LED installation was now a reality.

A 20W solar PV panel was installed along with a solar gel battery that would provide at least five days of stored power for the system – enough to outlast long periods of clouds and snow during the winter months.

The battery, the controller (the brains of the system), and the lighting surge suppression system were installed in the aluminum equipment bay which was itself installed at the top of a structural aluminum pole. A photo of the completed installation is shown below.

Completed Installation with Solar PV Mast in Background

Interestingly, the solar PV panel has been blocked by snow only once this season. Prior to last Halloween, the foothills received 37-inches of snow and the HOA president had to brush off the panel with a broom with an extension handle.

In addition, the LED lighting installation at the second site that already had power was completed – and that installation is shown below. For this installation, two box floods each having 35-watt high pressure sodium bulbs were replaced by the two 3.7-watt LED lighting fixtures. The monthly electric bill for the HOA at this entrance dropped from $80.00 to $11.00!

LED Lighting Installation with Power