Cost Comparison Between Solar vs. Traditional Lights

If you do a quick search online, you’ll find that the popularity for solar lights has surged in the past 5 years due to emerging green technologies and rising energy costs. Among this shift in moving towards more renewable energy sources for lighting, an important question is being raised: how much do solar street lights cost compared to traditional street lighting? To solve this mystery, our expert team of engineers gathered the necessary information to provide a cost analysis of each lighting system. The total street light costs may surprise you, but we reveal all of our information in this unbiased review below.

Traditional Street Lighting Costs

How Much does a Street light Cost?

Traditional street lighting is defined as “any electrical light used for street lighting,” which most commonly use metal halide or high pressure sodium technology for lights. The average cost of one light, including the lighting fixture, pole, and base, averages at $1500. Not bad for the cost of one street light.

Solar street lights utilize fixtures connected to a (typically) silicon-based solar panel to garner electricity through a process called the photovoltaic effect, which converts light into usable voltage. These lights reside off the main power grid and can be installed in remote locations. Because of the advanced technology required for solar lights, they are more expensive, averaging about $3000 per light. That includes the light fixture, the solar panel, controller, pole, and the smaller components that make up the light. Because of the advanced technology behind a solar street light, the street light cost is admittedly higher. But often times the up-front pricing for traditional lights is more deceptive, because people often forget about what costs a lot more: installation.

The Price of Traditional Vs. Solar Light Installation

The price for a solar street light may initially be a deterrent for interested parties, until you scrutinize the monetary details. The biggest difference between the price of traditional and solar lights lies in the installation fees associated with traditional lighting.

Traditional lights are connected to a standard electrical grid to garner their power, which requires trenching and underground wiring. When adding in labor fees for trenching and wiring, this process would cost consumers about $120 per linear foot. The average cost of installation for traditional lighting would then be around $4500, significantly higher than the price for a solar street light.

Because solar lights are autonomous and off the main grid system, consumers avoid the long and costly process of trenching and wiring. The price of installation reduces significantly as a result, pricing around $1500, driving down the total cost for solar.

Maintenance Costs with LED Lights

Solar lights are most efficient when we pair them together with LED technology to light an area of concern. You may think that solar LED lights require higher maintenance and upkeep levels in comparison to traditional lights. Truth be told, solar lights actually require less maintenance than traditional lighting systems. The typical lifespan for a traditional street light averages around 5,000-8,000 hours, which is slightly less than a year of usage, while solar LED lights last 5-7 years. The secret is in the technology of LEDs–they’re much more efficient with power than traditional methods of lighting and slowly degrade over time instead of burning out in an instant.

While solar lights get repaired less frequently, the cost of each repair is higher. The battery of a solar light needs to be changed every 5-7 years. The cost of 2 batteries and labor for those changes averages around $1000. This is only slightly higher than the cost of standard lights which is about $800 for standard maintenance fees.

Energy Bills (Or Lack Thereof)

Since solar lights gather their energy from the sun, there are no energy costs! Standard lights, on the other hand, accumulate about $1500 in energy costs over 10 years by drawing power from the main power grid, and that’s the energy cost of one street light. A system of ten lights will rack up a hefty bill over the course of 10 years. We’re certain whomever is looking to purchase street lights would prefer lower energy costs. Solar wins in this category, hands down.

solar street light price
These brand-new lights replaced old, malfunctioning lights in Santa Monica Airport. No energy bills here!

Incentive Programs for Solar Energy

There’s more to solar financially than just saving money long-term! Solar lighting systems are also heavily subsidized to encourage the use of green energy. According to the NC Clean Energy Technology Center, there are about 200 financial incentive programs for solar alone. Both the private and public sector offer incentives to use solar, but each entity differs in the amount and type of incentive they provide. For example, North Carolina provides a 35% state tax credit against the total cost of a solar panel system, while the Federal government offers a 30% tax credit, so if the cost of one street light is 3,000 dollars, you’ll receive 900 dollars back in a tax credit–pretty impressive! For more information on the solar incentives, rebates, tax credits, and grants available, visit http://www.dsireusa.org/.

The Verdict between Solar and Traditional Lighting

When comparing the total costs of traditional and solar lighting, there appears to be a clear winner. Overall, solar street lights cost around $5500 over 10 years, while standard costs a steep $8300 because of trenching and installation costs. As before, this is the cost of one street light. Imagine 10 lights? 20? Suddenly, the savings with solar are clear.

In the battle of the lighting systems, technology and innovation win. While traditional lighting systems may have won some battles, solar lights win the war for street light costs. It’s the combination of high-tech solar panels with energy-saving LED lights that propel these street lights far ahead of the competition.

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