There are six main building blocks of a solar-LED lighting system, basically representing the main energy-conversion steps required to capture energy from the sun, store it, and convert it to nighttime lighting.


Sean Bourquin | Carmanah Technologies

EarthToys Renewable Energy Article
There are six main building blocks of a solar-LED lighting system, basically representing the main energy-conversion steps required to capture energy from the sun, store it, and convert it to nighttime lighting.

EarthToys Interview - Solar-Powered LED Lighting

Sean Bourquin, Carmanah Technologies

Would you say this a good time for solar-powered LED general lighting?

Definitely! And there are many reasons why the time is right. For example, increasing energy costs are motivating people to consider new lighting technologies, but perhaps even more significant is the convenience of installing a stand-alone off-grid lighting application. When compared to the costs of installing, running and maintaining a traditional AC powered light, a solar-powered area light can be a very cost-effective alternative, especially for remote locations, or anywhere that would require a lot of trenching, cabling and wiring to access utility power.  

Thanks to recent advances in LED technology, we can now tackle lighting applications with solar power that were not possible even a year or two ago. Also, there’s a green shift within many lighting markets that’s characterized by a desire for more sustainable solutions; solar-powered LED lighting is a practical and instantly recognizable “green” lighting alternative for a wide range of outdoor lighting applications. 

What are the basic components of a solar-powered LED lighting system? 

There are six main building blocks of a solar-LED lighting system, basically representing the main energy-conversion steps required to capture energy from the sun, store it, and convert it to nighttime lighting: solar panel, charge controller, battery, LED driver, LEDs and LED optics. Each of these building blocks have inherent efficiencies associated with them so it’s important for designers and manufacturers to understand these efficiencies and how they relate to one another to develop effective solar-powered lighting solutions.

What, in your opinion, was the first widely implemented use of solar-powered LED lighting technology?

I’d say solar-powered LED lighting really took off in the mid 1990s when self-contained solar-powered marine lanterns were introduced. The small size, energy efficiency and lower heat generation allowed engineers to design a small, efficient, and durable alternative to the much larger, mechanical illuminated “aids to navigation.” There was a need for a reliable lighting solution, and given the safety implications, LED-based technology offered an excellent solution that allowed for high reliability, lower cost and greatly reduced maintenance intervals.

Can you give us some examples of applications where solar-LED lighting has proven to be a practical alternative?

There’s a long list but here’s a few key examples. Using a similar approach to the lanterns for marine aids to navigation, there are now beacons for aviation applications such as taxiways and runway edge lighting, beacons for marking aviation obstructions such as telecommunications towers and other potential hazards to air traffic, flashing beacons for traffic applications like marking pedestrian crossings, school zones and construction sites, and most recently general illumination for bus stops, pathways, stairs, docks – basically anywhere light can help to enhance convenience, safety or security. And of course, most of these solutions offer significant benefits in cost, reliability, and convenience over the traditional technology they replace.

What are some advantages of using solar-LED technology for general illumination?

There are two big advantages that come to mind: installation freedom and renewable mandates. From the installation perspective, solar LED lights offer freedom from the constraints of proximity and accessibility to traditional power sources. This means no more cutting lengths of concrete or excavating long trenches to lay cable. Free from the requirements of electrical hook-ups, solar LED lighting offers reduced site impact and remediation.

From the renewable mandate perspective, solar LED lighting is a practical and sustainable energy-conservation measure. It can help reduce electricity consumption and control electricity costs, while providing an instantly recognizable visual statement on the organization’s or community’s commitment to sustainable development and renewable energy technology. Solar LED lighting can also contribute towards LEED green-building projects.

What are some of the most important factors to consider when evaluating or considering a solar-powered LED area light?

Well, because there are many businesses that have recently entered this market, I’d recommend considering the experience of the manufacturer and its expertise in both LED lighting and solar power. And of course, it’s very important to understand the unique performance characteristics of each product, to ensure you will get one that will perform optimally for your particular location and application.

There are two key factors here: the output performance of the light itself, and the performance of the solar power system that provides energy for the light.

When evaluating the output performance of the light itself, be sure to consider its suitability for the task at hand. For example, many LEDs may output 90 lumens per watt, but when packaged into a fixture and combined with the required optics, this number can go down significantly depending on how well the system was understood and designed by the manufacturer.

When evaluating the performance of the solar power system, consider its suitability for the geographic location and the environment in which it will operate. For example, it would require a system almost two and half times the size in terms of solar panel wattage and battery capacity to do the same job in Toronto versus Los Angeles.

A knowledgeable provider or manufacturer can help you choose the light and solar power source that’s right for your specific location and lighting needs.

What are some of the disadvantages or challenges currently facing this type of lighting alternative?

I’d say the biggest challenge of this type of lighting alternative could be the upfront capital cost, although this cost is decreasing all the time. The value of a solar LED lighting alternative is best appreciated by comparing the total cost of ownership —when you factor in the ease of placement and the lower installation costs, many of the benefits are immediate, and the long-term payback can be just a few years away.

What do you see down the road, in terms of future development and refinement for this technology?

This is an exciting time for the solar-LED development. I see the breadth of applications for which this technology is appropriate expanding greatly, and I believe that there will be a transformation of the lighting industry over the next five years where LEDs and solar LED lighting become commonplace.

How is Carmanah Technologies positioning itself to meet future demand for these products?

As a pioneer and longstanding leader in the solar-LED industry, Carmanah maintains a world-class development team, and enviable supply-chain relationships that provide access to the best–in-class components we use in all our solar-LED products. Also, Carmanah has also recently teamed up with a global manufacturing partner to ensure that we can quickly scale production and meet opportunities worldwide as they arise.

Looking ahead, I’d say we’re also preparing for future demand by providing our customers with the very best technology today. As we continue to develop and innovate, we never lose sight of our customers’ real-world requirements. We don’t just cater to early adopters – we provide practical, reliable and cost-effective solutions to common challenges. With solar LED lighting, Carmanah is taking an exciting new technology and making it practical for everyday applications. Using solar-LED technology, we can help our customers to solve lighting challenges in the most efficient and effective way possible. 

Sean Bourquin is the product manager for the general lighting product family with Carmanah Technologies Corp. of Victoria, B.C. Canada. Sean has 12 years experience in a variety of industries including solar lighting, land mobile radio and HVAC. His positions have included electrical and embedded engineering, sales engineering and product management.

Sean began at Carmanah Technologies in 2005 and has been involved with the traffic and transit product families in addition to his current focus on the development and growth of the general lighting product family. Sean graduated from the University of Victoria with a B.Eng, specializing in systems engineering.

For more information on solar-powered LED lighting alternatives, visit or call Carmanah Technologies at 1.877.722.8877 (toll-free) or 1.250.380.0052 (direct).

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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