Traditionally, almost all light poles are provided by the local electric utility and connected to their grid to light up streets and neighborhoods. Most people pay the utility for the use of these lights on a monthly basis and carry on with their lives. However, with technology advancements and growing reach of renewable energy, it is now possible to skip utility grid altogether and opt for off-grid light poles. Off-grid light poles function on their own without power from the electric grid and are a one-to-one alternative to traditional on-grid poles. They have been gaining popularity with various industries due to their versatility.
Now, how do you know which type of light pole to choose? That depends on your specific project and what goals you have for the facility. In this blog post, we will walk you through the benefits and limitations of both on-grid and off-grid lighting in a new construction application so you can determine which one works for you.
The first and foremost benefit of on-grid lighting is that the electric utility company manages and services the lights. They will come out to the site and install the light poles and electrical conduit, then connect them to the grid. This also means that any repairs or replacements are handled by the utility, and you only pay for the electric service and any relevant fees.
Take Dominion Energy SC for example. They have options to install different kinds of street lighting fixtures on any of their existing wood poles for a set monthly cost (prices change as customizations are added or new poles are needed). This is very similar to renting the light – you pay the lamp fee plus the electricity used every month to Dominion Energy, but Dominion still owns the light and is responsible for any maintenance.
An on-grid utility pole is the most familiar option for many and requires minimal effort to acquire – just call the utility and they handle everything for you.
On the other hand, if the lights on your property do have an issue, you are reliant on the utility to send a technician out to address it. Depending on the utility company, this could be the same day or multiple days after the issue is brought to their attention. Additionally, if there is a power outage in your area, there will be no electricity to operate the lights and you will be in the dark until it is resolved. In 2020, US utility customers experienced 8 hours of power interruptions, mostly due to major events. As the utility grid continues to age and major weather events become more frequent, this number will increase in the future.
Further, since you are essentially “renting” these lights, the rates and fees paid for the electricity and light fixture can change over time. Most utilities are subject to local public service commissions and are reviewed every couple of years. Considering electricity rates increase on average about 2% every year, the prices could vary significantly from the time you entered the contract.
If an on-grid light pole does not sound like the right option for you, consider an off-grid light pole. There are independent companies that manufacture off-grid lighting systems and often sell directly to customers. Each company’s design is unique; however, many share a basic design of renewable energy paired with battery storage. Colite Technologies’ Renewable Lighting Systems use a vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT), solar PV panel, and solar AGM batteries to power an LED light fixture and other small electrical loads.
Because the system is self-sustaining and does not need to be connected to a grid, there is greater flexibility in siting the renewable lighting system. The installation is relatively simple; we build a concrete foundation and then assemble the rest of the system with minimal disruption to the landscape. As a result, you can get light where you need it and eliminate the costs of trenching underground wires across the property. Installation costs can balloon quickly for large projects like business parks, shopping centers, and planned communities when you have to extend the grid over multiple acres.
Another benefit of off-grid lights is that when the electricity grid goes down, your lights are unaffected. Your site will remain illuminated and maintain important security lighting for your employees and visitors. The Colite Technologies system components work together to optimize energy usage, boasting 95% reliability and a 20-year life. It’s a hands-off option with no monthly electric bills, low maintenance costs, and is also eligible for renewable energy tax incentives. The federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) offers a 30% credit on the total project cost and many states have their own – South Carolina offers a 25% tax credit that can be added on top of the ITC. Combining energy and maintenance savings, avoided construction costs, and renewable energy tax incentives results in total project costs that are similar or lower than comparable on-grid utility lights.
Like any lighting option, there are limitations to off-grid lighting systems.
Renewable energy is an intermittent energy resource – but when strategically paired with other technologies, it can work just as reliably as traditional sources without help from the grid. See the graph below demonstrating the complementary nature of wind and solar energy. In North America, the winter months tend to be windy and stormy, whereas the summer months are mostly sunny and clear. When you pair wind and solar together, one resource supports the other and fills the gap in production to provide a more consistent output. With the addition of battery storage, the remaining fluctuation is resolved, and stored energy can be used at any time.
Unfortunately, natural resources like solar and wind energy are heavily dependent on geographical location. Additionally, even if you are in a good location, some areas may have existing obstacles for wind and solar, such as large trees or tall buildings, that cannot be easily removed. In these cases, we would try to find the best alternative location for your off-grid lighting system, but a feasible location is not guaranteed.
There are also physical limitations for each pole. The batteries can only support certain wattage light fixture(s) while maintaining the expected reliability and the physical structure can only support a pre-determined amount of weight and still meet safety standards. However, most off-grid lighting systems are designed to meet the needs of average commercial street lighting or parking lot lighting, so this is typically not an issue unless you have a specialized requirement for your property.
Aside from the availability of natural resources, the limitations of off-grid lighting can be mitigated with a strong understanding of renewable energy technology and innovative thinking. It has led to significant improvements in traditional on-grid lighting alternatives over the last decade, bringing the competition to a level playing field. Off-grid lighting systems powered by renewable energy avoid carbon dioxide emissions produced from utility electricity generation and are a reliable, low-maintenance option for area lighting. Particularly in new construction projects, off-grid lights can save on trenching and landscaping costs and have no long-term commitment to the utility. Tack on the renewable energy tax credits from federal and state governments and the project becomes a great investment.
If on-grid lighting does not seem like the best option for you, try an off-grid lighting system! Take a look through Colite Technologies’ project gallery and explore the different options available to you.