This guide is to assist in the planning and procurement of commercial solar lighting bollards that last the distance and provide the lowest cost of life. This needs to be broken into two parts, choosing the right product, and installing them correctly (working through the shade at each bollard location).
A) CHOOSING THE RIGHT PRODUCT:
‘The bitterness of poor quality long outlives the sweetness of a cheap price’.
We cannot emphasis this enough, and here is a real scenario we experienced recently. About four years ago we supplied a couple of the SBL solar lighting bollards (the original Australian made, with a 12 year proven track record and a 5 year warranty) to a retirement village (part of a national group), and they were happy with their performance. A couple of years later they requested a quotation for more to install in other places. They also received a quotation for an alternative product/ supplier that was about half the price and had only a few years track record in Australia and a very short warranty. No prizes for guessing what happened. Approximately two years later, they have contacted us again, the cheap ones have failed and they are replacing them with the quality SBL solar lighting bollards. Do it once do it right – would have saved them a lot of money.
- The first thing is to physical look at the bollard. What is it made out of? Plastic, glass or polycarbonate. EG: The original Australian made bollards use Lexan polycarbonate, the highest grade polycarbonate available globally aircraft windscreen grade. Ensure the bollard is made out of sturdy materials that will realistically last 10 years in the brutal Australian sun.
- Check the track record. How long has the solar bollard been in the market for? If it is a new product just released in Australia, you may be a guinea pig, trailblazers usually end up with arrows in their backsides. Is it worth the risk? Obtain references from people who have owned the product for at least a two years. Go and see an installation at night.
- Ensure the solar engine (solar panel & battery) is correctly sized. Power in = power out, no product can violate this law of physics. As a general rule of thumb, any solar lighting system should provide a MINIMUM of four full nights battery back-up, allowing for the longest winter nights (15 + hours in Tasmania and southern Victoria). This battery back-up should be based on the light running at 100% illumination, without sneaky gradual dimming as the battery depletes. Remember this light may be specified to meet a lighting standard or level, so no sneaky dimming over time.
- Does the solar lighting bollard offer the correct optics for your application? Pathway & driveway lighting will be best served with an asymmetrical (180 degree) light output optic. The asymmetric optic has almost no light going behind the bollard, this minimises any light spill going to an unwanted place (bedroom window etc). However for courtyard, pool area lighting or general area lighting, the symmetrical (360 degree output) may be best suited.
- Is the bollard designed to withstand vandalism? This is a necessity in all public spaces, unfortunately they too are a target for morons who have nothing better to occupy themselves than wrecking things.
- Are the solar bollard lights going in a flood plain? Many parts of Australia are susceptible to flooding, and often water ways, river banks and foreshores are where the paths are. If this is the case, ensure your solar bollards are submersible.
- Is the manufacturer/supplier likely to be around to call on for spare parts or warranty claims if the product fails? How long has the manufacturer or supplier been around for?
B) PLANNING THE INSTALLATION:
Solar lighting may require a bit more upfront planning than conventional mains powered lighting. If this is done correctly with a quality product, you should achieve a long reliable lighting solution with a low total lifecycle cost.
- Plan for shading. As solar lighting bollards are generally about one meter high (below the height of trees, bushes, shrubs, and single storey buildings), most solar bollard projects will be affected by shade. Unfortunately many solar bollards on the market are designed for a ‘unicorn’ situation where there is no shade. Ensure you choose a solar bollard that has different power models that can cope with the different shading situations bollard by bollard. To do this successfully, you need your solar bollard supplier to be able to assist you assess the shading and advise which power model is suitable. Otherwise, you will either have to put the bollards in non-shaded places which may not be where you really want them (and may well prevent you from achieving the lighting standard required), or put up with unreliable light and fast battery failure from too many deep discharges in a short period of time. This is a fail.
For shading we look for the worst case scenario which for most of Australia is winter when the sun is tracking the lowest to the North (towards the equator) and the shadows are the longest. Therefore no obstruction (shade) to the North, NE or NW of the solar panel is preferable. If there is shade for half the day (say all morning or all afternoon), the power model selected should be half the power of the all-day sun power model. A good solar lighting supplier will be able to walk you through this and ensure, bollard by bollard, this is done correctly. Please note in the tropics (top end of Australia), the worst case scenario may be summer – the monsoonal rain season. As the night time lengths in tropical north summers are short, this may well make up for the many back to back rainy days, however these areas may require a minimum of 5 or 6 night battery back-up allowing for the 12 hour long nights).
- Ensure the footing is large/strong enough to prevent thieves from stealing the bollard. For base plate (flange) mount style poles, threaded rod chemset into the concrete has proven to be stronger than dyna bolts. We have heard of the dyna bolts being torn out of the ground as the approx. meter high bollard acts as good leverage.
If all these points are followed, the chances of an extremely successful solar lighting installation is greatly enhanced.
Images from Orca Solar Lighting