guide7 min read

A guide to solar street lighting in the UK

Solar street lighting is becoming an increasingly attractive and sought-after solution in the UK. In this guide, our experts who have worked on UK solar street light installations for the last six years, explore the power, sustainability, and adaptability of solar lighting solutions, along with their best use cases and the factors to consider when evaluating their suitability for your project. 

Harness the power of solar lighting 

Solar powered lighting solutions offer significant benefits for street lighting engineers, local authorities, and property developers. Solar lighting provides a unique opportunity to illuminate any location without the need for cabling or connection to the grid, making it perfect for remote or environmentally sensitive areas. Additionally, with minimal ongoing costs, solar lighting helps meet carbon reduction and financial targets, contributing to the UK’s commitment to Net Zero Carbon by 2050. 

Understanding mains versus solar 

There are many arguments for the use of solar lighting however, “switch to solar, don’t switch off” is not one. If you have already invested in mains-powered luminaires it is unlikely the calculations will make sense. Solar, as an initial investment, is inherently more expensive than functional street lighting, so, if you have already invested in trenching and mains connection it probably won’t make sense to switch. Instead, we would encourage you to explore dimming and trimming your existing assets, adding adaptive lighting sensors or retrofitting the latest generation of LED light engines.  

If you have a new scheme – read on. 

Is solar lighting sustainable? 

Solar street lighting is a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to traditional grid-powered solutions. By capturing the sun’s energy to provide light, solar lighting reduces dependence on fossil fuels, significantly cutting carbon emissions and lowering air pollution. This not only helps protect the environment but also conserves natural resources. Additionally, solar lighting ensures illumination remains unaffected by power disruptions and reduces reliance on conventional energy infrastructure. By choosing solar lighting, you’re not just saving on energy costs, but also making a significant contribution to environmental sustainability. 

However, it’s important to remember that sustainability does extend beyond the final product. Raw material mining, manufacturing and transportation all contribute to a products carbon footprint.  

Light where and when you need it 

One of the most empowering aspects of solar lighting is its adaptability. Combined with an effective controls system, it can provide light wherever it’s needed, whenever it’s needed. Perfect for off-grid applications, solar luminaires can be installed in remote locations without access to the power grid or where laying cables would be costly or disruptive, such as conservation sites or environmentally sensitive areas. Moreover, contractors can quickly deploy these lights to offer a temporary solution for safety and security in new housing developments, during highway maintenance, or at special events. With solar lighting, you’re in control of your lighting needs. 

Achieve energy independence 

Once installed, solar street lighting operates at virtually no cost. With no ongoing electricity expenses, solar street lighting is not just a sustainable choice, but a financially savvy one. This is especially true as global energy prices continue to rise. The absence of trenching and cabling costs, combined with the need for fewer specialist electrical skills during installation, makes solar lighting an even more cost-effective solution. As solar technology advances and becomes more affordable, it becomes increasingly accessible for various applications, ensuring a smart and secure investment. 

How does solar power work? 

Understanding how solar powered lighting works is crucial for effective implementation. Here’s a simple breakdown: 

  1. Photovoltaic Effect: Solar panels convert sunlight into (DC) electrical energy. 

Not all Photovoltaic panels (the bits that harness the power of the sun) are equal. We use Mono-crystalline rather than Polycrystalline. The purer nature of the silicone in mono-crystalline results in improved heat management and low-light conditions which equals higher efficiency.

2. Energy Storage: This energy is stored in the unit’s battery. 

We use LiFePO4 batteries with zero recycled content, known for their longevity, they typically offer a lifespan of between seven and ten years, providing substantial improvements over traditional lead-acid batteries. This extended lifespan not only improves the cost-effectiveness of solar schemes but also significantly reduces their environmental footprint by lowering the frequency of battery replacements. LiFePO4 batteries also excel in efficiency, scoring 98% meaning that most of the stored energy is usable. 

3. Illumination: When needed, the battery powers the light, providing illumination. 

Our range offers fully programmable battery management and light output, in built photocell control or the option for SAM (Smart Asset Management). 

It’s important to note that while batteries can store energy for several days of low sunlight, consistent underperformance in energy generation will eventually lead to outages. Therefore, solar lighting may not be the most suitable option for areas with prolonged periods of low sunlight or high energy demand during the night. However, with the right system design and battery capacity, solar lighting can provide reliable illumination in most locations. 

Do solar street lights work on cloudy days? 

While we do have lower irradiance levels than for example Europe, which can be problematic for some locations, especially in the North, solar lighting in the UK is not impossible with careful planning.

A common misconception is that the UK’s cloudy weather makes solar lighting impractical. People are often surprised to learn just how much solar energy is available in the UK and Ireland. Furthermore, technological advancements, such as intelligent control systems and integrated motion sensors, have made solar lighting a viable solution even during the longest winter nights. These technologies help manage light and battery levels efficiently, ensuring reliable illumination throughout the year.  

The map below from The World Bank Group using data from the Global Solar Atlas (GSA) shows a summary of estimated solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation potential for the UK and Ireland, representing the average daily/yearly totals for electricity production from a 1kW peak grid connected solar PV power plant for a period of 25 recent years. 

Our Solar Honesty Campaign to help you make the right choice 

While solar street lighting is a greener alternative to traditional lighting, it isn’t suitable for every project. At Acrospire, we promote solar honesty, encouraging specifiers to evaluate solar solutions and their manufacturers critically. We have designed a Solar HonestyTM campaign to educate and empower decision-makers to make informed choices aligned with environmental and budgetary goals. Learn more about our campaign and how we can help you make the best decision for your project, here. 

Three best use cases 

Today, there are many suitable applications for solar lights, including car parks, walkways, cycleways, bus stops and shelters, and conservation areas. Here are three of the most successful deployment areas, each with a case study to illustrate their effectiveness: 

#1 Temporary lighting 

Solar street lighting is an excellent solution for temporary or essential works lighting. Solar lights, using redeployable solutions such as the below concrete blocks, can be installed quickly without the need for a mains connection, providing immediate illumination. This flexibility is beneficial for essential work or emergency repairs.

Read about our work on the Gaza Street Project, here > 

#2 Parks and pathways 

Solar lighting greatly benefits parks and pathways, enhancing safety and usability after dark. These areas often lack the infrastructure for traditional lighting, making solar a cost-effective and quick solution.

Check out our collaboration with Tower Hamlets Council 

#3 Housing developments 

Solar lighting is ideal for housing developments, providing a sustainable and reliable lighting solution. It’s cost-effective, aesthetically pleasing, and meets the high standards of new housing projects.

Learn more about our work with Linden Homes Estate 

Your Solar Buying Checklist 

Choosing the right solar street lighting can dramatically reduce installation costs but requires careful consideration. Here’s what to look for: 

  • Solar Panel: Check panel power (Watts), size (M²), and efficiency (%). Higher values generally mean better performance. 
  • Solar Irradiance: Know the solar power available in your location. Reliable manufacturers should provide this data. 
  • Battery: Look at capacity (Ah or Wh), voltage, type (Lithium-Ion, LiFePo4, Gel AGM), and warranty. 
  • Charge Controller: Ensure it has programmable on/off times, dimming options, and remote control features like IoT functionality. 
  • Autonomy: The ability of a solar lighting system to operate independently and sustainably by the battery alone, at a set power, without any further solar input. It is calculated through a simple formula: Battery Capacity/Usage. You need to be reassured that the lights can work for the hours you need, without back up power. 

Gathering this information will help you make an informed decision and ensure you choose a high-quality product. 

Our Solar range 

Explore Acrospire’s range of UK-optimised solar street lighting solutions, a sustainable alternative to traditional mains-powered lighting. As well as streetlighting solutions, our range includes vandal-resistant under-shelter solar lights, perfect for covered walkways, airports, and bus shelters. Each product is designed with specific features and benefits to meet different lighting needs. Please view our full range here: 

Ready to explore the benefits of solar lighting for your project? Contact us today for more information or to discuss your project needs. Let’s work together to bring sustainable lighting solutions to your community.