Solar-powered LED lights. Yawn. Seen them everywhere: home improvement stores, fuelling stations, supermarkets, pound stores and don't even talk to me about eBay (3,200 listings when I checked).
In theory, solar-powered LED lights make a lot of sense. LEDs consume very little power so even a small solar panel can keep enough charge in a couple of AA batteries to keep the LEDs lit for a few hours at a time. Millions of solar-powered LEDs are sold each year: for garden lights, shed lights, camping lights, decorative lights. Even that old favourite playground joke of a solar-powered torch is now a serious product. I myself have three different types of solar LED light in the garden. I don't need to run mains cables everywhere, I don't need to worry about turning them on and off, they provide enough light to do the job.What's not sensible and sustainable about that?
Whilst the large scale picture seems simple and easy, once you start looking a little closer things get more difficult. LEDs are complicated. Photovoltaic panels are complicated. Batteries are complicated. Sticking them all together to get the best combination, well, you've guessed it. It's complicated.
There are ultraviolet LEDs, RGB LEDs, Phosphor-based LEDs, Organic LEDs (OLEDs), miniature LEDs, high power LEDs. AMOLEDs produce the best screens for mobile devices. You can now buy LED replacement bulbs for most domestic light fittings, and certainly that's going to be a huge market in years to come. But perhaps the best use for LED lighting is in the developing world. LEDs are robust, reliable, easy to manufacture (although not necessarily easy to manufacture well) and can last upwards of 20,000 hours usage. In the developed world, we worry about what temperature of light our light bulbs give out. In much of the developing world any chance to see anything after the sun has set is a huge step forwards.
It is for this market that SEC have primarily developed their AnyWhere range of solar-powered lights. The one I am going to review here is the AWL240-1 Solar Powered Light Kit. It includes a decent sized Photovoltaic panel, the AnyWhere light itself, terminal hub / junction box, 2 x 4.8 meter electric cable with simple twist-fit connections. The AnyWhere light is by far the most complicated component, composing not only the super efficient LED’s and three position dimmable switch but also high performance Lithium Ion battery with energy storage and management system.
Looking over the packaging, the first thing to strike me was the performance figures. They’re actually given, and in much detail with actual units of measurement. Not “lasts up to 3 hours on a single charge” but “At switch position 2, the light output will be 120 Lumens consuming 4 kJ/h and will last about 15 hours” the LED lights will last more than 10 years down to 75% of original brilliance.
Then I rewound a little. At position 1, the light produces 240 Lumens about the same as a mains powered 40 watt bulb. At full charge the AnyWhere light can produce those 240 Lumens for about 7.5 hours with a life expectancy, if used for 6 hours per day, of 9 years. That’s a lot of useful light, bright enough light to light a room well enough to read and write.
How long does the battery take to reach full charge? According to the packaging, about 4.5 hours of sun per day. That's not unrealistic, even in quite temperate climates.
This is a completely stand-alone lighting solution. There's nothing you need to replace, refill or reload. Just leave the solar panel out in the sun and it will recharge the battery for you. Then, when you need the light turn it on. When you've finished, turn it off. That's the beauty of the AnyWhere lights: really useful light in a really simple package.
Another nice touch with the AnyWhere lights is the modularity. Through the use of the terminal hub, you can mix and match the components to arrive at the most suitable lighting solution for your house. These kits are available as:
1 x AWL240-1 Kit = 1 Light 1 Solar panel, 1 hub and 2 x 4.8 meter cable
2 x AWL240-2 Kit = 2 Light 1 Solar panel, 1 hub and 3 x 4.8 meter cable
3 x AWL240-3 Kit = 3 Light 1 Solar panel, 1 hub and 4 x 4.8 meter cable
4 x AWL240-2 Kit = 4 Light 1 Solar panel, 2 hub and 5 x 4.8 meter cable
With the Solar panel being left in the sun all day all the lights will be fully charged by nightfall.
If you were to run a 40 watt incandescent bulb for 6 hours a day for 9 years, that’d cost you roughly £90 (with out the cost of the bulbs). That pretty much the retail cost of a single AnyWhere Light kit. So, the cost is comparable with current mainstream with the bonus that with the AnyWhere light you end up with a high quality Solar panel with a life expectancy of 20-25 years, thus you could reasonably hypothesise that using AnyWhere lights will be cheaper over the long term.
Of course, many light bulbs sold these days are compact florescent (CFL) or LED rather than incandescent bulbs, so one must take that cost comparison loosely. However, it’s still pretty impressive that such a new and totally renewable lighting solution is fairly comprisable with today’s technology.
Assume 1 watt of electricity = £1 per year in electricity bills – currently about right for the UK.
40 watt x 0.25 years = £10 /year to run a 40 watt light bulb for 6 hours per day for a year
So £10 per year x 9 years = £90
AnyTime UPS Lighting Kit (Sister product)
There is a sister product called the AnyTime UPS Lighting Kit where a mains powered AC / DC 18 volt charger is used in place of the Solar panel. This light kit is designed to be used where ever the electricity is unreliable and or subject to frequent outage. The light is the same as used in the LED AnyWhere light but uses less than 10% of the electricity used by a 40 watt incandescent light thus reducing the household cost of lighting your house by 90% and is always available to provide light for up to 10 hours in a power outage.
There are two sizes of AnyTime UPS lighting kit equivalent to 40 & 80 watt incandescent bulb:
1 x ATL240-1 Kit = 1 Light, 1 AC / DC 18 volt 1 amp charger, 1 hub and 1 x 4.8 meter cable
1 x ATL240-2 Kit = 2 Light, 1 AC / DC 18 volt 1 amp charger, 1 hub and 2 x 4.8 meter cable
1 x ATL240-3 Kit = 3 Light, 1 AC / DC 18 volt 1 amp charger, 1 hub and 3 x 4.8 meter cable
1 x ATL240-4 Kit = 4 Light, 1 AC / DC 18 volt 1 amp charger, 1 hub and 4 x 4.8 meter cable
1 x ATL480-1 Kit = 1 Light, 1 AC / DC 18 volt 1 amp charger, 1 hub and 1 x 4.8 meter cable
1 x ATL480-2 Kit = 2 Light, 1 AC / DC 18 volt 1 amp charger, 1 hub and 2 x 4.8 meter cable
Note the ATL480-1 gives the same light output as an 80 watt incandescent bulb.
I'd like to know how recyclable the kits are? How reliant on resources that aren't highly available from environmentally-sympathetic sources. How easy is it to e.g. replace a battery or LED set? Or is the strategy to simply swap out whole components? What is the end-of-life strategy for consumers? I don't know any of the answers to these questions, but I'd feel reassured about the sustainability of the product if I did.
My one major suggestion for improvement? A USB power socket either on the terminal hub or the lamp itself. That way, the units could be used to charge a wide range of electronics such as mobile phones as well as providing lighting. USB is such a wonderfully universal connector that it seems a shame to miss that opportunity. Maybe in the second iteration?
I’m impressed with this product. Very impressed. The bottom line with any product is performance, and these things just perform. Thanks to excellent design, the kits match technologies together that complement each other and combine to offer incredible efficiency and flexibility. The world needs technology like this to tackle some of the critical and fundamental gaps in peoples’ standards of living. For me, this light will make the best camping light ever, and make me the envy of the campsite. For an Indonesian family, it could mean the difference between children being literate or not.
Stop Press - Latest Minute Development
SEC have just announced the availability of a mobile (cell) phone charger that plugs into the hub with built in battery charged by the Solar panel
Disclaimer: SEC is associated with LowCarbonEconomy.com, a company with which I am associated. But, I have no direct link with SEC and the facts and opinions in this post are honest and true to the best of my knowledge.