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Exploring The Options of Solar Indoor Lighting

Outdoor options in solar lighting have been around long enough to become quite familiar to solar energy aficionados. Flood lights, security lights, path lights, and garden lights that harvest the hidden power of the sun’s rays require little care or attention once installed, and the perpetual illumination they provide in driveways, yards, walkways, and outdoor play areas has made them a favorite among those who appreciate great off-the-grid-style technologies wherever they can find them.

Now, some excellent solar-powered lighting options for indoor settings have started to hit the market as well, making things easier for people looking to integrate solar into their lifestyle to the maximum extent possible. Additionally, some clever methods to capture and use the sun’s natural light are also starting to draw the attention of do-it-yourselfers, many of whom are determined to improve upon the old “south-facing window” approach to bringing solar illumination indoors.

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General Purpose Solar-Powered Lighting

Multipurpose indoor solar lights are versatile enough to be deployed in many different locations – homes, garages, offices, patios, workspaces, basements, etc. These lights are not necessarily known for their aesthetic attractiveness, but they are a highly functional option for anyone who wants to bring more light into darkened interiors. Many of the multipurpose lights that have come on the market recently feature high-quality LED bulbs which can run rings around incandescents and fluorescents in the longevity department. Multipurpose solar lights come with solar panels that can be installed outdoors on rooftops, and because these types of lights are so sharply efficient the panels required are actually quite small and unobtrusive.

Solar lamps that resemble camping lights are another indoor possibility. These types of lights have attached mini-solar panels that can collect a charge after sitting out in the sun for awhile during the daytime, and they can then be hung up or set on tables or shelves to provide illumination to modest sized indoor spaces during the evening hours. They also work well as reading lights or as night lights, and they would be perfect for camping trips or summer nights spent relaxing out on the patio or in the gazebo.

One of the drawbacks of solar lamps is that their supply of available light even when fully charged is often limited to no more than two or three hours. But there is a lot of buzz in the industry right now about a new type of solar lamp that could make this problem a thing of the past. Designed by Belgian designer Alain Gillies, the Nomad Solar Lamp from O’Sun can last up to 35 hours on a single charge if set at 15% power, and even when used on its most intense setting the Nomad can provide good strong light for up to six hours before it will need to be put back out into the sun for re-charging.  The Nomad features a built-in 5-watt solar panel, two lithium-ion batteries, and 12 long-lasting LED bulbs contained within a sleek and stylized plastic shell made to withstand rough handling and heavy use.

Primarily, the Nomad has been designed to meet the needs of those living in developing countries who need a safe and reliable alternative to propane. There have been many fires and a number of deaths by asphyxiation connected to this highly toxic and combustible fuel, which is commonly used as a source of both power and light by poor people everywhere around the world. This new state-of-the-art solar lamp will be available for retail purchase in September 2012, and in addition to its utility for people living in poorer parts of the world it could also offer exciting possibilities for off-the-grid solar enthusiasts right here in the US.

Techniques For Natural Light Enhancement

Passive solar design can bring sunlight far enough into interior spaces to provide abundant natural illumination in many instances. However, a few inventive souls have come up with ingenuous ways to enhance the effectiveness of natural light captured from the sun, and these techniques deserve closer scrutiny by those looking for affordable and convenient lighting options.

Light shelves could be a good addition to the home of any natural light buff. These square planes of shiny aluminum help diffuse sunlight more broadly in rooms with access to south-facing windows. Running horizontally at a 90 degree angle to those windows, light shelves intercept sunlight as it enters the room and bounce it off the ceiling. Ceiling panels are generally coated with a reflective material to increase the efficiency of this process, and the result is a scattered pattern of illumination that lights a room more evenly and completely. To set up a good angle of reflection, light shelves are generally mounted about seven feet above the ground, which is high enough to prevent anyone from accidentally running into them – unless of course a professional basketball player should happen to be paying a visit.  Light shelves are available for sale commercially, but determined home inventors could certainly find the materials they would need to make their own light shelves and mounting equipment without too much difficulty.

Heliostatic schemes are another possibility that could appeal to many DIYers. Heliostatic set-ups use an array of movable mirrors to track and reflect light through windows and into rooms, and a well-designed heliostatic system can be used as a source for broadly-distributed indoor illumination. A few commercially manufactured heliostatic mirror arrays are being used on various large-scale building and development projects around the world, but for use on smaller scales it will be up to industrious DIYers to figure things out on their own. Fortunately, plans for creating heliostatic mirror arrays for home use are out there and can be found on the internet, and while these projects are a bit complex this approach to redirecting the sun’s emanations to provide quality interior natural lighting represents a promising and intriguing option.

For those who like to keep their do-it-yourself projects within a reasonable budget, plastic solar light bulbs could be just the ticket. To make one of these incredibly simple natural light transmitters, the only materials you will need are a 32-ounce or one liter plastic bottle filled with a mix of water and chlorine bleach, and a small square piece of corrugated metal roofing material. A circular hole that is a little smaller than the diameter of the bottle will need to be cut into the corrugated metal, and then a series of tabs will need to be cut in around the circumference of the hole so that when the bottle is pushed up through the tabs will bend backward and hold the bottle snugly in place. With its top section facing the sky, the bottle will be inserted into another circular hole cut in the roof of the structure that is to be supplied with natural light, and the corrugated metal will then be fastened down to keep the whole arrangement in place. So when the installation of the plastic solar light bulb is complete, what you will see from the inside of the building is the bottom of a water-filled plastic bottle suddenly popping out of the ceiling, looking to all the world as if it had crashed through the roof after being dropped from an airplane at about 10,000 feet.

The water inside of these home-made solar light bulbs will diffract the sun’s rays as they strike and spread them more widely throughout the room, providing excellent indoor illumination to previously darkened spaces. Because of their ability to scatter and redirect light, plastic solar light bulbs really do glow just exactly like a normal incandescent bulb would if it were connected to the grid and drawing power – and hence the name, plastic solar light bulb. Needless to say, a person could install as many of these cheap faux light bulbs over a single space as they wished to, provided of course they did not mind drilling holes in the roof of the structure they were illuminating.

This is another idea that has caught the attention of those concerned about helping people living in poor countries, and a non-profit organization called My Shelter Foundation is sponsoring a campaign to install hand-made plastic solar light bulbs in the roofs of one million homes and other buildings throughout the city of Manila in the Philippines.

Letting The Sunshine In

Our sun bathes the planet in copious amounts of heat and light every second of every day, and our ability to capture or redirect this energy for our own use is probably only limited by our imaginations and the scope of our vision. As we have seen, even the walls that we build around us to shelter and protect us from the forces of nature do not have to prevent us from fully utilizing this source of limitless energy.

Commercially, indoor solar lighting is a growth industry that offers rapidly-expanding choices for the discriminating buyer. Meanwhile, do-it-yourself’ers should have a blast experimenting with some of the really inventive natural lighting systems and techniques that have been created by enterprising folks all across the globe.

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  1. Thank you for this post! This year is my first experience with solar outdoor lighting. I was quite surprised at how much light they actually put out, especially for around $5 each. I look at solar options for indoors, and just can’t afford it at this time. Then one day, I brought a few of those outddoor lights inside, and turned off all the lights! Not like turning the lights back on, but certainly an option when and if disaster strikes. My husband drilled holes in blocks of wood to put the “stick” part into, and I’ve been wanting to go back and get more at the home center. Now I will look into the wonderful ideas you mention, that I haven’t had time to look up.
    Love your Off The Grid News letter, and have learned so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Sincerely, Nancy

  2. If you will look for an “off” switch on the solar path lights, you can charge them outside in the sun, then turn them off and store charged. I get solar lights when they are on clearance, charge them, and place them inside to be used when necessary. Also, I simply turn one over so it sits on the solar panel, and don’t need anything to hold the stick. Another thing to watch for is replaceable batteries. I found that some take a standard rechargeable AA battery, cost about $1 at Big Lots, maybe a bit more at WalMart. some of the smaller ones, however, require a shorter AA battery, hard to find and much more expensive. The batteries they come with last a bit less than a year with daily charging and use, so I’ve tried to have replacement batteries on hand. I used these recently during a power outage, and 1-2 provided plenty of light for safe-passage from room to room . I used a book light for reading, though one of the directional solar lights might have been ok for that — don’t know.

  3. I will stick with the solar garden lights and check out the Nomad. A friend of mine has been living without electricity this year using ‘thrown-away’ garden lights. The on/off switch is great but you can also set the autos up as pairs (or triplets) so light from first one keeps the 2nd off until 1st one dims.
    Batteries and corrosion are the weak links. Many old non-functioning lights I’ve disassembled most have bad connections or batteries while the panels and electronics are still good.
    Only rooms in my house without light during the day is the centrally located bathroom and the pantry (when the doors are closed). I cannot see myself investing in the Light Shelf, Heliostatic or putting holes in my ceiling unless I decide to live in a basement and even then I would rather install a remote solar panel on my roof.


    Every little bit helps. I am in the process of trying to get people of the grid entirely. I don’t think people realize just how important it is and how easy it can be.

  5. Magnificent points altogether, you simply received a brand new reader. What might you recommend in regards to your put up that you just made some days in the past? Any sure?

  6. Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m inspired! Extremely helpful information particularly the last section 🙂 I deal with such info a lot. I used to be looking for this certain info for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  7. How many of you wish you could operate all the lights in your home or office free of charge? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all your indoor lights could be solar powered but still look and operate just like an electrically powered fixture? Isn’t it time to get off the grid and cut your utility bills in half or better still, to zero? This is the dream of many however no such product exists. Until now that it. Solar Illuminations if the first company in the world to develop and introduce an extensive collection of solar indoor lights and lighting fixtures. They are identical to electrically powered lights and their output is the same. One big difference however. They cost nothing to operate because they are solar powered. You choose an appropriate system for your needs. Then you simply choose the light fixtures you want and they attach to the system. Each light fixture even comes with its own LED bulb. They offer dozens of different light fixtures to select from. It takes years of research, innovation and technical know-how. And that’s just what the Florida based company Solar Illuminations is all about. Here is a link to the appropriate page at their web site…

  8. I would like even my home to like that. but it’s really a innovative way of save energy and money.


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