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Solar Christmas Lights: Should You Make the Switch?

Published: December 1, 2011
Solar Christmas lights don´t cost anything to operate, but the high purchase price might not add up to savings.

Christmas Lights
In the last few years, energy-efficient LED Christmas lights have largely replaced more wattage-thirsty incandescent strings, resulting in significant savings — LED lights use 70% less energy than their incandescent predecessors, and they last up to 10 times longer as well.

Now there´s a new kid in the string-light neighborhood: LED solar Christmas lights are appearing at retailers around the country, promising grid-free festive lighting for holiday-happy consumers.

Powering up solar Christmas lights

A string of solar Christmas lights uses a small solar panel for power; there are no extension cords that must be plugged into outlets. The panel — about the size of a hockey puck — powers rechargeable batteries that illuminate a 25- to 100-bulb string of LED lights.

Panels come with small stakes so you can put them in the ground, where they can take advantage of the sun. A fully-charged string of lights should glow for 6 to 8 hours after the sun goes down.

Solar lights vs. LED plug-in costs

Most consumers expect new technologies to cost more, but if saving energy and money is your main reason for considering solar-powered LED holiday lights, solar lights may not offer enough cost-saving to offset the higher initial purchase price.

Compare purchase prices:
  • The average cost for a 100-light string of miniature solar-powered LED lights is about $0.30 per bulb, or about $30 per string.
  • The average cost for a 100-light string of miniature plug-in LED lights is $0.08 per bulb, or about $8 per string.
Compare costs to operate:
  • Operating a string of plug-in LED Christmas lights for 300 hours — more than enough hours for an entire holiday season — costs about $0.30, using an average energy cost of $0.11 per kilowatt hour.
  • Solar-powered Christmas lights, of course, don´t cost anything to operate. That means you´re saving 30 cents per year in energy costs.
Do the math, and you´ll see that it´ll take about 45 years for the energy savings from solar-power to equal the difference in purchase price between a plug-in string and a solar-powered string.

Advantages of solar lights
  • no extension cords
  • no need for exterior electrical outlets
  • withstand cold temperatures and precipitation
  • zero cost to operate
  • light output comparable to plug-in lighting
  • a green option
  • higher initial cost to purchase
  • may not operate under cloudy skies
  • unproven longevity (too new on the market for results)

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