Solar-powered LED streetlights used to be specified primarily where grid-tied lighting wasn’t practical or economical: parks and trails, perimeter security, college and corporate campuses that didn’t want to disrupt existing landscaping or pavement, and developing countries with little or no electrical infrastructure.

But as batteries get better, LED efficiency increases, and solar panel prices fall, alternatively powered lighting is being chosen even when traditional lighting is possible.

Over the last 20 years, cities including Atlanta, Houston, Kansas City, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Tucson have added photovoltaic panels and rechargeable gel cell deep cycle or lead acid batteries to specifications for new streetlights. Although the batteries will have to be replaced over the fixture’s multiple-decade lifespan, solar-powered lighting is a pollution-free way to deter crime without paying more for electricity.

For example:

Many communities in Hidalgo County, Texas, near the Mexican border couldn’t afford streetlighting when they were built. To lower gang violence and vagrancy without increasing residents’ utility bills, the county installed 30 solar-paneled streetlights.

  • In 2010, the City of New Haven, Conn., used a $45,000 Department of Energy stimulus grant to install solar-powered lights on a bridge known for muggings and assaults. Crime rates on the structure, which connects major pedestrian throughways, are down.
  • The City of Austin, Texas, wanted to revitalize a stagnant downtown area that had become a hub for gang violence. To increase security, the architectural firm retained to reimagine Waller Creek illuminated a pedestrian bridge with solar power.

All three worked with Sol Inc. of Stuart, Fla., North America’s largest solar lighting provider and manufacturer.

Next page: Multiple savings with solar