Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Let My Little Light Shine: Going Solar

In our neighborhood, almost every house has a gas lantern out in front.  Most of these lanterns either have been converted to electricity or turned off: We were one of the last  houses with a working gas lantern. Or it did until about a month ago when it quit working. That's not too bad for an appliance (I suppose that's what you'd call it) that is 43 years old. Anyhow, I found out that it would cost about $300 to have it fixed  or to have it converted to electricity (I do not mess with gas or electricity).  I also found out that the darned thing burned $9.00 worth of gas a month as it sat there merrily chewing through cubic foot upon cubic foot of gas 24/7/365.

Then I stumbled on another alternative and that is solar. I could get a solar-powered lantern head that would go right on the existing pole and cost about $100. I have to say that I have thought solar-powered whatevers were very cool for a long time, from the solar-powered water heaters to arrays that power the entire house, but think that they are not quite ready for widespread use. This is my English major opinion about a complex scientific and technical issue, but I think the technology needs more time, just like a real electric car. (Prius owners, please do not throw batteries at me.) But a solar-powered lantern seemed different. The  one I got has 18 LED bulbs (and eight rechargeable AA batteries) and seemed promising.  Besides, an operating cost of $0.00 appealed to me.

Some people I talked to were not impressed with outdoor solar lights, finding them weak and not durable. I took off the gas lantern (some serious metal there), put the one I bought onto the pole in front of our house and waited while it charged for a couple of days. I thought about the guy who put a full solar electricity system on his house and was bragging about it to a neighbor who said, "What do you do when it rains?" (Use the batteries?)  I also thought about the International Space Station which has huge solar arrays, but then I remembered that it doesn't rain in space. (Pretty good observation for an English major, I think.)

Since the lantern has a light sensor that turns it on at dusk, I had to wait for dark to fall to switch it on. Shazam! It threw a respectable light which perfectly filled in the dark space along the sidewalk that the porch light didn't reach. The light was whiter than an incandescent, but it is better to light a single solar lantern than curse the darkness.  Whatever that means.

So, in a small way, I feel like I've gone solar. We'll see how it works out. I have to add cleaning the solar panels on top of the lantern to my maintenance tasks. I'd like to hear about anyone else's experience with solar power. There's a lot of free sunlight out there waiting to be harvested, even if we don't live in space.


  1. Hey Dan, I just found your blog and have had such fun reading the past weeks worth. Who needs that ole 'News Messenger' anyway when we can have your super journalism right here on line.
    Thanks so much for doing this!

  2. Thanks, Hannah! It was good to see you and Allan yesterday. I appreciate your kind words!