In a lot of African countries, installing solar street lights has been a viable option for lighting up the roads. So what fuels the growth? And what do decision-makers need to be aware of when purchasing solar street lights.
Why are solar street lights becoming increasingly popular?
One of the biggest advantages of a solar street light is that it doesn’t need any other power supply equipment. So, the local government doesn’t need to worry about the installation of other complex equipment. In addition, it is easier to install and does not require complex wiring.
Secondly, the total long-term cost of having solar street lights is less than running traditional street lights, due to the continuous decline in the cost of battery and solar energy technology. The electricity cost saved by solar street lights is enough to offset the initial cost of installing them.
Thirdly, solar street lights, being low-voltage products, are safer than high-voltage electric street lights. Interestingly, that’s exactly the reason that solar street lights are recommended to be used in oil fields, mines, remote gas stations, the chemical industry, and other places with high safety requirements.
So, what’s the catch then?
Unfortunately, there are now mixed suppliers in the solar street lights industry, both good and bad.
To get more business, some greedy manufacturers produce low-quality products with shoddy standard parameters, causing a large number of performance issues which lead to many people opting for electric street lights instead of solar street light products.
Some customers lost faith in Chinese products. They think that Chinese products break easily. Here’re some of the “horror stories” I’ve personally known over the years.
Story-1: Solar street light project in Bangladesh on fire:
A Bangladeshi distributor recently complained to the reporters that a batch of split solar street lights which he bought from Zhongshan City, China, caught fire after installation within only 1 year.
To make matters worse, the manufacturer could no longer be found. His clients were very angry with him and would no longer trust him and his reputation which he had maintained for a very long time was destroyed.
He reported that he lost a lot of money, but to compensate his customers and regain his reputation, he must find a high-quality manufacturer instead of employing the cheap ones like he used to.
So what went wrong? From the screenshots of the chat, it can be seen that:
After disassembly, he found recycled ternary li-ion lithium battery and dilapidated circuit board
The specifications of solar panels written by the manufacturer is 280WP and battery 90Ah, but after the disassembly, it can be seen that the actual solar panel is only 50W and battery 10Ah.
It can be seen from the run-down appearance that the battery used is not the lithium iron phosphate battery claimed by the manufacturer, but a left-over disassembled ternary lithium battery (cell 18650, 3.7V, 2.6Ah).
Furthermore, the 50W solar panel is too large for the 10Ah battery. Either the manufacturer is unprofessional or he purposefully makes the solar panel look larger to scam his customers.
Then why did this distributor buy them in the first place? The answer is simple: it’s cheap.
Story-2: The Iraqi government no longer believes in solar street lights
In 2017, the Iraqi government purchased a batch of low-quality solar street lights from Yangzhou City, and all solar street lights broke within 6 months.
Later, the Iraqi government stopped purchasing solar street light products, and all changed to municipal circuit lights.
Story-3: Spanish solar street light project need after sales of Continuous maintenance
In 2018, a Spanish engineering company purchased 1,700 sets of split solar street lights from a solar street light factory in Xixiang District, Shenzhen city. After a little more than a year of installation, a large number of street lights broke and required constant repairs and maintenance.
Later, the manufacturer also disappeared without taking responsibility.
Story-4: Haiti compensation for losses
1,400 sets of solar street lights were installed on a national highway in Haiti broke down within one year.
When the customer asked the manufacturer to fulfill the warranty commitment, the manufacturer directly blocked the customer and disappeared, which led to the customers developing a negative view of solar street lights.
Story-5: A senior Pakistani official was arrested
In 2015, for Pakistan’s 40,000 sets of solar street lights project, a Pakistani female senior official personally searched for Chinese factories.
A good quality factory quoted a minimum price of 1,300 RMB per unit, but the Pakistani female senior officials demanded 900 RMB per unit, the factory refused as the price was not enough to buy the required materials.
Meanwhile, another factory promised that it could be done for 900 RMB, and even gave the senior woman a “kickback” commission of 200 RMB per unit, leaving the price of solar street light products to only 700 RMB per unit. How was that possible? To cut costs, the supplier used cheap material of poor quality.
It turned out, nearly all 40,000 sets of lamps were broken in less than 6 months. This high-level female official was arrested and has been in jail ever since.
Story-6: The split solar street lights in Mexico flicker frequently:
In the middle of the Mexican highway, several street lights are installed, but every single one of them flickers frequently. The road looks very frightening at night.
The contractor for this project has one year to settle the final payment, but the government refuses to pay for this project since the street lights are defective and don’t work properly.
Conclusion: bad practices of poor-quality solar street light manufacturers
To summarize, buyers need to be aware of these bad practices.
Exaggerating the product specs
The 50W solar panel is marked as 280W, and the 12-15% low conversion efficiency solar panel acts as a 21% high conversion efficiency solar panel.
LED light source 10W is marked as 100W-200W, low-level LED chips pretend to be high-quality LED chips, such as copper wire connection pretending to be gold wire connection, etc. Low luminous efficiency imaginary labeling is high luminous efficiency. The battery 10Ah is marked as 90Ah, the ternary lithium battery is marked as a lithium iron phosphate battery, and the old battery is marked as a new battery. The lead-acid battery is filled with cement.
Inexpensive controllers act as MTTP stabilization controllers, reducing the thickness of the light poles.
Unprofessional service and poor installation instructions
Unprofessionalism and wrong specs affect the solar street lights a lot.
For example, if the pole of the solar street light is kept too high, the light range will be too wide which will result in the light being dull and wasted.
Here’s an example: poor installation instructions were given to customers:
Solar panels shouldn’t be placed under some shades
On the other hand, if the pole is kept too short, the light will be too concentrated and bright. It will also not cover the required area and some spots on the road will be left in the dark.
In addition, if the voltage of the street light is too low, the light will be very dull while if the voltage is too high, it will cause wastage of light, over-brightness and higher bills.
Blocking the customers and disappearing
Fraudulent manufacturers lie to the customers about the lifespan of the product, promising years’ warranty while the product only lasts months. When the product doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to and the customers demand compensation for the damage, these manufacturers would simply disappear.
These manufacturers know that they are scamming the customers but these frauds still tell them the wrong specs to get money from their pockets.
How to pick good suppliers?
However, not all Chinese solar street light products are bad of course.
There is one thing in common among all these stories mentioned above: the buyers all went for astonishing low prices. It might sound like common sense that low prices can’t buy high quality solar street lights, but a lot of buyers still think they might get lucky.
In reality, exceptionally low prices almost always are equal to poor quality solar street lights. Poor quality solar street lights solar street lights make you lose money and you will need continuous after-sales maintenance. Some serious cases also lead to the reputation of the distributor being tarnished and him/her going to jail or paying great sums of money.
It’s a fact that the material used in solar street lights is expensive and the cheap rip-offs can never fulfill the function of high-quality solar street lights.
The distributors should choose a quality solar street light factory they can fully trust and connect with in case they are unsure about something. Doing this is not only a good monetary investment but will also save them a lot of trouble in case they have some concerns or questions regarding the products.
Antonion is a Senior Engineer of solar street light with 10 years industry experience. He’s a manager at Shenzhen Moonlight Technology Co., Ltd., which was established in 2010, has been committed to the research, development, production and sales of solar street lamp series products for many years.