blog 02 februart 2020

Lighting and powering a construction site with off-grid solar

The United States accounts for 10% of annual world construction, with the value of new construction in the US in 2016 forecasted to exceed $1 trillion. Construction site power and lighting are key elements that make this economic behemoth go.

With an average of around 800,000 monthly Google searches over the last year in the US relating to construction site power and another 1.7 million searches centered on construction site lighting, it is clear managers are looking for ways to get power and lighting to their operations. California alone accounts for nearly 14% of these totals according to Google Adwords.

Traditionally, construction sites will use either grid power, or if the grid isn’t set up, is unavailable or the site is off-grid, they will bring in a gas or diesel generator for power and diesel light towers for lighting.

However, preferences are changing rapidly as both customers and construction businesses look for ways to be more sustainable during the building process. Part of this shift comes from the knowledge of how much emissions a fossil fuel-based generator or light tower produces when used on a regular basis.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, gas and diesel electricity are the dirtiest forms widely available. They emit an average of 1.8 pounds per kilowatt-hour of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas released from human activity, compared to 1.36 lbs/kWh for the US grid electricity average, 0.7 for California, and zero for solar.

Emissions containment has been one of the key issues that has caused green building practices (green building includes both the structure and process of construction) to soar in the US. The US Green Building Council estimates that approximately 45% of new nonresidential construction in 2015 is green. Meanwhile, more than half of construction firms building residential homes complete around 15% of their projects green, with this figure expected to be 84% in 2018.

The rise of energy efficient tools and LED lighting contributes greatly to the ability for construction sites to move away from the traditional, fossil-fuel based power and lighting options. In specific terms, high-frequency power tools can reduce energy usage by up to 80%. Meanwhile, the expanded use of lithium-ion batteries in hand-held work tools has pushed usage lengths longer, reducing charging times and, thus, decreasing energy usage.

Further reducing energy usage is the availability of LED spot and floodlights for area lighting. The LED floodlights, in particular, allow for alternative energy-based light towers and light poles. The spectrum, distance, brightness and price of these LEDs are comparable or better to traditional halogen bulbs, with significantly reduced wattage draws.

The best onsite power option to help green builders be more sustainable is solar. Solar is the cheapest and most efficient alternative energy available. Furthermore, the market continues to grow as solar component prices fall, technology evolves and demand shifts.


The main regulations that are pushing demand for solar power and lighting at construction sites are noise ordinances and emission standards.
Gas/diesel generators and light towers can be quite noisy, producing prohibited usage or requiring permits. This makes the solar alternatives a viable option to meet the needs that arise from these regulations. As solar generators and solar light towers are silent in their operation, construction managers can extend working hours without disturbance to the community.

Noise ordinances are generally setup in city jurisdictions to appease residents and businesses. Across California and the more progressive US states and cities, these ordinances have been popping up more frequently.

Los Angeles, for example, has specific hours that construction can happen. San Francisco, comparatively, allows construction at all times, provided it falls within an acceptable noise range. If the noise exceeds these levels, permits are required.

To compound this, implementation and regulation of ordinances has become much stricter over the las two years as cities like San Diego devote whole divisions of their Development Services department to noise complaints.

The other regulation pushing demand for solar generators and light towers is that of emission caps.

A 2002 Journal of Construction Engineering and Management paper titled, “Environmental Implications of Construction Site Energy Use and Electricity Generation,” showed that gas and diesel electricity accounted for the majority of power generation at every type of construction site, as well as approximately 60% of the the total electricity used in all construction.

The same paper suggests that, should air emission regulation standards get tougher, gas/diesel generator and light tower engine efficiency would have to increase dramatically or new options for power generation would have to be sought out.

We know that this is in fact the case as, since 2007, the US Environmental Protection Agency has continually strengthened emissions standards for gas/diesel generators and light towers. These measures render old equipment useless, raise costs and push contractors towards alternative power options.

Off-Grid Construction

The number of people living without access to the grid in the USA has risen consistently over the last 20 years. Growth in off-gird living averaged 33% annually from 1996 to 2006, rising to 180,000 unique families living full time of the grid according to Home Power Magazine. While exact figures are hard to come by, recent reports by publications like Real Estate Weekly suggest these numbers continue to swell.

Using these figures and growth rates, an estimated 2.3 million families would currently be living off-grid.

Confirming these statistics, there are around five million homes located off-grid based on US Census Bureau 2013 household figures minus 2013 US Energy Information Administration household electricity customers. When using average household size (2.63) we get approximately 2 million off-grid families.

Options are limited for construction power and lighting with gas/diesel generators and light towers the traditional go-to. However, solar has also become a big player, offering an alternative energy option for off-grid building as customers wish to move away from fossil-fuels, a pronounced preference for people living off-grid.

On a global scale, off-grid construction is vast. In developed countries with remote areas unable to be served by the grid like Australia, Norway and Turkey, the sector is worth a lot. Then there is the developing countries, where 1.5 billion or around 20% of the world’s population lives off-grid according to

SolSolutions Position

SolSolutions is positioned well to meet the demands of the market. The SolMan line of portable solar generators and solar light towers are direct substitutes for the gas and diesel versions. They operate clean and silent, with little maintenance costs.

The SolMan line has been tested in the field providing power and lighting for construction at 2013’s Stanford Start.Home entry into the Solar Decathlon. These units have also supplied power and lighting for event setup and operation across the West Coast for three years running.

SolMan solar generators and light towers are available for sale, with units custom designed to customer specifications. They are also available as part of our Sustainable Event Services package, where we bring units onsite, set them up and manage or train a contractor to manage their usage.

Further enhancing our portfolio is our custom solar designs and solar outdoor lighting systems. Whether its temporary lighting for a construction site or power for security cameras in high profile building areas, SolSolutions has you covered.

Why Solar vs. Diesel for Construction Site Lighting?

With lower cost rentals and initial outlays for the purchase of diesel-powered light towers, the traditional equipment seems to have a leg up on Solar. However, the final bill for the diesel units can push towards or exceed the solar variants, depending on a number of factors.

In terms of purchase, initial outlays for diesel light towers are lower than for SolMan Tower of Power solar LED light towers. Once usage begins though, operating costs spike for diesel and remain very low for solar.

The diesel light towers require fuel and regular maintenance, while solar simply requires timer adjustment and semi-frequent maintenance, mostly in periods of limited sun (SolMan units can be externally charged during these times with the grid or gas generator).

As usage increases with the diesel light towers, total costs rise. According to 2013 figures, once usage of diesel light towers exceeds 1700 hours with in-house refueling or 1200 hours with outsourced refueling ConstructionSitePowerAndLighting 12(delivery companies charge higher rates for fuel, plus travel), diesel light towers become more expensive to own and operate than the SolMan Falcon solar light tower.

With regards to rentals, pricing is dynamic and based on the length of the rental, but, for instance, with weekly rates, using a diesel light tower 52 hours (around seven hours a day) in a week brings it to parity with the rental cost of one SolMan Falcon.

Nevertheless, these costs fail to account for the added benefits using solar light towers versus diesel light towers brings. Namely, noise and emissions are cut completely. This ensures the equipment can be placed right at the site it is needed, without work disturbance.

Upcoming Events

SolSolutions is looking to get involved in events as we open back up from shelter-in-place. If you need on-site solar power or lighting, please contact us today!

COVID-19 Update

SolSolutions is working hard during these trying times to provide customers with the best off-grid solar power, battery backup, and portable LED lighting solutions. Whether it is for purchase or rental, give us a call today to discuss your needs! We love hearing from you and keeping in contact as we all progress towards a better future. We wish everyone health, saftey and happiness!


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