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Here’s the Skinny on Solar Christmas Lights

By: Alyson McNutt English

Published: December 1, 2011

They’re low-hassle (and free to use!) but not always so bright.

In the last few years, energy-efficient LED holiday lights have largely replaced more wattage-thirsty incandescent strings, resulting in significant savings — LED lights use 50% less energy than their incandescent predecessors, and they last up to 10 times longer as well.

Now there’s solar Christmas lights that promise grid-free festive lighting. Should you switch? Here’s how to know:

Solar Lights Set Up Easy

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 a few hours after the sun goes down. But if you don’t get much sun, and with the shorter days, you could see only an hour or so.

Cost to Purchase Is About the Same

Pricing for solar-powered and plug-in LED holiday lights runs neck and neck. Compare purchase prices:
•A 100-light string of miniature solar-powered LED lights costs about $10 and up.
•A 100-light string of miniature plug-in LED lights costs about $10 and up.

Compare costs to operate:
•Operating a string of plug-in LED holiday lights for 300 hours — more than enough time for an entire holiday season — costs about 24 cents, using an average energy cost of 12 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh).
•Solar-powered Christmas lights, of course, don’t cost anything to operate. That means you’re saving 24 cents per year in energy costs.

3 Other Advantages Solar Lights Have
•Withstand cold temperatures and precipitation
•Zero cost to operate
•Green option

2 Disadvantages Solar Christmas Lights Have
•May not operate under cloudy skies
•Unproven longevity (too new on the market for reliable results)