Question: It’s that time of year again—the days are getting shorter, and I’m thinking about trying to illuminate the exterior of my restaurant without spending a bundle on electricity. Are solar outdoor lights a good choice for Canadian restaurants?

Answer: Good for you for wanting to conserve electricity, and kudos for investigating solar-powered outdoor lighting.

Solar exterior lighting—not so great for winter

Unfortunately, solar outdoor lighting isn’t the best choice for exterior illumination during the winter, especially in areas—like parking lots—that need bright light.

That’s because solar outdoor lights work best when they’re exposed to a full day of sunlight—and in Canada, we have to deal with a double whammy of short days and bad weather, which make solar lights, at best, an inconsistent option for outdoor lighting. (In fact, many solar light manufacturers recommend you bring your solar lights in during the winter, to avoid getting them damaged by bad weather.)

Summer options for solar outdoor lighting

That’s not to say you can’t use solar lighting outdoors at your restaurant in the summer—there are lots of options for ambient lighting, from simple garden lamps to light strings, that would work well on a patio once the days get longer.

More extensive parking-lot illumination systems are also available from a variety of manufacturers, although these tend to be better-suited to corporate and retail complexes, rather than individual facilities.

Candles won’t cut it

Don’t think that candlelight is a good alternative to electric light, either. Although candles are important for creating a romantic, intimate dining atmosphere, they won’t save you money.

That’s because it takes at least 40 candles to produce the illumination one lightbulb provides—and when you factor in the cost of constantly replacing candles (plus the soot and potential toxins you’re releasing into the air), they’re not an energy-efficient substitute for electric light.

Here’s how to cut lighting costs

So what’s the best thing you can do to save on lighting costs? Replace your incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent or LED bulbs. That’s the easiest, most cost-effective investment you can make in reducing your electricity consumption and lowering your energy costs. (You can get help with paying for a lighting upgrade, too: for example, check out this retrofit incentive from HydroOne.)

And hey—lighting’s not the only place you can cut energy expenses. If you’re looking to save on energy costs this winter, check out our seven winter energy-saving tips.

Do you use solar power at your restaurant? What’s your experience been like? Share your story in the comments section.

Image credit: cogdogblog