Going off-grid with solar holiday lights

If you’re in the market for new holiday lights, this season may be the right time to think about going solar.

That’s right. Solar-powered, LED holiday lights.

While the idea may seem a bit counter-intuitive, LED holiday lights use so little energy that they can run off of a single AA battery recharged daily by a tiny solar panel.

For about $26 on Amazon, you can get a strand of 150 of these gridless lights (battery included), which automatically turn on when the sun goes down and off at sunrise.

You don’t even have to plug them in, said Brad Howard, president and owner of Las Vegas-based Reusable Revolution, which makes the lights.

“I could put them on my car and not plug them in, so the ease of installation not having to worry about a power outlet is off the charts,” he said in a phone interview.

The lights, which were released this year, can run for up to 10 hours a night, depending on the amount of sunlight they get during the day, Howard said. They might also turn on during especially cloudy days or lose some overnight staying power during an overcast day with a weak charge. However, they will rebound to a full power after a sunny day, he said.

Like all solar products, they are best suited for sunny regions.

The possibility of solar-powered holiday lights stems from LED technology, which results in far lower power usage and energy costs than incandescent lights, Howard said.

That has made even plug-in LED holiday lights, which are sometimes more expensive to buy than incandescent lights, an attractive option for total holiday cost cutting, according to TXU Energy.

While LEDs may have seemed more expensive in the past, they are becoming more  cost competitive with incandescent bulbs, even before energy savings are factored in.

Still, many Americans opt for the softer glow of incandescent bulbs — now sometimes selling at a premium because of that  consumer preference.

According to a recent check by TXU Energy, a string of 25 incandescent holiday lights costs about $8.50 while a string of 50 LED holiday lights costs about $5.80.

The cost to power those lights, meanwhile, gives the LEDs a huge advantage.

At a usage rate of about 6 watts of electricity, 50 incandescent holiday bulbs would use about 1.8 kilowatt-hours of power nightly this holiday season. That total is calculated from keeping lights on for about six hours a day for 30 days.

At an electricity rate of about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, the incandescent strand would account for about $5.40 of power costs.

While that number seems small, an LED strand would account for only 7 cents of electricity costs, according to TXU’s numbers.

Though consumers have been somewhat slow to move to LEDs for holiday lights, many major public displays, including the 45,000-bulb Rockefeller Center Christmas tree display in New York City (pictured), run on the energy efficient lights.