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5 Main Reasons Why Your Solar Lights Are Not Performing as Well as New.

Posted By: Your Solar Link Team on December 2, 2010 in Solar News - Comments: 130 Comments »

What is the life span of solar lights?

Many times the question pops up regarding the life span of solar powered lights. How does one ensure the best performance and prolong the life of solar lights? After a while, you might notice that your solar lights are not as bright as when you first bought them. And without knowing the basics of solar lights, you may become confused about what exactly happened. Could it be that your solar lights got old and need to be recycled or is there something that you just need to know about the maintenance of your solar powered products?

Solar lights need four essential components to function:

1. A rechargeable battery to store the power generated by the energy from the sun.

2. A small photovoltaic cell or solar array that captures sunlight during the day and converts it into electrical energy. The solar array is usually built right into the light fixture. Some light designs have separate solar arrays connected by a thin wire allowing the light to be located in a shady area while the solar array itself is placed in a bright, sunny location.

3. A “charge controller” to ensure the batteries don’t get overcharged in bright sunlight as well as to monitor the amount of light in the surrounding area and turn the LED (light emitting diode) light on and off.

4. An LED (or a series of LEDs) which provides the light.

10-Pack NiCd AA700mAh 1.2V Rechargeable Batteries

10-Pack NiCd AA700mAh 1.2V Rechargeable Batteries at http://www.yoursolarlink.com.

Image by Your Solar Link.

Rechargeable Solar Light Batteries are the major cause of failure in solar garden lights (5 main reasons why your solar lights are not performing as well as new.)

Rechargeable solar batteries will self-discharge which means that over time the batteries will discharge to a point where they no longer work.

It is important to ensure you charge your solar lights at least every three (3) months to ensure the battery stays in good shape and lasts its life span, generally 1-2 years.

Replace your old batteries when they run their life cycle.

When you purchase your solar lights, the rechargeable batteries are often already included in the fixture. After 1-2 years (or a matter of months in some cases) it is quite normal to see their performance decline. Once you notice that the lighting time is considerably diminishing and the lights are not as bright as before, it’s probably time to replace your rechargeable solar garden light batteries.

Another reason of reduced lighting time and brightness can also be that the solar light batteries are not charging correctly.

For the best charging performances the solar panel needs to be cleaned on a regular basis. Dust and other accumulated residues can considerably affect the charging procedure. They form a coating layer on the solar panel and block the sunlight.

10-Pack NiCd AA600mAh 1.2V Rechargeable Batteries

10-Pack NiCd AA600mAh 1.2V Rechargeable Batteries at http://www.yoursolarlink.com.

Image by Your Solar Link.

An easy way to check if the rechargeable batteries are dead is to test them by briefly replacing them with regular batteries, just long enough to check if the light is working. If you are testing the solar light during the day, don’t forget to cover it, or place the light in a darkened room. This will allow the photocell to trigger the light to its “on” position. If the solar light turns on with normal batteries it means that the rechargeable batteries are faulty and you will need to buy a new set.

Important: don’t forget to pay particular attention to the location of the solar lights.

Batteries will not charge properly if the solar panel is in the shade, they rely on the energy of the sun to charge.

There is another simple test you can do before replacing the solar light rechargeable batteries. Place your solar lights under direct sunshine for a day or two and see what happens. If, after this duration, the illumination time is back to normal, it means that the solar panel was not getting enough light from the sun. Commonly, solar lights should be in direct sunlight for at least 4 hours a day to adequately charge the rechargeable batteries.

If you store your solar lights for long periods of time, take the batteries out!

When you had to store your garden solar lights for a long period of time (during winter months, for example), did you take out the batteries? If you did, your solar light batteries will have a longer life span.

10-Pack NiMH AA1000mAh 1.2V Rechargeable Batteries

10-Pack NiMH AA1000mAh 1.2V Rechargeable Batteries at http://www.yoursolarlink.com.

Image by Your Solar Link.

Replacing solar light batteries is not a difficult task.

All you have to do is to locate the solar light battery cover, remove it, take out the defective batteries and replace them with new ones. If no battery cover can be found, the solar light needs to be taken apart, usually with one or two screws. On most models you’ll find the screws on the top or bottom of the light. Once the unit is open you’ll have access to the batteries.

Types of rechargeable batteries.

Most solar garden lights need between 1 to 4 batteries to work. 2 types of batteries are usually used in garden solar lights: AA size – NiCad(Nickel Cadmium) 1.2 V / 500 to 900mA, and AA size – NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) 1.2 V /1000 to 2000mA.

When it is time to change the solar light rechargeable batteries, the choice of battery also plays an important part in ensuring the enhanced performance of your solar lights.

Nickel-metal hydride batteries (NiMH) will have up to three times more capacity than the same size Nickel-cadmium (NiCd) battery, meaning they are capable of lasting longer and more reliable.

NiMH batteries in your solar lights may cost a little extra but they are more environmentally friendly than NiCd batteries. NiMH batteries are more environmentally friendly because they use a dry liquid, which can be disposed of more easily. They will also withstand greater temperature fluctuations operating in temperatures ranging from -20 to 60 degrees Celsius (-4 to 140F). Ni-MH batteries have a “non-memory effect” which means they will continue to charge on cloudy days. The battery performance will not be diminished by these partial charges, as what can occur with lead acid batteries.

10-Pack NiMH AAA900mAh 1.2V Rechargeable Batteries

10-Pack NiMH AAA900mAh 1.2V Rechargeable Batteries at http://www.yoursolarlink.com.

Image by Your Solar Link.

Solar light replacement batteries are standard and can be found easily. If you know these solar lights basics, with minimum maintenance effort you will enjoy your solar powered lights for years.

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  1. Kit Kit says:

    Hi. I bought a solar light from Amazon, having never used one before. I was told that I needed to place it in direct sunlight during the day and that it would then charge up and glow at night. It has been sat on a sunny windowsill (south-facing) for several days, but nary a glimmer.

    Am I doing something wrong? Or is the light faulty?

    • Hello Kit,

      Our first guess at troubleshooting would be to check the batteries. Sometimes when lights are provided by a manufacturer, they will place a small plastic tab between the battery (usually at the button portion / positive terminal) and the contact point on the battery box. Even if the tab were removed prior to you receiving the light and the charge was used up in transit, then it should still charge if the panel is in direct sunlight. Which leads us to our next troubleshoot….

      Try putting a regular alkaline battery (if you have one available) in the light to see if it goes on. If it does, then it is probably a faulty rechargeable battery that your light came with. Be sure to use a rechargeable battery (don’t keep the the alkaline one in there) that has the same specifications as the original. You can use NiMH in place of NiCd (and vice versa). But don’t use a Lithium battery if your lights came with NiMH/NiCd type of batteries. Lithiums have a higher voltage and will fry out the LEDs of a NiMH/NiCd light within seconds.

      Another troubleshoot would be to check if there is an on/off switch concealed somewhere on the light. Most lights have on/off switches in easy-to-reach places. But depending on the manufacturer, they could have put a switch somewhere out of the way so that it won’t be damaged or accidentally turned off.

      The final test would be to try placing it outside for charging. Sunlight going through the window of your home should be sufficient to charge the panel. If you have a screen on the window, that could be enough to block adequate light from the solar panel. But it is worth trying outside just to be sure.

      If you have tested the battery fix, there are no switches, there are no screens on the window and the light still doesn’t go on, then it could be a matter of faulty circuitry/wiring somewhere within the light. If that is the case, it may be best to replace the light from the Amazon seller. It is atypical that a light has internal issues, but it can happen.

      Hopefully this helps and that you are able to get your lights up and running soon.

      Regards,

      Mario @ Your Solar Link

  2. jean wylie jean wylie says:

    Hi,
    I have a path light that looks great except the solar panel is shot (plastic is cracked and crumbly). I like it enough to buy and install a new panel but cannot find any on internet. I think the problem is I need a search term that means ‘little solar panel that fits in a garden light’. Can you suggest the right term so I can get past thousands of solar panels that are meant for roof tops? Thanks

    • Hello Jean,

      We understand the frustration in looking for just the panels for solar garden lights. Sometimes that component is the only part that goes out and finding replacements can be cumbersome. Anyway, we have seen them as individual components at Fry’s Electronics (if you have one of those stores nearby). We found some individual solar cells (that may be a better keyword to find what you are looking for online) on their website. They also have a kit that may be useful to replace other parts of your lights if needed. It may be a matter of finding a matching (or close) size to the one you want to replace. The load capacity (how much sun it will collect and transfer to the batteries) should be comparable to the existing light, so long as the sizing is the same (or again, as close to it as possible).

      Hopefully this information helps and that you are able to get your solar lights back up and running again soon.

      Regards,

      Mario @ Your Solar Link

  3. Mike Mike says:

    I replaced the batteries in my solar light. Then placed in sun before turning it on. When I turned it on and tested it, it worked. Light came when I covered panel and of when uncovered. I put it on the flag pole and that night it did not light. Now I check and when I switch from off to auto, when dark, it turns on for about 15 seconds. If I turn off and on again, it turns on for 15 seconds. What could be the issue? It appears to be getting a charge since the light turns on. I did move the light into more direCT sunlight but it did not improve the performance.

    • Hello Mike,

      There are a couple of things that could be happening with your solar lights.

      1. The photocell is working improperly. Some lights come with the photocell as a separate component. Many new lights have that component integrated with the solar panel. The function of the photocell is to detect light. High levels of light from the sun, car headlights or other nearby light sources will keep the light off and direct the flow of energy from the solar panels to the rechargeable batteries. Once light levels are low or non-existent, then electricity flows from the battery to the LEDs. So, problems with the photocell could cause the flow of electricity to go only from the solar panel, through the battery and continue on to the LEDs. Any energy stored will be minimal as it is constantly fed to the LEDs (if this is the case, you may see that the LEDs are “on” during the day.) There could be a loose connection between the solar panel and the circuit board. This is very rare, but nevertheless, it is a possibility.

      2. There is a bridged connection in the soldering of the circuit board that is bypassing the function of the photocell. You might be able to fix this, but it will take some investigating and dismantling of the light. Also, to find the bridge will take further knowledge of electronic circuit boards.

      You may want to (if you haven’t already) test it for the proper functioning of the batteries. If your light uses a standard AA or AAA battery, try putting in a regular alkaline battery to see if the LED comes on full bright as designed. If it does, then it may be one of the 2 issues above that are causing your rechargeables to not retain charge in the evening. If the LED does not come on, then it may be something beyond the 2 situations above that will require further investigation into the connection of the LEDs.

      Hopefully this helps and that you are able to get your lights back up and running soon.

      Thank you for your inquiry with us at Your Solar Link.

      Regards,

      Mario @ Your Solar Link

  4. Moira Moira says:

    what is the difference between AA solar rechargeables and regular rechargeables? Do i have to buy specifically solar rechargeables to replace existing solar rechargeables

    • Hello Moira,

      The primary difference between “solar” rechargeable and regular rechargeables is the energy storage capacity, which is measured in mAh (milliAmpere-hours). Solar lights will use batteries that range in capacities between 250 to 1200 mAh. There are no differences if a battery is labelled as “solar” or not, so long as the specifications are the same. Those specifications are as follows:

      1. Battery size (in your case, AA).
      2. Voltage (typically 1.2 Volts for NiMH/NiCd batteries and 3.2 Volts for Lithium batteries).
      3. Chemistry (most common on the market are NiMH, NiCd and Lithium).
      4. Energy capacity, as mAh (anywhere from 250 to 1200 for solar garden lights).

      You will want to keep the Voltage and Chemistry the same as your existing batteries. You can replace NiCd with NiMH (and vice versa). We recommend using NiMH whenever possible as they are not susceptible to the “memory effect” that is common with NiCd. Also, Cadmium is considered a toxic material and needs to be disposed of properly. Metal Hydrides can be thrown out in the trash, but we still recommend recycling them whenever possible.

      The “solar” on the battery is probably a method used by the manufacturer to make it more visible when looking for replacement batteries in solar lights. There are rechargeable batteries on the market that have higher mAh capacities and are typically used in remote control cars, phones, etc. So, the “solar” indication means that the mAh is probably going to be in that 250 to 1200 range and are not practical for the remote controlled, high discharge/recharge products.

      Hopefully this helps with your inquiry and that you are able to find the replacement batteries for your solar lights. Thank you for your inquiry/question with us at Your Solar Link.

      Regards,

      Mario @ Your Solar Link

  5. mark christopher mark christopher says:

    I am buying replacement batteries for my solar powered garden lights. Is there a difference between a rechargeable AAA battery and a “solar” rechargeable AAA battery?

    • Hello Mark,

      There are no differences if a battery is labelled as “solar” or not, so long as the specifications are the same. Those specifications are as follows:

      1. Battery size (in your case, AAA).
      2. Voltage (typically 1.2 Volts for NiMH/NiCd batteries and 3.2 Volts for Lithium batteries).
      3. Chemistry (most common on the market are NiMH, NiCd and Lithium).
      4. Energy capacity, as mAh (anywhere from 250 to 1200 for solar garden lights).

      You will want to keep the Voltage and Chemistry the same as your existing batteries. You can replace NiCd with NiMH (and vice versa). We recommend using NiMH whenever possible as they are not susceptible to the “memory effect” that is common with NiCd. Also, Cadmium is considered a toxic material and needs to be disposed of properly. Metal Hydrides can be thrown out in the trash, but we still recommend recycling them whenever possible.

      The “solar” on the battery is probably a method used by the manufacturer to make it more visible when looking for replacement batteries in solar lights. There are rechargeable batteries on the market that have higher mAh capacities and are typically used in remote control cars, phones, etc. So, the “solar” indication means that the mAh is probably going to be in that 250 to 1200 range and are not practical for the remote controlled, high discharge/recharge products.

      Hopefully this helps with your inquiry and that you are able to find the replacement batteries for your solar lights. Thank you for your inquiry/question with us at Your Solar Link.

      Regards,

      Mario @ Your Solar Link

  6. Stephanie Stephanie says:

    I have a solar powered flower which was left in the on position when packed for the winter. The 12 other solar powered flowers were packed in the off position and are working fine now. The problem flower had a small illuminated light at the base of the flower which remained on the entire time as long as it was “on”. After leaving it out in the sun all day it does not illuminate at night but the next morning it has the little light on at the base again. I bought a replacement battery thinking that was the issue but it behaves the same way with a new battery.. What do you think the problem is? What else can I do to trouble shoot?
    Thanks so much and I look forward to hearing from you.
    Best Regards, Stephanie

    • Hello Stephanie,

      Sorry to hear that the light is not going on as are the other 12 lights. One troubleshoot that you can try is to put a regular alkaline battery in to see if the LED illuminates the same as the other 12. This test should work if your existing batteries are NiCd/NiMH chemistry with 1.2 Volts per battery. If your lights use Lithium batteries, you will need to test it with a Lithium battery (they have a higher Voltage of 3.2). Be sure not to test a NiCd/NiMH light with a Lithium battery. The higher Voltage of Lithium batteries will fry out the LED in a matter of seconds (we have tested this). Be sure not to leave an alkaline battery in the light for nightly operation. If an alkaline battery is in the light during the day, current will flow into the battery via the solar panel and will damage the battery and cause corrosion to build up on the terminals (we’ve seen this in the field).

      If the light still doesn’t work after the troubleshoot above, then it may be something along the circuitry of the light that is causing the LED to not illuminate as much as the other lights. At that point, the light is not going to function properly and you will continue to get the performance that it currently is exhibiting.

      From the situation you described, it sounds like you may have NiCd batteries. These are prone to what is known as the “memory effect” and may perform as you described for light 13. If you had the 12 lights in the off position, they may have had a full charge prior to being turned off. So, if they were only off for the winter season, then that charge will slowly trickle down. So, when recharged for this season, they will continue to illuminate as intended. NiMH batteries do not have the problems of the “memory effect” and can be charged/discharged at irregular intervals without suffering from these performance issues.

      Hopefully this information helps and that you are able to get light 13 back up and running again. Thank you for your inquiry/question with us at Your Solar Link.

      Regards,

      Mario @ Your Solar Link.

  7. jay jay says:

    Hi my new solar orb was working fine then we had rain and now it wont work have replaced with new battery completely dried it out any suggestion as it was expensive

    • Hello Jay,

      It may be that the circuitry within the light was damaged by the rain. If there was a leak, it could have made contact with the circuit board in such a quantity to have permanently damaged that component. If you have dried out the light and it still doesn’t work, then it may be that this situation has occurred and the light is damaged. Replacing the circuit board will be very difficult (finding an exact match as well as installation).

      If possible, you may want to contact the store from where you purchased the light to see if there is a way to exchange it for a new one. Hopefully you will be able to get a replacement and have your light up and running again soon.

      Regards,

      Mario @ Your Solar Link

  8. Angela Cheater Angela Cheater says:

    I bought a dual function light / UV light (insect killer) garden solar lamp, followed all set-up instructions and it didn’t work. Cause: leaking 3.2V 250mA LI-ION battery You say never to use LI-ION in place of NIMH. However, I can’t find a replacement locally (in Phuket, Thailand) for my LI-ION battery, so could I use what is available, namely 1.2V 1000-2000mA NIMH instead? Stepping down the voltage shouldn’t fry the circuitry or the bulb, right? But would it work??

    • Hello Angela,

      Sorry to hear that your new light is not working. A leaky battery is never a good thing.

      As for the replacement batteries, you will want to stay with the Lithium batteries as they are going to fit in the battery box of your garden solar lamp. You could pair up multiple NiMH batteries in series (as in a line configuration) to achieve a higher Voltage. However, doing so will create too high of a Voltage and may damage your lights (each NiMH is 1.2; so if multiplied by 3 batteries, you will end up with 3.6 Volts. This is too high for your light.) If you only put 2 NiMH batteries in series you will end up with 2.4 Volts. This won’t be enough to energize your light.

      With regard to the mAh rating, you only need a 250 mAh capacity battery; so using a high mAh rated NiMH series won’t make a difference in performance. That figure represents the amount of energy (capacity) the battery can store from charging. You will want to stay at or as close as possible above 250 mAh when looking for a replacement. Using a much higher mAh battery will just end up costing more and not necessarily keep your light on longer each night.

      There are companies online that sell single Lithium batteries (if that is all you need). We have them at Your Solar Link (with the exact ratings you need), but in packs of 10. So this may not be advantageous for you to purchase 9 additional batteries to get your light up and running again. We have seen the single batteries on onlybatteries.com and they are pretty reasonable with their shipping charges.

      Hopefully this helps and that you are able to get your light/bug zapper up and running soon.

      Thank you for your inquiry with us at Your Solar Link.

      Regards,

      Mario @ Your Solar Link

  9. Oinc Oinc says:

    Is it worth increasing the MAH up, say from 600 mAh to 800 mAh on battery replacement or is this just a waste of money? Solar cells can only produce so much power during the day. What about if you have room, soldering your own pack together, going from 2 AAA to 2 AA, same volts, mAH rating?

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