You don't have to install an expensive grid-tied solar array to harness solar electricity. There are plenty of options for powering individual lights at night by collecting the power of the sun during the day. Here are a few of our favorite products in a variety of solar lighting categories.
Outdoor pathway lighting: Perhaps the most common use of solar lighting is for illuminating driveways and garden pathways. For example, these four Alpan stainless steel garden lights can be staked anywhere in the yard without worrying about running wires through the garden. Each LED light has its own solar panel, and turns on automatically at dusk.
Decorative outdoor lighting: Moonrays makes a sculpture of three light-up turtles on a log. A small solar panel lights up glowing amber LEDs inside each turtle. This is a step above similar whimsical solar lights because the turtles are high enough off the ground that the solar panel is unlikely to sit in water and become damaged. Other decorative solar lights are shaped like flowers, fairies, dragonflies and animals, or ghosts and other holiday items.
Christmas lights: Speaking of holidays, the winter sun still has enough power to light up strings of Christmas lights. This 22-foot string of 60 LED lights switches on automatically when the sun stops powering it at dusk. Larger bulbs and miniature lighted trees also are available.
Patio table lighting: This aluminum lantern lights up an al fresco meal with a flickering amber LED. Of course, this one might take a little more planning than some solar lights. It won't get much of a charge sitting on a covered or well-shaded patio, so be sure to move these lights into the sun to charge before planning an outdoor dinner.
Portable lighting: My personal favorite in solar lighting is the Sylvania DOT-it portable triple LED. It's a cool, bright light with a suction cup and a carabineer mount so it will attach to virtually anything. It runs for about five hours on a full change, it is water-resistant and it floats. It's equally good for camping and DIY home improvements, such as projects under the kitchen sink where holding a flashlight is awkward (and requires batteries).
Shed lighting: The Designer's Edge Shed Light can shed light on a shed, garage, barn or other off-grid structure. It is among a wide variety of products with a small, easy-to-mount solar panel connected by several feet of wire to a set of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or other bulbs. The Designer's Edge solar panel can power 5 LEDs for four hours, or all 10 LEDs for two hours.
Solar security lighting: Many homeowners are likely reluctant to trust their home security to the vagaries of sunlight. To be sure, a small solar panel will not keep a floodlight burning all night. However, a wide assortment of solar-powered security lights with motion sensors are available. The 36 LEDs in this solar security light should turn on when the embedded passive infrared motion detector senses a prowler. It's perhaps not as bright as the local football field on Friday nights, but it should scare away an intruder.