Solar Christmas lights


***UPDATE*** I got a response from Gaiam and these lights are, indeed, LED lights, which means they will last for many years.

And now the original posting:

Here’s what I’ve been looking for: Solar-powered holiday lights.

There are certain luxuries that, to me, don’t justify burning fossil fuels: landscape lighting, garden fountains and Christmas lights. The first two I’ve solved with solar power, and the third issue could soon be a non-issue thanks to this offering from Gaiam, which I found on

Here’s how it works: During the day, the sun charges up a battery via a solar cell. Then, when night falls, a sensor turns on your lights, and it turns them off at dawn. If you don’t want the lights on all night, unplug the lights from the cell.

A couple of issues occur to me. How long will these lights last? So many holiday lights fail before the first season is done. So, off to the landfill. (I e-mailed Gaiam’s customer service to inquire about this, but they didn’t have much to say about it.) And these lights cost $89 plus shipping for a 42-foot length, either red or white. And of course, they’re made in China, and probably came across the seas in a cargo container that we’re still trying to figure out how to get rid of.

I do like the way Gaiam explains the history of wintertime lights:

The tradition of illuminating the home during the holidays dates back to the dark ages when yule logs and winter solstice candles would be lit to summon back a fading sun. Our Solar Holiday Lights turn that custom on its head by using the sun itself to provide their power!

What do you think? Are these light really "sustainable?"

8 Comments on Solar Christmas lights

  1. kw

    Don’t confuse LED with solar. LED is a type of light bulb. Solar is a means of converting sunlight to power (and in this instance, a means of storing that power for later use.)
    Some LED’s are sold that plug into house current, just like regular xmas lights. They use significantly less electricity, but also cost a bit amount more than our old standbys. That price is coming down, but is currently perhaps two to four times the cost of old fashioned lights. The LED lights should last quite a bit longer than the old light bulbs. But whether the LEDs, and the wires they are strung on, last long enough to overcome the extra expense is a question I’m not equipped to answer.
    Some LED’s are now being sold along with a solar PV (photovoltaic) panel and a small battery pack. When the PV panel is placed in the sun it converts sunlight into electricity and stores that in the batteries. When the sun goes down the unit switches modes, and uses the stored electricity from the batteries to light the lights.These units are comparatively very expensive (Six to twenty times the cost of old fashioned lights) because they include the cost of the PV panel and batteries in addition to the new LED lights themselves. However, you never need to plug them in.
    I doubt, from a purely personal economic point of view, that you’ll ever recover the extra cost of a solar LED set of lights. (Small scale solar PV isn’t terribly efficient.) However, you might avoid tripping your homes circuit breakers when you add more lights. And you can light that one tree that is WAY OVER THERE, without running a 100 ft extension cord.
    The price of LEDs will become competitive enough that they will take over from old fashioned lights within the next couple of years, just like little twinkle lights have taken over from the older, larger, hotter bulbs for most people.
    Solar pv will also become more affordable. But whether it will become competitive enough for smaller scale uses that can otherwise be met by grid power is hard to say, unless utility power becomes super expensive. I think it’s more likely that xmas lights will go solar because peoples whole HOMES have gone solar. Or maybe that’s just my hopeful feelings on the matter.

  2. BAM

    I wouldn’t pay $89 for a string of solar Christmas lights in the name of sustainability. A string of regular lights costs maybe $4 at discount, so that’s $85 worth of electricity that you’d have to save while using your solar lights at most a couple months per year. I don’t spend that much on electricity in a month, even during December! The plastics from which the lights are manufactured won’t last terribly long either, I suspect. Additionally, you’ll be dealing with disposing of and replacing NiCd or NimH batteries when they reach their end of life in less than 10 years. This is greenwashing at its finest. My hat’s off to the marketer who thought this one up.
    The cheaper Target lights mentioned in a follow up may make more sense from a dollar standpoint, but again I’d question the lifetime. They probably are cheaper, at least in part, because the batteries are less capable which means you’ll need to replace them sooner.
    One bright spot for the LED lights (pun intended) might be that they don’t require running an extension cord. So you could light a bush or tree at the far end of the yard without the trip and electrical hazard of an extension cord. That might justify their use for some people.

  3. sheila

    thanks for bringing this up, and i agree with you and the other posters that we need to THINK SOLAR, and CONSERVE power. it is ridiculous that the “powers that be” have gotten away with the mythology that LA cannot be almost entirely solar-powered and that if there is a little fog, solar won’t work. nobody is suggesting we abolish the entire grid, only that we mostly feed it from our own roofs instead of transmitting (and losing) power across thousands of miles, and continuously adding more power plants and power lines. LA could easily be a net-exporter by day and a modest importer at night. but then how do the utilities continue to make a killing???
    LA residents should contact the DWP (or their city council rep) and insist that, rather than destroying a huge section of the high desert with enormous 500 kW power towers (the kind that started all the fires), they should invest more in LOCAL (residential) solar programs. their fake “green” plan is disingenuously called the “Green Path” and there is no pot of green for us at the end of their rainbow fiasco, only a pot of gold for LADWP.
    BTW, i believe that all the power you generate from PV panels feeds the grid, and you don’t actually “use” your own power unless you have a fancy setup with batteries. doesn’t really matter, but technically, i think that’s the system…

  4. Michael Snyder

    Christmas lights are only up for a month (hopefully) but your energy needs are constant. If you really want to invest in solar I suggest you check you your utility’s website for information on solar power and the current rebate programs. These rebates can run up to 50% of the system cost and the power you don’t use runs back into the grid. When you’re feeding the grid your meter runs backward providing you with a payment in kind for your power on the spot.

  5. Kathy Price-Robinson

    Amy, I got my solar-powered fountain at Home Depot and it was way too much: $220. And it was a weird thing in that someone else had special ordered it and then didn’t pick it up. It had no paperwork or label or anything to identify it. But I love it. Even though this morning has been rainy and drizzly, my fountain started gurgling a few minutes ago. How does that happen?
    Here’s another idea for adding spray to your pond: A solar island fountain from Check it out here:
    I believe the solar panel is built right into the faux lily pad, so you don’t have any wires going to the panel. And best of all, it’s only $55.
    Good luck!

  6. Amy

    Hi! Where did you find the solar powered fountain? And the big question, how much was it? I’m looking for a solar powered pump spray fountain to add to my pond, and I don’t want to spend too much.

  7. anne carr

    After writing the article for, I noticed in Target’s Sunday circular that they sell a strand of LED lights for $11.99 which addresses your point of shipping, etc. I guess to me the more important point is not whether they last longer than tradiitonal xmas lighting but the fact that they get consumers to start thinking of new ways to eliminate excess power usage. LED lights for xmas, CF bulbs in their house, perhaps even just turning lights off at night or when they leave a room. I am a believer that even small steps can change a mindset and perhaps set an example for others.

  8. lil_gaucha

    RE cargo containers
    There’s a company out here in Vegas that has engineered pre-fab homes out of these containers. they’re just looking for a market and trying to get municipalities to include them in the code.
    I think it’s a great solution to a lot of problems.