By Dov Rom
After a long period of uncertainty, the sign industry today has mostly transitioned away from neon and fluorescent illumination to more energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs), thanks to a series of technological advances. This transition is now enabling another evolution in sign industry technology, as renewable energy sources—like solar and wind power—become more feasible for powering illuminated signs.
That said, renewable energy systems for signs can face challenges, from operating through harsh winter conditions to being careful not to overshadow the sign itself.
Solar power systems, in particular, have proven a revolutionary technology of this era. Studies anticipate they will become the norm not only for industrial purposes, but also for general household use, in the next 50 years or so.
Simply put, these systems use sunlight as their energy source. They convert the light into direct current (DC) electricity, at voltages identical to those of typical batteries.
A solar power system uses three major components— a solar panel, a charger/controller and a battery—to supply the energy needed to power up the LEDs in a sign. Typically, the DC voltage required to power an LED effectively is 12 or 24 V.
Most renewable energy system suppliers have already gained a great deal of experience working with solar power, but with systems that instead produce alternating current (AC) voltage, via a connection to an electrical power line for a rural house or farm. In these cases, the owner may receive a rebate from the local power company for helping feed energy into the grid. Renewable energy systems for signs are different, as they require battery backup to provide nighttime illumination.