Solar Skylights

Skylights have a long history, starting with the Ancient Romans who used “open” skylights in their buildings. This was followed by the development of “closed” skylights in France during the late 17th century. The Industrial Revolution saw advances in glass production manufacturing, and mass production since the mid-20th century has enabled the use of “modern” skylights in various contexts.

The desire for energy conservation has also bought new design innovations and transmission options, and allowed skylights to improve and expand in size, range, and style. It includes the introduction of solar skylights, which use solar-powered LED technology, including the concept of Ambient Light Technology (ALT). But what are solar skylights, exactly? And what advantages do they offer over traditional skylights?

What are “traditional” skylights?

Traditional skylights channel sunlight into a home, and range from skylight shafts to roof windows. They typically involve a roof penetration that connects to your home’s ceiling via a shaft or tunnel. 

Traditional skylights offer a practical function by providing natural lighting with the sun’s availability, which assists with passive heating and cooling. However, they can also act as a feature light or statement architectural piece and provide a window to the outdoors.

What are solar skylights?

While traditional and solar skylights share the common goal of providing light to your home’s interior, they do so in fundamentally different ways. Solar skylights typically provide artificial light through solar-powered LEDs, and a lighting panel uses Ambient Light Technology (ALT) to optimise light in the darker areas of your home. Essentially, they create a feeling of harmony between internal and external lighting conditions.

During the day, they draw up solar energy and the intensity of LED light changes with solar energy radiation. At night, electricity becomes the source of light. Artificial lighting complies with the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1680:0, which is different to skylights and roof lights in general.

What are the benefits of solar skylights?

Solar LED lighting, or “skylight alternatives” offer a range of benefits, including: 

  • A constant light source—Solar power is transferred from one or more solar PV panels on the roof and simulate the lighting conditions outside. They activate at sunrise, and intensity varies during the day depending on cloud cover and the degree of sunlight.
  • Versatility—They can be installed almost anywhere in your home, including rooms with no windows like walk-in pantries, built-in robes, and anywhere with compromised natural light. They are also ideal for areas where skylights aren’t an option, for example, in attics and basements and on lower floors in multi-storey buildings.
  • Heat contribution—Solar skylights produce a negligible amount of heat, and therefore room temperature is not compromised. This is because there is no shaft that breaks the integrity of insulation against the external conditions, which can reduce heat transfer. The result? Fewer emissions, more energy efficiency and reduced power bills.
  • Easy maintenance—Mould, dust, and insects aren’t an issue with these types of skylights, so regular cleaning isn’t required. Because they are installed with no modification to the roof structure, there is also no chance of water trickling down or pooling in the light diffuser.
  • Dimming features—With the availability of sunlight, solar skylights can be programmed to dim naturally, for example, fading in at sunrise and fading out at sunset. This can allow you to get the most out of your system during daylight hours. And even in low-light conditions, they will generally emit a soft light.
  • Variety—Solar LED lights come in various shapes and sizes and can be customised, recessed, or spaced from ceilings. For example, rectangular versions are ideal as recessed installations or mounted to ceilings, square versions work well in living spaces and commercial settings, and circular lights suit cupboards, wardrobes, stairwells, bathrooms, and hallways.
  • Easy installation—They offer non-intrusive, DIY-friendly installation, or at most, an electrician if you want to install a power socket for an optional night operation kit.
  • Customisation—As long as your skylights don’t exceed the recommended wattage of your solar PV panel, you can install as many as you like! Systems are also typically scalable and can be upgraded. Optional accessories include:
    • Night operation kit—This will provide lighting at any time of the day or night. It also tops up the mains power in poor weather or low-light conditions. However, a licensed electrician will need to fit this to the mains power, but most systems come with an AC driver for easy installation. This is an excellent option for those who entertain regularly or want to show off some feature lighting.
    • Single or multi-channel dimmers—These operate via remote control and allow you to alter the level of lighting your home receives. For example, offering brighter light in your office during working hours or dimmer lighting in your bathroom in the morning.
    • Vented skylight alternatives—Some LED skylights can be paired with ducted vents, which allows for air extraction as well as lighting. These are ideal for warm, humid spaces like laundries or bathrooms.

What are the components of solar skylights?

Solar skylight systems offer lumen output and are usually made up of four major components.

1. Solar PV Panels

Solar PV panels are positioned on the roof and often come with adjustable tilt frames, which allow you to place the panel almost anywhere but still have it facing north for optimal sunlight exposure. Panels typically range from 25 watts to 260 watts, giving you the flexibility to install multiple LED lights in your home from a single panel.

2. Wiring and Leads

The LED skylight and the PV panel are usually connected with leads and a splitter (for configurations with multiple lights). Leads and splitters can vary in lengths to allow you to access your home’s entire perimeter.

3. Solar LED Light/s

Skylight “alternative” systems offer LED lights of different shapes and sizes — rectangular, square and circular — and range from small-scale lights like those needed in a wardrobe to large feature lights that will transform your entertaining area. They can be surface mounted, recessed into a ceiling cavity or installed flush with the ceiling. Other components like dimmers and night operation kits are easily configured with standard wiring, and you can often install multiple lights with a single solar PV panel. Depending on the size of the lights, they can be installed on walls, beneath joists, or on the ground floors of multi-storey buildings.

4. LED drivers

LED lights can be connected to LED “drivers” that act as transformers for low-voltage bulbs. These allow your lights to perform at their best — day or night — when paired with a night operation kit.

How are solar skylights installed?

Solar skylight systems are installed by securing the solar PV panels anywhere they can be exposed to sunlight — including in chimneys and on satellite dishes. A wire runs to the solar lamp inside the house, which makes it easy to place anywhere around the home. 

Because they are designed to conserve solar energy, they have the advantage of being able to be plugged into the 240V power system when solar energy is minimal. Many systems also work in conjunction with smart controls. So for example, you can turn down the lighting to reduce the glare when you are watching TV on when it’s time for bed!

Can I install solar skylights myself? 

Many solar skylights can be installed as part of a DIY project, and most manufacturers will offer downloadable easy-to-follow instructions. However, if installation involves work on a roof, it is recommended that you consult a professional. Roofing and guttering experts are familiar with different sized home styles and roof types, and if you are already using the services of a roofer to build or renovate, it’s the perfect opportunity to install solar skylights at the same time!