Solar-powered street lights along a desert highway ©FlexSol

Glass tubing for solar street lighting

In 2014, the Dutch start-up company FlexSol Solutions developed an innovative solution for bringing light into darkness: a modular streetlight with cylindrical solar panels. And the special glass supplied by SCHOTT makes this solution ideally suited for street life. The success story continues.

"Soluxio" – The lighting solution

New York, London, Tokyo, Dubai – the streets are alive in these megacities, no matter what the time is. Artificial lighting turns night into day – and sends the electricity costs soaring. Some cities are already using solar streetlights as a way of saving energy. But so far, the solutions have not been ideal. ”Conventional solar panels are flat and do not look particularly attractive. They are also not optimal for streetlights since dirt can accumulate and reduce their performance,” says Lennert van den Berg, CEO of the start-up FlexSol Solutions.

The Dutch entrepreneur and his team rose to the challenge and developed the lighting solution ”Soluxio”. What makes this product special is that its cylindrical solar panels are integrated into the light pole. But Van den Berg not only wanted to design a streetlight that met esthetic standards and fitted into the cityscape. His aim was for the solar streetlights to also withstand extreme weather and environmental conditions. And since he needed to protect the sensitive solar cells with a high-quality glass casing, Van den Berg contacted SCHOTT.

Our innovative idea: DURAN® glass tubes

”When we heard about this innovative idea, our DURAN® glass tube made of borosilicate glass instantly came to mind,” says Klaas Roelfsema, Regional Sales and Business Development Director for North Western Europe at SCHOTT Tubing. The Soluxio developers needed extremely thin glass that is barely reflective, long lasting and robust enough for use on the streets. ”We also wanted our product to be as light as possible,” says Van den Berg.

The reason is Soluxio’s pole. As it consists of individual modules made of aluminum that are lightweight and designed to reduce loading, off-the-shelf glass was either too heavy or not strong enough. Roelfsema: ”DURAN® was able to meet all of these requirements. The glass had to have a diameter of 20 centimeters, but it is only three millimeters thick and can withstand the severest environmental conditions.”

The special glass tubes also cope well with temperature changes. ”But the main point is that DURAN® prevents unwanted reflection and can easily be mounted thanks to its high dimensional accuracy,” says Roelfsema. Van den Berg is also happy. ”We are experimenting a lot with glass and using DURAN® glass tubes in many other products that we are currently developing.”

But finding the right glass was only part of the challenge for the start-up FlexSol. ”The most difficult thing was financing,” Van den Berg recalls. Only then could FlexSol really get started on cylindrical solar panels. With the support of partners and pole specialists Sapa Pole Products, the Dutch firm developed the Soluxio light pole in just two years. This was made possible with the help of SCHOTT, and Van den Berg thinks highly of the company. ”SCHOTT is one of the largest glass manufacturers in the world, so we were delighted at how flexible and willing its experts were in supporting our project.”

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Sensitive solar cells for the lights are protected by DURAN® glass tubing

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Soluxio’s solar light poles can be used in a huge range of situations

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DURAN® glass tubing hardly reflects, is lightweight, resistant, and withstands all weather conditions.

A successful match

The hard work has certainly paid off. Both the product itself and Soluxio’s individual components are sustainable, but the autonomous solar light pole does not merely help to reduce CO₂ emissions. ”All of the materials can be completely recycled,” Van den Berg says. Soluxio’s success has shown that Van den Berg was right to focus on quality.

In the meantime, Soluxio brings light to roads all over the world: in the hills above Las Vegas and in the Arabian Desert, where dust and desert sand can create problems for the solar panels in the lights. But thanks to the robust glass surface, this is not an issue. ”Our glass provides Soluxio with the perfect protection against abrasion with optimal UV stability,” Roelfsema says.

Why DURAN® glass tubing is ideal

Soluxio can also be found along the first C02-neutral federal highway in the Netherlands near The Hague. The street light generates its energy from solar modules. The highlight is the round shape of the vertical solar panels, which resist soiling and always deliver full power. Soluxio is completely independent of the power grid and doesn’t require any wiring. “The DURAN® glass tubing from SCHOTT is ideally suited for protecting the solar modules of the lantern,” explains Roelfsema. “We quickly realized the potential of Soluxio because it has everything a sustainable product needs”. The material hardly reflects, is lightweight, resistant, and withstands all weather conditions.

Thanks to its modular design, it can be adapted to any location. Sometimes one solar module is enough; sometimes you need several. In addition, the intelligent lamp adapts its luminosity to its surroundings. Equipped with GPS trackers and a radio link to the internet, it collects data that FlexSol uses for maintenance and further development. The Dutch are currently using connectivity to set up a comprehensive WLAN network on a Caribbean island with the help of lanterns.

FlexSol grows constantly

Soluxio stores energy for its own needs, but can also be used as a power generator with several solar modules and cable connections. Equipped with sensors, it can record weather or traffic data that municipalities can use for urban planning. In addition, almost all of its components are recyclable.

FlexSol is growing steadily thanks to Soluxio, and SCHOTT is helping. “We always want to give new impulses to our customers,” says Klaas Roelfsema, who always supplies the young company with test samples in a timely manner. FlexSol repays the trust with strong customer loyalty and impulses for the developers at SCHOTT. They have long been working on innovations that could make Soluxio even more efficient and SCHOTT products even better.

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A solar-powered street light can also generate energy for other uses

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The solar-powered street lights can also record weather details

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Solar-powered street lights are a highly sustainable solution

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Solar-powered street lights can be used to light any area

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SCHOTT is working with Soluxio for even more lighting solutions

About solar street lights – 360 degree PV protection

Safely covering photovoltaic modules in autonomous solar street lights whilst simultaneously offering outstanding light transmission are some of the high demands that the glass material must fulfil. The gained solar energy provides the electricity for the LED street lights, so saves energy and costs. SCHOTT provides a high quality solution that withstands severe environmental conditions, copes well with temperature changes, prevents unwanted reflection, and is easily mounted thanks to its high dimensional accuracy: DURAN®.

DURAN® borosilicate glass tubing offers a wide variety of dimensions, with half-shells also available. This special glass continually withstands extreme weather situations and offers extremely good light transmission that is required for a high energy yield. As autonomous solar street lights often stand in nearly unreachable areas, it is important that the glass material does not need frequent maintenance or repair. The glass has a lifetime of more than 25 years. This is much longer than the currently predicted LED road light lifetime of 10-15 years. Therefore, the glass is continually suitable for future improvements in LED street light lifetime.

Furthermore, this glass has the necessary resistance to high temperatures and temperature changes – inside and outside the street lamp. This makes it an ideal solution to cover photovoltaic modules for off-grid road lighting with LED lights or any other lighting technologies run by autonomous electricity.

Additionally, an anti-reflective coating is available, which enables the light to pass the glass better, resulting in more light available in the area that is required. This coating has already been successfully applied in 75% of the Concentrated Solar Power plants worldwide.

The high performance and endless design possibilities given by the round glass protection of PV enables street light manufacturers to let their creativity run wild and enable them to be ready for future developments such as smart street lighting systems.

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