Solar Christmas Lights: Should You Make the Switch?

Solar Christmas lights don’t cost anything to operate, but are they better than plug-in LED strings?

Solar holiday lights run off a small solar panel, about the size of a hockey puck. Image: Frontgate

In the last few years, energy-efficient LED holiday lights have largely replaced more wattage-thirsty incandescent strings, resulting in significant savings — LED lights use 50% less energy than their incandescent predecessors, and they last up to 10 times longer as well.

Now there’s a newish kid in the string-light neighborhood: LED solar Christmas lights promise grid-free festive lighting. 

Powering up Solar Christmas Lights

A string of solar Christmas lights uses a small solar panel for power; there are no extension cords that must be plugged into outlets. The panel — about the size of a hockey puck — powers rechargeable batteries that illuminate a 25- to 100-bulb string of LED lights.

Panels come with small stakes so you can put them in the ground, where they can take advantage of the sun. A fully-charged string of lights should glow for six to eight hours after the sun goes down.

Solar Lights vs. LED Plug-In Costs

Pricing for solar-powered and plug-in LED holiday lights runs neck and neck.

Compare purchase prices:

  • A 100-light string of miniature solar-powered LED lights costs about $20 to $40.  
  • A 100-light string of miniature plug-in LED lights costs about $20 to $46.

Compare costs to operate:

  • Operating a string of plug-in LED holiday lights for 300 hours — more than enough time for an entire holiday season — costs about 24 cents, using an average energy cost of 12 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh).
  • Solar-powered Christmas lights, of course, don’t cost anything to operate. That means you’re saving 24 cents per year in energy costs.

Advantages of Solar Lights

  • No extension cords
  • No need for exterior electrical outlets
  • Withstand cold temperatures and precipitation
  • Zero cost to operate
  • Light output comparable to plug-in lighting
  • Green option

Disadvantages

  • May not operate under cloudy skies
  • Unproven longevity (too new on the market for results)

Related: LED Holiday Lights: 6 Need-to-Know Tips