Friday, April 25, 2014

The Incident with the Solar Garden Lights

Sunlight. If there is one thing that Israel is blessed with, in abundant proportions, it's sunlight. High tech companies are busy developing ways to best harness Israel's solar riches. In the Arava Valley, in the southern desert, Ketura Sun is the country's first solar field, consisting of 80 dunams (8 hectares or 20 acres) at Kibbutz Ketura. The field is made up of 18,500 Suntech photovoltaic solar panels that produce a total of 9 million kilowatt hours per year. Residents of Kibbutz Yahel, where my wife and I were founding members, have solar panels covering their roofs, not only to produce electricity but also to keep their houses cooler.

On the roof of our home in the Judean Hills, similar to houses and buildings all over Israel, we have solar panels to heat our water. We don't have as much sunlight as in the Arava, but still there is more than enough to go around.

During the spring months, sitting on our patio for breakfast, barbecues, or to read, or chat is a very enjoyable experience. Recently we planted additional spices in our herbs garden, cut down the tree that died after being severely damaged in the December snowstorm, and as a special treat, we purchased four small solar garden lights, to enhance the garden at night.

After a full day's exposure to strong sunlight, the garden lights failed to light up. What had we done wrong?

Basil, oregano, zaatar, thyme, chives, tarragon, rosemary, parsley

We purchased four solar lights at a total expense of 158 shekels ($45) - two white ones and two purple ones. On each there was a small panel at the top. It was a simple thing to put the lights onto their poles and stick them in the garden. No need to read the instructions or keep the cardboard boxes.

The lights looked pretty in the daylight - ornaments that added color to the flowers and bushes that were filling in quickly during the warm Israeli spring. Now, all we needed was to see what the lights looked like at night.

Solar lights - colorful garden ornaments even during daytime

The sun went down but the lights didn't turn on. Maybe they hadn't charged long enough? When you get a new mobile phone the instructions say to charge the battery for many hours before first using the instrument.

We waited anxiously for the next night, but again the lights didn't go on, and our garden remained dark. Maybe they hadn't charged because the day had been extremely cloudy? I thought solar rays were supposed to penetrate cloud cover, but maybe not?

"Did you read the instructions?" my wife asked.

"No, why would I read the instructions?" I responded. "It was very simple to do so I threw the instructions away. All they said was to attach the light to the metal pole, and position it somewhere where there is constant daylight."

I carefully inspected the plastic encasement of the lights. There was nothing I had missed. I had definitely put the lights together correctly.

We waited for nightfall, hoping that the lights would turn on, but still, all was dark.

"I can't believe you spent 158 shekels for lights that don't work!" my daughter said, when she visited us. "Take them back - they're defective!"

But I waited patiently. Maybe they needed a week's worth of sunlight to work?

Then I looked again at the plastic covers over the lights. I took one in my hands and unscrewed the top, just under the black panel. Inside I saw not only the tiny bulb, but a small switch. There were two words written on either side of the switch. One said "On" and the other said "Off". I moved the black button in the direction of "On" and then went to adjust the other lights.

Nightfall. One by one, the solar lights lit up, full of a week's worth of solar energy just bursting to shine on our garden.

Amazing! When turned on, the lights go on!

I am convinced that nowhere in the instructions did it mention the On-Off switch, but then again, I threw out the instructions before reading them.

The dark is not as dark when the lights are turned on.

Sitting on our patio in the dark, looking out at the garden lights, is quite enjoyable. It's also comforting to know that friends of ours who purchased similar solar lights were so frustrated that they called the store to complain, and they, too, eventually learned how to release this small, but significant amount of solar power.

Related article:

The Incident with the Beard


  1. Beautiful solar lights, and an interesting article. Great photos, too.

  2. I was smiling as I was reading because I have done the SAME THING myself! I'm just glad to know I'm not the only one. In fact, truthfully, I've done this TWICE. Once it was an on/off switch, the next time there was no switch. Instead it was a small plastic tab you pull out to activate it "on". So at least you've only done it once whereas I have the hilarious honor of having it TWICE to my name! HA! I loved your article and I absolutely love your garden area. So beautiful and peaceful. Shalom my dear friend!

    1. Once I can understand, but twice? Thanks for stopping by (I know who you are, my good friend, even though the comment is listed 'Anonymous').

  3. Thanks for sharing fabulous information. It' s my pleasure to read it.I have also bookmarked you for checking out new panels for petrol station

  4. Why don't guys like to read instructions?

    1. That is the essential question posed here, but alas, I don't have the answer!

  5. Great story and lovely pictures! Made me smile this morning :)

  6. I read your blog and I noticed some useful information from this post. Thanks for sharing unique information.

    Garden Lights Tuinverlichting & Tuinverlichting In-lite

  7. Hilarious...and something I would probably have done myself! They look lovely though :-)

  8. I am always impressed by the ingeunity of the Israeli people in marrying technology and the environment in really forward thinking ways - especially given the climate in Israel mirrors that of our own down here in Australia. We should be looking to your example of what can be done in arid environments.

    Always insightful Ellis.