California Lightworks SolarSystem Review: Best LED Grow Lights?
California Lightworks SolarSystem Review: Best LED Grow Lights?
on April 18, 2017
I reviewed the California Lightworks SolarSystem series and this is what I think...
The California Lightworks SolarSystem series is a major breakthrough in horticultural lighting. The series was introduced late-2016 and stands second in the lineup after the original SolarStorm series, released several years ago by California Lightworks. While the SolarStorm series was more focused on home growers, the SolarSystem series offers a turn-key lighting solution for all growers.
A few of the noticeable upgrades from the SolarStorm includes:
Better heatsink design (casing/body is aluminum and IS the actual heat sink
More efficient diodes
More PAR (higher light intensity)
This review of the California Lightworks SolarSystem series will not cover a specific fixture, but instead, I will review the entire series with the applicable mention of the individual models. I will provide you with an overview of the SolarSystem series and also help you determine which LED grow light(s) is right for you and your plants.
So, let’s take a dive into the SolarSystem series to learn more about how California Lightworks is rapidly advancing LED grow technology.
Near the end of the review, find out how much you can save on California Lightworks with a special discount code.
California Lightworks SolarSystem Review
One of the first things you might notice is that the SolarSystem series is quite diverse. There are three sizes of primary grow lights—SS1100, SS550 and SS275. These are the main grow lights from the series. The other two lights—the Far Red and UVB—are meant as supplementary lights.
However, there are actually two versions of the SolarSytem 550—Full-Cycle and Veg—and three versions of the SolarSystem 275—Full-Cycle, Veg and Bloom.
So, what makes the SolarSystem series so unique?...
The California Lightworks SolarSystem series is a modular grow light system which allows growers full customization over their lighting via:
Spectral control through 3 different channels: red, blue and white
Dimming from 0-100%
Daily/weekly/monthly scheduling, sunrise/sunset and seasonal variation
All of the SolarSystem fixtures can be operated manually or with a proprietary wireless controller. In manual mode (without a controller), the light intensity is always set at 100% and you are not able to adjust the spectrum or intensity. Timing cannot be controlled either unless you use a wall timer.
The system is really designed to be used with the controller, so I suggest purchasing one to get the full benefits of the fixture(s). You can connect as many SolarSystem series lights to one controller as you would like (not to exceed 1000 units). One thing to keep in mind, is that the controller can only control one particular setup at a time. For example, if you have several SolarSystem 1100s, Far Red and UVB units in one setup, and several SolarSystem 550 Veg units and 275 units in another setup, you can not control both setups independently. You would need two controllers—one for the first setup and one for the second setup.
Everything that California Lightworks makes is either made in-house or in southern California. This is in stark contrast to many LED companies whose lights are constructed overseas (typically China) or they import parts from overseas (typically China) and assemble the units in-house.
The beauty of the SolarSystem is that the entire unit is built around the heatsink. The SolarSystem heatsink is massive compared to the size of the unit.
Image: California Lightworks SolarSystem 550 heatsink
Next, the printed circuit board (PCB) is mounted directly to the heatsink.
Image: California Lightworks SolarSystem 550 PCB mounting
The LED drivers, which are custom manufactured by California Lightworks and specifically designed to work with the SolarSystem series, are mounted on the edge of the heatsink after the PCB board.
Image: California Lightworks SolarSystem 550 drivers
Next, the side plates, end caps, fans and fan cover, and plexiglass is assembled. California Lightworks makes the side plates in-house. The plastic end covers is where the SolarSystem controller resides. What a great space saving design!
Image: California Lightworks SolarSystem controller and end cap
The plastic fan and cover assembly is made locally via a custom-designed injection mold process. The plexiglass cover seals the unit and protects the LED assembly against dust, moisture or impact.
Image: California Lightworks SolarSystem final assembly
Finally, the lights undergo a burn-in cycle for 24 hours (ran through all cycles and spectrums) to test for reliability.
Image: California Lightworks SolarSystem burn in
The final unit is lightweight, compact and fully-sealed on top and bottom so dripping water, spraying, splashing or humidity is not an issue.
Overall, the SolarSystem series is very well-built from the best components that California Lightworks can source. This ensures that lights are reliable and last you a long time.
California Lightworks Factory Tour
Made in the USA
Custom made drivers
Plexiglass may slightly decrease light transmission
California Lightworks uses some of the best diodes in the industry. They incorporate 5-watt Osram diodes into every grow fixture they make. California Lightworks is consistently benchmarking Osram, Cree and Philips to ensure they are always using the most efficient diodes possible.
The LEDs are brought in from Osram and are assembled onto the custom PCB by California Lightworks' pick-and-place machine.
Image: California Lightworks SolarSystem diode assembly onto PCB
California Lightworks only uses metal-core printed circuit boards (MCPCB), specifically designed for the diode's layout. It is very important for heat management to have high-quality PCBs and quality LEDs with ceramic packaging. These features draw the heat away from the diode to ensure high-efficiency and a long lifetime.
Image: SolarSystem 550 Osram diodes
5-watt, Osram diodes
Custom, metal-core PCB
Diodes are placed on PCB in-house
Optics are an important consideration because they determine how the emitted light is transmitted to the canopy and beyond. The light can radiate in a narrow beam or a wide beam. Narrow beams produce higher PAR levels but less coverage, while wider beam can lead to lower PAR levels but a wider coverage area. Sometimes secondary optics are used to decrease the beam angle.
California Lightworks does not use secondary optics over their diodes. This is similar to what Black Dog LED does on their PhytoMAX-2 series. The reason for this is because 5-watt diodes exude a lot of photons per watt and provide enough intensity to register high PAR levels. Secondary optics reduce the efficiency of the diode since a lot of light can be lost due to reflection and refraction inside of the optic.
Furthermore, the lack of secondary optics allows for a more even coverage area instead of a hot spot in the center of the fixture's footprint. This is especially important for growers who grow in grow rooms or greenhouses where the fixtures are placed far above the plants. The wider beam angle enables the light to mix evenly before it hits the canopy while increasing canopy penetration.
No secondary optics used to ensure even coverage with no hotspots
The maximum wattage draw of each of the SolarSystem grow lights is as follows:
Note: Don't confuse the numbers in the title of the fixture for the actualwattage draw or the fixture's HID replacement equivalent.
The lights are simply more powerful than a lot of other LED grow lights out there and California Lightworks makes accurate claims about their coverage area, so they can guarantee their lights work great for Veg and Flower in the recommended footprint.
Yet, the wattage should not tell you how large of an area the fixture will cover, and instead is more accurately used to calculate energy usage. Different LED grow lights will cover different size spaces depending on the efficiency of the unit. Some grow lights do a better job at covering more space than other grow lights.
For example, California Lightworks states that their SolarSystem 1100 will cover a 4x4 space for flowering. I have seen other lights that cover a 4x4 space for flowering that might only draw 500 watts, yet these lights typically have a lower intensity at that coverage area than the SolarSystem 1100.
Image: SolarSystem 1100 full-spectrum LED grow light
Here's why: The SolarSystem emits photons at a rate of 1284 micromoles/second (PPF) which is quite high. This is on par with Black Dog LEDs PhytoMAX-2 800 LED grow light. Extrapolating from Black Dog LEDs data, we can conclude that the SolarSystem 1100 emits about an average of 800 PPFD over a 4x4 area. This is sufficient for flowering. If one wanted to, they could probably increase the flowering footprint to a 4.5'x 4.5' or 5' x 5', but the final yields would not be as large.
Another great thing about the series is that it can be dimmed via the external digital controller, which can help reduce wattage consumption if the extra power is not needed. For example, you can turn down the reds for Veg and turn off the UVB units until the last couple weeks of Flower.
Overall, the SolarSystem series is efficient and will save you on electricity costs, while delivering high-quality intense light to your plants.
Accurate claims regarding wattage draw
Intensity can be dimmed to reduce wattage consumption and save on energy
The biggest advantage of the SolarSystem series spectrum is that it is fully-customizable. This can be done using the optional external controller. For larger grows, you can use the external controller, but you can also customize the ratio of different models you include in your grow setup. For example, you might have:
12 x 1100
4 x 550 Veg
12 x Far Red
12 x UVB
Or, instead you might consider:
4 x 550
4 x 550 Veg
2 x Far Red
4 x UVB
The combination of lights depends on your setup and what you are growing. Plants will grow well under the primary SolarSystem grow lights, but adding the UV and IR can be a boon. Just remember that the Far Red fixture covers up to a 5' x 5' and the UV fixture will cover about a 4' x 4' area.
The spectral curves below are assuming all of the LEDs are turned up to 100% intensity. The ratios can be manipulated. It should be noted that manipulating the intensities will decrease the intensity.
SolarSystem 1100, 550, 275
SolarSystem 550 Veg
SolarSystem Far Red
California Lightworks SolarSystem full-cycle spectrum contains a blue:red ratio of about 0.7:1. The high amount of blue is ideal for increasing quality (resin production) in the flowers. The white diodes also bring in a little bit of green into the spectrum to help naturalize the would-be blurple (blue and purple light) and to assist photosynthesis (as green as been shown to do in scientific studies: see here and here).
The Veg spectrum has slightly more blue added to it, providing the high energy blue light that plants need to grow lush foliage while reducing stretch.
The UVB light has been shown to increase trichome and resin production, boosting terpenes, THC, CBD, flavonoids and other compounds.
Image: SolarSystem UVB grow light
During Veg, far red can boost photosynthesis via the Emerson effect. When used during flowering, far red shortens the length of the dark period, allowing for longer days for vegging.
When the full-cycle, UVB and far red spectrums are put together, you have a full spectrum lighting system tuned to your strain's exact requirements.
In sum, the breadth, versatility and tunability of the SolarSystem's spectrum makes this series the best complete LED lighting on the market.
Fully customizable spectrum
Excellent spectrum for plant growth and flowering
UVB and IR wavelengths can be added as separate fixtures
Some growers might want UVB and IR in a single primary grow fixture
PAR / PPF
SS1100 PPF Output: 1284 umol/s
SS550 PPF Output: 620 umol/s
SS550 PPF Output: 642 umol/s
SS275 PPF Output: 350 umol/s
No PPF data is available for UV and Far Red since these wavelengths fall out of the typical PAR range of 400-700nm).
While California Lightworks has not released PAR maps for the SolarSystem series, I have acquired some PPFD measurements comparing the SolarSystem 550 (400 watts) to a 600 watt HPS:
Image: SolarSystem 550 vs 600 watt HPS PPFD comparison
As you can see, the SolarSystem 550 draws less power and more PAR than a 600-watt HPS.
High PPF in relation to wattage draw
The primary grow lights in the SolarSystem series outperform HPS lighting
No accessible PAR maps (yet)
Consideration: PAR decreases when spectrum/intensity is dimmed
Image: High-intensity PAR under the SolarSystem 550
The recommended coverage areas for the SolarSystem series can be found below:
Veg: up to 8' x 8' (64 sq ft)
Bloom: 4' x 4' (16 sq ft)
Veg: up to 4' x 8' (32 sq ft)
Bloom: 2' x 4' (8 sq ft) to 3' x 4' (12 sq ft)
Veg: Up to 6' x 8' (48 sq ft)
Veg: up to 5' x 5' (25 sq ft)
Bloom: 3' x 3' (9 sq ft)
5' x 5' (25 sq ft)
3' x 3' (9 sq ft)
SolarSystem Far Red: Veg and bloom: up to 5' x 5' (25 sq ft)
SolarSystem UVB:Veg and bloom: up to 4' x 4' (16 sq ft)
Coverage areas are similar to HPS (while drawing fewer watts and exuding more light)
As depicted in the Construction section above, the heatsinks are massive in relation to the size of the grow light. The heatsinks are made in-house from extruded aluminum and are the contributing factor to the final shape of the SolarSystem series. By using 2-3x more aluminum than their competitors, California Lightworks is able to drive the LEDs to near their full capacity without any degradation in LED quality or lifespan.
Image: California Lightworks SolarSystem 275
The fans on the SolarSystem series are rated at 50,000 hours and are water, dust and humidity resistant. They are installed on top of the SolarSystem units near the end of the manufacturing process. The fans are low-velocity, but move a lot of air from the above the unit, onto the heatsinks, and out the sides. They reside under a protective cover, allowing them to be very easily replaced compared to many other LED grow lights in which the user needs to open the entire casing to gain access to the fans.
Image: Solarsystem 550 fan assembly
Heatsinks:2-3 times more aluminum than competitors
Most of the fixture is the heatsink, allowing excellent heat dissipation
Fans have long lifespan and are very efficient
Fans are easily accessible and replaceable
California Lightworks state a fast return on investment for their SolarSystem series. While the initial cost of LED grow lights can be more than traditional lighting, the fixtures will save you on energy costs over the long-term.
The flower quality and yield increase with plants grown with LED grow lights is the quickest ROI that the grower will notice.
Image: SolarSystem 550 spectrum
How To Use
All of the units in the SolarSystem series are very easy to use. Simply attach the metal hangers to the unit and hang them with ratchet hangers to an attachment above.
The units come with a 120VAC power cord, but the units contain automatic voltage recognition from 90-277VAC. Once the unit is plugged into a power source, flip the power switch on.
If connecting multiple units to one controller, use the RJ11 data connection cable between each unit. The controller can be used to setup the different program schedules.
Controller functions need to be learned in order to fully integrate the units
Warranty And Returns
The California Lightworks SolarSystem series has a 5-year warranty and 90-day return policy. All warranty items are returned to California Lightworks for a fast turn-around time.
All returns within the return window are subject to a 15% restocking fee. However, customers are usually very happy with their purchase(s) and items are rarely returned.
Items are serviced in the USA, not overseas
Included In The Box
SolarSystem grow light
Data communication cable for greenhouse or grow room applications
LED Grow Lights Depot is running a limited time discount of 12% off of California Lightworks. Use code: SOLAR at checkout to receive 12% off of your purchase.
This code does not stack with any other discounts. If you are interested in more than 2 units, please contact LED Grow Lights Depot for the best pricing (email us here or call 971-266-0352).
At the end of the day, I give the series a 9/10.
Why? The spectrum control, dimming and timing functions are a great touch to the series, allowing growers to fully customize their plant's light source. The spectrum is ideal for high-light plants, but can be used for other vegetative plants or flowering plants, such as leafy greens, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.
The fixtures are intense for the number of watts they draw, allowing adequate PAR to reach far beyond the plant's canopy.
The fixtures are made in the USA (California) from the highest quality materials. The heatsinks are massive, which allow California Lightworks to drive the diodes to nearly full capacity since the fixture's cooling system (heatsinks and fans) can sufficiently draw the excess heat from the unit.
These fixtures are perfect for the home grower growing in a grow room or grow tent, but they also provide the optimal lighting solution for greenhouse growers looking for that edge to provide their plants.
While, I really love these lights (I have a SolarSystem 550, myself), their are a few things that I can see certain growers not liking about them. One of these line items includes cooling fans. There are some growers who prefer passive cooling for their LED grow lights. The second gripe of first-time growers or growers who have used traditional lighting for a long time might be that LED units are expensive. Yes, there are less expensive units on the market, but I would not recommend many of these due to their poor quality. When it comes to LED grow lights, you get what you put in. That is, buy the best LED grow light that you can afford. A good lighting system should be your biggest investment for your grow space. Choosing California Lightworks SolarSystem series will fulfill that investment.
Real Grower reviews and Testimonials
"Great customer service even with difficult international orders. Responsive and quick follow ups. I am completely satisfied with the service and products."
"Excellent customer service, Erik. This is what will make your business grow and be successful. Great job."
"Best growth rate ever. Low power consumption, low heat, controller enables ability to tune spectrum and timing. No ducting no spendy light controller, gonna order 10 more when I expand."
"I just received your 550 and I feel like a kid in a candy store. You guys made one hell of a machine I was impressed from the box to how easy it was to handle and set up."
“I've used the spectrum control for the veg@ 30% red, 99% blue, 99% white. On a 24 hour cycle Noon-5pm I run it @ %50 red, 99%white, 99%blue. They seem to thrive at that schedule."
“I am using them with great success in veg. I have used MH and T5 fluorescents in the past. The biggest difference I've seen is that there is no initial stretching in the beginning veg phase. This has usually been the case with both the other types of lights. I am about to start the bloom program, and am very hopeful about the results.”
"It's great to be able to program the light, can even program the entire grow season."
The SolarSystem controller puts you in control of your garden. A single controller can automate a single light in a grow tent or a 1000 light commercial operation and controls all the lighting products in the SolarSystem series.