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Solar-powered fairy lights don’t make gardens glitter

Fairy lights on Christmas tree

Can solar-powered fairy lights really work at a time when we’re so bereft of sunshine? Put it this way – don’t expect them to brighten your mood this winter and you won’t be disappointed.

They’re eco friendly, cheap to run and you don’t need to worry about cables – what’s not to like about solar lights? Well, until recently, the dim blue glow they emitted, for starters!

But technology has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years, and solar lights are now used to illuminate streets and even the runway at Southampton airport. So a string of solar fairy lights is sure to set our festive gardens a-twinkle, right?

Er, no. When Which? Gardening tested 13 sets of solar-powered fairy lights recently (all of them festive-looking and deemed suitable for outdoor use in winter) not one of them produced enough light to transform our gardens into a glittering grotto.

In fact, there was no hope of any of them producing even the dimmest dusk-to-bedtime display – unless you’re in the habit of having very early nights.

The efficacy of solar lights largely depends on the sunlight that they receive during the day, and in December, an average of 80% of days are dull. But having said that, many of the lights we tested didn’t stay on for long even after a sunny day – and the light emitted was a fraction of their mains-powered equivalents.

Sadly we couldn’t recommend any of the lights that we tested, but we’re convinced there must be some decent solar lights out there. Do you have any solar garden lights or gadgets that really do work, even in the depths of winter? If so, we’d love to hear about them!

M. Fearneyhough says:
29 November 2010

We have used these from The Solar Centre http://www.thesolarcentre.co.uk/pages/solar_fairy_lights.html
They have proved excellent. All last winter they came on at dusk and went off at dawn. There was enough solar generated electricity to keep the lights on all the hours of darkness. A variety of lighting options is available, twinkling, on/off, etc or you can have all in sequence. We have the multi coloured ones and they are bright and really colourful.
We started with a set of 100 and have been so pleased with them, that we’ve just bought a set of 200 for this year. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Sophie Gilbert says:
30 November 2010

Cheers, M. Fearneyhough. I was looking for such lights, so I’ll give them a go.


Yes, it’s good to hear there are some good ones around – thanks for the recommendation! Any others that people have tried?

T James says:
28 October 2012

I bought the same lights from this supplier & cant fault them. They light up at dusk even at the end of the darkest day & stayed on for hours. would definatly recommend & I will be prrchasing more shortly too

Solar Illuminations says:
3 May 2011

Let us first say that the Which report of December 2010 is very, very misleading. We do not feel that Which acted appropriately with the way in which they sourced and compared these products. They deliberately chose pretty much 13 of the cheapest sets of Solar Christmas Lights on the market and then basically said they are all junk. So let’s put this into perspective. If you go any find the cheapest version of anything it doesn’t take an intelligent person to know that it’s not going to be the highest quality or perform the best. For example, select 13 of the very cheapest and lowest specification laptop computers then put them to the test knowing that they will not perform as well as 13 of the highest priced or highest specifications laptops. You can’t then say the cheapest lowest spec’ed models are junk. They meet the needs of some people especially the budget conscious, for example.
The solar lights that Which decided to purchase from our company (Solar Illuminations) were almost the lowest priced, most basic model that we offer. We have never advertised them as being able to illuminate all night long, in the UK, in the middle of winter, no matter what the weather!
If any customer contacts us and requests solar Christmas lights that have the best chance of running from dusk to dawn even if the weather is poor, we would guide them to the right product. We specifically offer three models (XP03, XP07 and XP08) that are all capable of operating from dusk to dawn, in the UK, in the middle of winter. Had these models been selected they would have scored highly in the tests conducted by Which.
Instead Which chose the cheapest, most basic sets of lights across the board and slated all of them. They then make the bold statement that it’s the first time every product is a ‘DON’T BUY!’. It is irrelevant that Which appointed an independent agent to handle the testing.
We would like to add that Solar Illuminations was the first company in the world to introduce solar powered LED Christmas lights almost 8 years ago and the first company in the world to introduce solar rope light almost 5 years ago. The concepts are great and the products do work. The ideas have been copied over the years and there are some very cheap, poor quality versions out there. But, as always you get what you pay for and we all know that. Solar Illuminations offers a variety of solar Christmas lights across a broad price range. As much as we would only like to offer the highest quality best performing models, price often dictates and we have to offer lower grade versions priced accordingly for those that cannot afford to pay more.
Finally, to conclude, we would have preferred that Which consulted each vendor and selected higher grade products for its tests. The end results would be in complete contrast to what was published. We sincerely hope that this was a one-time error by Which (or it’s agent) or whether all their testing is conducted this way. If so, their reports leave much to be desired.

Sales Department
Solar Illuminations (UK)


Thanks for your comment Solar Illuminations. At Which? we don’t only test the best and most expensive products. In this case, we chose these particular styles of solar lights as they resembled popular mains powered ones that our readers would be familiar with.

All the solar lights we tested were sold as being suitable for winter use but in our tests, none were. We think consumers have a right to know this. If you’d like to discuss this issue with us further, please use our Contact Us form: https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us/

bilbo says:
6 October 2011

To, Solar Illuminations

I guess the question has to be why do you sully your good product range with tat, either you are a market leader or you are a junk seller, why confuse the customer and indeed the market as to your market position. Moaning that Which tested one of your offerings is weak.

To Which, there is clearly a lot of confusion in the market about, battery types, size of solar panel and light types (LED etc), there is also a lot of junk spread all over the gardens of the UK some of which work and some of which do not even twinkle. Could you do some proper research into solar garden lights (and (I can’t believe I’m writing this) christmas/fairy lights) and give us all an update, there is no comparison website out there so you need to do it.

Solar Illuminations says:
16 October 2011

For your information we sell over 200 different solar powered products. Products costing from a pounds to thousands of pounds. It’s obvious there are different quality levels, just like with anything you buy. When you choose a new TV or computer you have the same such choices. Cheap, low cost, basic products or high-end more expensive ones. This is all common sense and something we all know so we are not sure why we are having to explain this to bilbo.
What we are trying to say is instead of testing the very cheapest solar Christmas lights that have specifications that are clearly not going to illuminate from dusk to dawn, a more higher quality set should have been tested. As always you get what you pay for. Solar Illuminations offers a selection of solar Christmas lights and some customers do not want dusk to dawn illumination or cannot afford the higher priced sets. Other customers want dusk to dawn lighting and are happy to pay a little extra for that.
If Which was really looking for something that worked great perhaps they should have selected higher priced fairy lights from fewer vendors. The overall results would have been very much different.
Finally, we would like to correct Which by saying that the set they tested was (and never has been) advertised as working for a specific amount of hours in the middle of winter. Instead, we have always said that the illumination time will vary and is subject to a variety of factors including geographic location, weather conditions, season and location of product. The product Which tested was affected by one or more of these factors unfortunately. However, had they tested our higher end solar fairy lights such as models XP03 or XP07 they would have seen them lighting up from dusk to dawn, even in the middle of winter in the UK!
On a final note, if a solar product is running from one or two AA or AAA batteries it WILL have limitations. That’s very obvious. All the solar fairy lights tested by Which all used these batteries as their power source hence similar results. Our XP03 and XP07 do not use such batteries which is why they cost more.