Any mention of solar lighting creates an image of those ubiquitous yard lights found in gardens and along drives and walkways almost everywhere these days. Solar yard lights are no longer what they used to be when the style was a saucer-shaped light fixture on top of a pointed metal stake.

Now they come in all shades of metallics: silver, pewter, gold-tone, and copper; in all kinds of shapes including animals, flowers, insects, birds, rocks . . . even your house number. They can now be mounted on a fence or hung from a hook as well as stuck in the ground. They're commonplace in our backyards today but yard lights are only a tiny aspect of solar lighting, in general.

Solar lights: types and technology advancements, are common subjects of discussion throughout the media. Much of the street lighting in our towns and cities today is solar-powered. Businesses use solar fixtures for security and for perimeter lighting. There are solar flood lights and spot lights and now, solar lanterns, to replace those dangerous kerosene camp-lamps that we struggled with for years.

The intensity of solar-powered lighting was an issue in the past, but now newer technology has merged the science of photovoltaic cells (PV) with light emitting diodes (LEDs), producing bright white solar lights which are much more energy efficient -- making indoor solar lighting more feasible.

The development of thin-film semiconductor materials manufactured in volume, have now begun to supplant the use of the crystalline silicon of handmade solar cells, making newer solar cells cheaper to produce and more convenient. Portable solar cells will enable the powering of all sorts of small appliances and lighting fixtures, wherever their users may go.

We are a long way from the darkened evenings of pioneer America. Developments in solar lighting will continue to make our lives easier, but there are still places on earth that do not have the advantage of artificial lighting. In those places not on an existing power-grid, solar lighting and the technologies that are making it less expensive and more available, will continue to completely change lives.