I am always a bit hesitant to entertain a request for testing a new LED grow light and it was no different the day George from CaliforniaLightworks.com contacted me to test out a new light, the SolarFlare. There is a lot of time and effort involved in producing a decent grow with any light I test and, with LED companies asking me to test out new lights nearly every week, I need to be sure that my time is spent wisely.
Now, a couple months later, I am glad I chose to test out his new light . . . and here is why . . .
SolarFlare 200W LED Grow Light Review
The SolarFlare Full Cycle arrived in the usual way via courier and I was surprised at the diminutive size of the box. Having already tested lights from 90W UFOs to 500W panels, I assumed this light would be of similar size and weight to other 200W lights I have tested. So I became rather skeptical when I pulled the unit out of the box and saw that this light was less than the size of a 90W UFO.
The light base measures 9 inches square and about 4 inches tall and weighs in at 9 pounds which makes it very easy to hang in tight spaces. After learning that this light uses all 5w chips, I realized that this was going to be a different creature when it comes to testing. Up until this point, I had only tested lights at 1w or 3w.
Cons About The SolarFlare
The LEDs run pretty hot . . up over 140 degrees at the diodes but the air coming off of the heat sink is about 100 degrees so you need to be sure you have some air flow in small spaces so you don't get too warm. It would be a good idea to keep your plant tops away from the lenses as well. Speaking of which, light height could be an issue with smaller closet growers. Because of the intensity, it is recommended that the light be at least 18-24 inches above the canopy for vegetative growth which could prove a problem for growers with vertical space constraints.
Usually when I do a review, I also pop open the light and take a look at build quality on the inside. Problem is that this unit is riveted together so taking it apart is not an option. This also means that California Lightworks has high expectations for this unit - having no customer serviceable parts (i.e. power supply) means that any failure will require the light be shipped back to California for warranty service. Any grower knows that down time can kill your plants so lets hope the SolarFlare is up for the challenge. And the last little gripe I have is that the warranty is 2 years, not 3 like most other lights out there. Not a big deal, just annoying really.
Benefits & Pros About The SolarFlare
This is the quietest LED grow light I have review thus far. It has one fan top-center of the unit and a massive heat sink with huge fins. It also sports a metal core PCB which is better for cooling. What this means is that a single fan can supply enough cooling power at lower speed which makes this light quite stealthy. This is a pretty big deal as I have some lights that roar with 6 fans that I can hear from 15 feet away behind closed doors!
I have tested this light on some herbs and ornamental peppers so far and have to say that it works very well, although, I did have a bit of a learning curve on this one. Instead of reading the manual (duh!) I relied on my past experience with other lights . . . ended up putting the light too close to my bush bean seedlings. They grew fast and vigorous for the first couple weeks but then stopped all vegetative growth. This should have been my first sign I screwed up. Then it started flowering like crazy at only about a third of the height it should have been. This should have been my second sign . . . but no, I was determined to fry these plants, which is exactly what happened just a few days later!
Problem was that with the light too close, the plants raced through growth cycles and died before I could get a true grow out of it. After a call to George, he informed me, nicely, that I was a dope and need to raise the light up to compensate for the intensity of the 5w chips. It needs to be around 18-24 inches up . . . not the 12 inches above the plants that I had it hanging. Which brings me to another point - customer service has been right on whenever I needed anything . . . a rarity in this industry.
A few more positives . . the light is manufactured in the USA with 99% USA parts. I really like this because it proves that LED grow lights can be made domestically and still compete on price. Most lights are, at best, engineered in the USA but manufactured in China using Chinese parts. I am not saying that you can't get a good light out of China, because you can, but it is nice to know that this company supports American workers. Also, the footprint on the marketing materials is accurate - 3x3 for vegetative growth and 2x2 for flowering.
These images are from a black SolarFlare Prototype unit - current production units are red. Keep in mind that this light is NOT meant to be taken apart . . . I did so just to show build quality. If you do this to your light, you will void your warranty and the light will not go back together!
With my full scale test grow, I will be doing some tomatoes and/or cucumbers just to see how the SolarFlare can handle a taller plant. You will be able to find a link here when it is ready.
Overall, the SolarFlare is a light I can recommend to growers and it comes at a reasonable price point. Check out the California Lightworks section on LEDGrowLightForum.com to see live grow results and feel free to weigh in on the action.