California Lightworks SolarStorm 880 Review – Grow Light Central

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California Lightworks SolarStorm 880 Review

I knew I was switching to LED, but I didn't know which light to get.

I had it narrowed down to four, all of them 1000 watt HID equivalents. I was replacing the two 1000 watt MH and HPS lights in my 4 by 8 foot tent. I've been happy with HID, but was tired of dealing with heat. I also like the idea of spending less on power and not needing to change bulbs.

Before my (weeks of) research, I already knew of California Lightworks' stellar reputation in the industry and expected the SolarStorm 880 (link to product page) to be one of the top contenders. It's one of the few "1000 watt equivalents" that actually matches 1000 watt HPS yields in real growing situation.

But is it the light for me?

In the end it wasn't. Not quite.

 

Read the rest of the California Lightworks SolarStorm 800 review: 

Table of Contents

(click a title to jump ahead)

  1. Wattage
  2. Spectrum
  3. Par/Coverage
  4. LEDs
  5. Heat
  6. Operation
  7. Dimensions
  8. Included
  9. Pros and Cons
  10. Price
  11. Summary

Actual Wattage and HID Equivalent

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The SolarStorm 880 is billed as a 1000 watt HPS equivalent and unlike most LED lights, growers have actually reported yields equal to, or even greater than, HPS (see this story, for example).

That said, many growers still report lower yields, though much of that is due to the differences in growing with HPS light and with LED light. Once you've gotten used to the differences, you can expect yields close to those of a 1000 watt HPS bulb, but maybe a little less. The quality will be higher, though.

The actual wattage used depends on which of the three modes you're using: in veg mode the unit uses 475 watts, in bloom mode it consumes 650 watts and in bloom mode with UVB bulb running it draws 680 watts.

I love that you can reduce power consumption and save money during the vegetative stage, when your plants don't need as much light. That said, when you compare this with the level of customization offered by Kind LED in their lights (the ability to control the reds, blues and whites separately), the SolarStorm lights fall short.

 

CLW SolarStorm 880 LED Grow Light Spectrum

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The SolarStorm 880 has a 5-band spectrum that includes deep red (665 nm), red (620 nm, blue (470 nm), deep blue (440 nm) and warm white light (3100K). While some competing lights include more bands (up to 12), the 5 bands in the 880 give your plants all the light they need for any stage of growth.

In addition to the LEDs, the 880 also features two T8 fluorescent UV-B bulbs. This is the Solar Storm line's big selling feature. You only use the UVB light during the final few weeks of flowering, when it increases resin production, leading to more potent yields.

While opinions vary on the usefulness of UVB light, I like that they added the T8 bulbs to their fixture. They're giving us something different. That said, it wasn't enough to get me to buy the 880. If I want to add UVB light to my grow, I'll just buy a couple of bulbs separately.

Does California Lightworks 5-band plus UV-B spectrum work?

Yes. CLW lights are some of the only LED grow lights that have matched, and even exceeded, HPS yields when used in actual grows. These lights are proven to work and the company enjoys a stellar reputation in the industry as a result. That said, most home growers will likely see yields slightly below HPS.

 

PAR and Coverage Area

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CLW provides single PAR values for their lights, but not a PAR footprint. Single values are mostly useless, since they only give you the reading directly below the light. A fixture could focus all its light onto a single spot and achieve a huge PAR rating, but have a coverage are of a few square inches as a result.

That said, we know that is not the case with the SS 880, so I don't know why they don't provide a PAR footprint. Here are the PAR values they give:

  • 3694 at 12 inches from the canopy
  • 2439 at 18 inches
  • 1596 at 24 inches
  • 949 at 36 inches

That doesn't tell us much, I know.

The bottom line is this: the SolarStorm 880 provides light intense enough to flower a 4 by 4 foot area. For vegging, it can cover a 7 by 7 foot area. What's more, it achieves a deeper canopy penetration than most LED lights, so your plants grow buds further down and yields increase.

I want to take a minute here and applaud CLW for their honesty. They plainly state on their website that we can't expect this light to adequately flower an area larger than 4 by 4.

Most of their competitors claim their lights cover 5 by 5 for flowering, but that is not actually the case. They get 5 by 5 plants with low light requirements, but not for cannabis or other plants that need lots of light. This is another reason for CLW's good reputation.

If you are growing in a tent or other area with reflective walls, however, this light can cover a 5 by 5 area, since the light reflecting off the walls will light up the outer parts of the coverage area.

While this light would work great in a 3 by 3 tent as well, you could save some money and go with the SolarStorm 440 instead. It's basically the same light, but less powerful.

 

LED Type and Configuration

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California Lightworks outfits their SolarStorm 880 with 288 five watt Osram SSL diodes.  These are some of the highest quality diodes available. They are rated for 80,000 hours. For comparison, most other LED companies use diodes rated for 50,000 hours. Only NextLight has a longer lifespan (100,000 hours).

This is impressive, no doubt. But after a bit of digging, I learned that the diode output after 65,000 hours is only 70% of the original output, so that's something to be aware of (it's 90% after 50,000 hours). I should note that California Lightworks do include this information on their website. They just don't advertise it like they do the 80,000 hours figure.

The main advantage of the 5 watt Osram diodes is power. They simply shine brighter than other diodes. To be exact, they emit 10 to 15% more light, while consuming the same amount of power as the competition.

What I find most amazing is that CLW have managed to keep the heat in check. 5 watt diodes run much hotter than 3 watt diodes, which is why most manufacturers use the smaller diodes or a mix of 3 watt and 5 watt diodes (like CLW's closest competitor, Kind LED).

Yet somehow, CLW have designed a unit using all 5 watt diodes that emits around the same amount of heat as competing fixtures using 3 watt diodes. That's impressive, but it should be said that Black Dog also uses 5 watt diodesmore of them in fact—making their heat management even more impressive.

California Lightworks SolarStorm880 review bottom view

The LEDs are arranged in four modules in the center of the unit, flanked on each side by a T8 fluorescent tube. These tubes emit a UV-B light in the spectrum range from 285 to 315 nm.

This is the most advertised feature. Some would call it a gimmick and the truth is, the science is still out on the exact effects of UV-B light on plant growth. The generally accepted consensus is that a moderate amount of UVB light during the final weeks of flowering helps increase THC production.

Personally, I think the powerful 5 watt diodes are the best feature of this light. They're the reason I almost ended up purchasing the 880, not the UVB tubes. I like that they added additional UVB light, but I don't think it's necessary—you can always just buy separate supplemental UVB light.

 

Heat Output

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As mentioned above, California Lightworks manage to keep the heat output of their lights in line with their competitors, despite using more powerful 5 watt diodes than most of the competition.

If you've got your 880 in an enclosed space, you're going to have to ventilate in the hot summer months, but compared to HPS, cooling requirements are minimal. On the flip side, you may have to heat your grow room a bit in the winter, if you live in a cold climate.

One concern I came across a lot in my research was noisy fans. The four fans in the 880 are very quiet. They run constantly when the unit is in operation and basically emit the same level of noise as a standard computer fan.

I should also note that the fans are rated for 50,000 hours of use. This is pretty standard, but for this particular unit, it means you'll probably have to replace the fans before the LED diodes. And remember: 50,000 is 7.6 years if you run the light for 18 hours a day and 11.4 years at 12 hours per day.

 

Operation

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Operating the 880 is incredibly simple—too simple for me, in fact. 

Two switches control everything. One toggles between veg and bloom modes and the other turns the UVB bulb on and off. Both switches are located on the side of the unit.

CLW SolarStorm880 review control panel

This couldn't be simpler, but I actually prefer more complexity. I like to have more control. I want to be able to customize everything, like you can with Kind LED lights. I also miss not having a remote, although with only two switches, there really isn't a need for one.

The following video explains the features and operation of the SS 880 in a bit more detail.

Getting this light set up and operational is incredibly simple. Hang it, plug it into any outlet and start growing. Of course many of us will be running our lights off 240 volts (like me), so we would actually need to get a separate cord (it ships with a standard 110/120 volt cord). Here is some info you might need (more specs on the product page):

    • Input voltage: 90 to 277 volts AC
    • Amperage: 2.83 A at 240V - 5.67A at 120V
    • Power factor: 0.99
    • Operating frequency: 50/60 hertz
    • Operating temperature: 5°F to 104°F (-15°C to 40°C)

 

Dimensions

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The SolarStorm 880 measures 23 by 18 by 5 inches and is fairly heavy at 32 pounds. The weight surprises some people when they first pick it up, although it is actually lighter than most comparable lights.

 

What's included

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When you buy an 880, you also get heavy-duty, easy-to-use hangers and a standard 110/120 volt power cord. You can run this light at up to 277 volts, but you would need to buy a separate power cord.

CLW lights come with a 3 year warranty that guarantees you will be able to get your light fixed for free. They even pay for return shipping, which is not common in this industry.

They also offer a full 90-day money back guarantee, but you have to pay for return shipping as well as the original shipping cost and provide the reason for the return. This is for informational purposes; there are no reports of them rejecting a return for any reason (assuming the light is in as-new condition).

 

Pros and Cons

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Pros

  • powerful 5 watt top-bin Osram diodes: more light for the same wattage
  • veg/bloom switch: saves power in veg mode, saving you money
  • UVB bulbs: increased THC levels
  • 90-day full money back guarantee (minus original shipping costs)
  • one of the most trusted and reputable LED brands

 

Cons

  • Higher price than most similar LEDs
  • less customizability than Kind LED lights
  • the UVB bulbs can also be a con, since they increase the price

 

Price

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The SolarStorm 880 usually costs $1799. This price is tied for highest among the lights I was considering (the Kind K5 XL1000 at $1695, the Black Dog Phytomax 600 at $1799 and the NextLight Mega at $1525). This is another reason why I ended up getting the Kind lights.

Henry here:

You can actually get this light for even less at the moment.

We are trying to see how many people buy the California Lightworks SolarStorm 880 after reading this review, to see if it's worth paying to get more reviews like this written.

To accomplish this, we'll be offering a special discount code for a week or two until we've collected enough data. The code is 'calireview' and can only be found right here (so good job for reading this far!).

Enter 'calireview' in the discount field during checkout to get an additional $200 off the SS880 (so you pay only $1599). Please don't share this code, since it would impact our data collection.

 

Summary of CLW SolarStorm 880 Review

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The SS 880 is a great light and California Lightworks is a great company with one of the best reputations in the industry. Their lights actually deliver on the claims they make and the 880 is one of the few 1000 watt equivalent lights that delivers yields close to HPS in terms of amount. They beat HPS in terms of potency.

In the end, all the positives weren't quite enough for me. I went with Kind K5 XL1000s, mainly for the ability to completely customize the spectrum. I like having that level of control and I also like the included remote.

The Kind lights are also $100 cheaper and at least part of that is due to the 880's built-in UVB bulbs. I just don't care enough about them to pay extra. It also helped that Kind pays for the shipping if you decide to return the lights.

Should everyone choose Kind over California Lightworks?

Definitely not.

I chose Kind because of the customizability (spell check tells me that's not a word, but I'm using it anyway), but if you don't need that, the 880 might be a better choice for you.

It's much easier to use and its 5 watt diodes outdo Kind's mix of 5 and 3 watt diodes. The light from the 880 penetrates deeper below the canopy and you get higher yields on average as a result. And it has those UVB bulbs.

It really comes down to which features are more important to you.

Check out the product page to learn more or simply


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