Jinja City, on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, was completely dark in 2016. The city, Uganda’s second-largest, had a 1.3 billion Ugandan shilling ($3.5 million) overdue power bill, so Umeme, the country’s largest energy distributor, disconnected the city’s street lights. Even before Umeme cut the power, most roads in this 870,000-person city near the source of the White Nile were dark: Only the town’s colonial-era centre had street lights, and many of them had begun to sputter out due to age and poor maintenance. Districts that grew as unplanned outlying areas before being incorporated into the city had never been lit at all. “The planned area in the city is quite small,” says Kennedy Kibedi, a social media marketing specialist working in tourism in Jinja City. “There is a lot of informal development on the outskirts of the city, in the suburbs.”
Our standard solar powered street lights perform admirably in a wide range of environments and countries around the world. However, some places and areas experience vastly different levels of solar energy in the summer and winter. In the summer, there are very few rainy days, strong sunshine, and longer daytime hours; however, in the winter, there are many rainy or snowy days, cloudy and weak sunshine, and longer nighttime hours. This is true for many of Africa’s largest cities. As cities such as Nairobi, Lagos, and Kampala expanded, they absorbed informal settlements that were not connected to national power grids. As a result, street lighting is scarce, dispersed, and unreliable, and the costs of installing traditional grid-based lighting are prohibitively expensive. As a result, Jinja City officials looked to neighbouring Kampala, the nation’s capital and largest city, for an alternative solution: solar-powered street lights, which are powered not by the grid but by photovoltaic panels and batteries attached to each light pole or housed at a mini power station to support a group of lights.
In 2014, the Kampala Capital City Authority began upgrading the city’s street lighting with solar-powered equipment, when only 115 kilometres of Kampala’s 1,200 kilometres of roads had street lights, and only a fraction of those were operational. By 2016, when Jinja City was dealing with a power outage, the success of Kampala’s programme was clear. According to reports published that year, the new street lights reduced energy usage and costs, reduced traffic fatalities and accidents, and aided in the development of a more vibrant night economy in the capital city. Jinja City, which followed suit, began installing solar-powered lighting in 2016, installing more than 100 over a three-year period.
In Jinja City, as in Kampala, the economic and social benefits were immediate. The city saved more than 55 million Ugandan shillings ($15,200) in installation costs compared to conventional street lighting installation with just its first projects, which lit a 2.5-kilometer stretch of Main Street and some priority streets near a hospital and market square, and the cost savings have continued to grow. According to city officials, the new equipment reduced installation costs by at least 25% and maintenance costs by up to 60%. The most important thing is that we can now save a lot of money that would have gone into paying electricity bills,” says Bernard Mbayo, a Jinja City councillor. The city also earns money by selling ad space on the new light poles. According to Mbayo, the increase in revenue has allowed Jinja City administrators to focus on other priorities such as garbage collection and public park upgrades.
Businesses on newly illuminated streets have seen increased revenue as a result of being able to operate for longer hours after sunset. A spokesperson for the Anmol Restaurant and Bar on Main Street writes in an email that “street lighting has changed our business.” Locals and visitors feel safer going out to eat or shop after dark, and employees feel safer walking home. In these locations, solar panels can generate enough power in the summer, but to ensure that the lamps work properly in the winter, we must install a very large solar panel and a very large battery. The cost of adding an extra solar panel and battery will be extremely high as a result. The extra solar panel and battery are a waste, especially in the summer. We have now released a solar-electricity hybrid LED Street light that has both an electrical and a solar complementary function. When the battery is fully charged, it draws power from the battery first, and then from the grid if the battery is depleted. So, in the summer, the LED light can be powered by solar energy, and in the winter, it can be powered by grid electricity if solar energy is insufficient.
The solar street light project In Uganda, our clients installed our G02 semi-integrated solar street lights. But, right from the start, this project was fraught with difficulties. Our standard street lights include smart features such as time control functions (the lamp operates at a specific power level during specific periods) or PIR sensor mode (the solar light works with full brightness when it detect people, but dim if no people). As a result, it meets lighting requirements while also saving a significant amount of energy.
However, our Uganda client, Mr. P, requested that we provide a non-standard solar street light, which requires the solar lights to be installed at a height of 7-9 meters and to operate at full brightness for 12 hours each night, an unusual request. These requirements were not met by our standard solar street lights. After consulting with the engineering team, we ran the Dialux simulation on the computer and came up with a solution. The induction function and time control function were removed from the original standard G02 60W solar street light, a large number of solar panels and batteries were added, and the original 60W was upgraded to 80W. The customer was very pleased with our proposal and eventually agreed to place the order.
Mr. P stated that he needed the lamps immediately because he had signed a contract with the customer, and any delay would result in a penalty, so he needed the solar lights within 10 days. Our standard delivery time is 5-7 days. We prioritised this order in order to assist Mr. Pratt, and the lamps were ready in three days. Mr. Pratt even installed the poles before we shipped the lamps so that he could install the solar lights once they arrived.
Mr. P stated that he needed the lamps immediately because he had signed a contract with the customer that stated that any delay would result in a penalty, so he needed the solar lights within 10 days. Normally, our delivery time is 5-7 days. We prioritized this order to assist Mr. Pratt, and the lamps were ready in three days. Mr. Pratt even installed the poles before we shipped the lamps, so that he could install the solar lights once they arrived.
Kibedi believes the new street lighting has also boosted Jinja City’s tourism sector. Uganda closed its borders at the start of the pandemic, but in pre-Covid times, Jinja City drew international visitors for outdoor activities like boating on Lake Victoria or bungee jumping over the Nile. Other visitors come to see the city’s colonial architecture or to attend annual music festivals such as the Nyege Nyege Festival, which features East African electronica artists and attracts thousands of fans each year. “We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the number of tourists,” says Kibedi, “and I believe street lighting has something to do with that because you can now find tourists walking in the streets at night.” They do not feel threatened, and I believe this has a significant impact on tourism.
The rapid adoption of solar street lighting in cities underserved by conventional power generation is an example of Sub-Saharan Africa’s technological “leapfrogging.” However, Uganda’s transition to solar-powered street lights has not been without difficulties. While the costs are lower than for traditional lighting, the startup costs continue to put a strain on already-stressed city budgets. Jinja has the potential for widespread adoption. A World Bank programme called Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development, or USMID, is providing financial and technical assistance to address both issues: Until 2023, the programme has committed a total of $510 million to infrastructure development in places like Jinja City. Jinja City now has a master plan, thanks to technical assistance from USMID, that will allow for the citywide rollout of solar-powered street lights to continue.
According to Mbayo, the Ugandan Central Government has recognised the potential for continued rollout in Jinja City and has recently allocated funds to light an additional 54 kilometres of streets a significant portion of the city’s roughly 380 kilometres of roadway. The city council’s role now is to decide which streets will be lit next. Mbayo hopes that the funds will enable the city to finish lighting the central business district. Mbayo believes that the lesson for other cities is that solar-powered street lighting can be the first step on a longer path toward sustainable urban development. He has shared Jinja City’s success stories and lessons learned with administrators in other African cities, including Freetown, South Africa, and Dakar, Senegal. The Senegalese government launched its own project in 2019 to install 50,000 solar-powered street lights across the country; the work, carried out by the French company Fonroche Eclairage, was slowed by the pandemic but is now roughly halfway completed.
The success of these efforts could have far-reaching consequences for the region: Researchers believe that if solar-powered street lighting is installed in Sub-Saharan Africa, it could add tens of thousands of working hours per day by extending the workday past sunset while reducing electricity consumption from street lighting by 40%. Solar lighting has the potential to generate 96 to 160 gigatonnes of renewable energy across the subcontinent, more than doubling the current rate of energy generation. “We have no doubt that what we’re doing here is having an impact on people’s lives,” Mbayo says, “and we want this to spread to other cities.”
The seventh Sustainable Development Goal is to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy. The New Urban Agenda also pledges to provide inclusive and safe streets free of crime and violence, including gender-based violence. Solar-powered street lights can help to achieve these goals by increasing electricity supply, improving urban safety, and protecting the environment. This paper provides lessons from the Ugandan cities of Kampala and Jinja, where solar street lighting has proven to be less expensive to build and operate than conventional street lighting. It has also resulted in a variety of economic and social benefits, such as lower crime rates, improved road safety, a more vibrant night-time economy, and increased property values. Extending trading hours beyond daylight hours could add tens of thousands of working hours per day to the economy, equivalent to 14,000 full-time jobs nationwide.
According to this case study, installing and maintaining solar-powered LED street lights across Sub-Saharan Africa instead of conventional grid-based options could reduce upfront installation costs by at least 25%, electricity consumption from street lighting by 40%, and new road maintenance costs by up to 60%. Lighting new roads in Sub-Saharan Africa with solar would allow for the generation of between 96 and 160 GW of distributed renewable energy across the continent, more than doubling the sub-current continent’s energy generation capacity of 92 GW.
To reap these benefits, national governments should establish a more robust regulatory framework for growing and managing domestic solar markets. Ensuring that a diverse range of stakeholders, including local communities, are involved in project planning and implementation will help to maximise social impact and economic returns.
It will also allow for knowledge spillovers, allowing solar lighting and other emerging low-carbon technologies to rapidly scale up. These targeted efforts should be supported by capacity building for municipal governments, which need to improve their project delivery and budgeting capabilities in order to deliver scaled-up sustainable urban infrastructure. Solar lights are more appealing than incandescent lights due to favorable economics and a renewable, low-carbon power source. relying on centralized grids and fossil fuels Traditional grid-powered street lights and solar street lights are comparable in the sense that they look the same, are roughly the same height (around 3 meters), and provide the same basic amenity light. Although the brightness and ‘visual warmth’ provided by solar street lights may differ, the socioeconomic benefits of illumination, as outlined above, remain the same.
Solar Light Magazine / Solar Street Lights / Author: Cmoonlight
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