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Solar Street Lights: Benefits and Advantages when Switching to Solar

solar street lights in Detroit U.S.

The threat of climate change due a dramatically increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions like methane, and hydrofluorocarbons, have accelerated dramatically after the Industrial Revolution and increased the threat of climate change in the past few decades, threatening both the environment and our society.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, reported in his 2014 Mitigation of Climate Change study that the burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions amounting a 25%.

Meanwhile the Unite States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reflected in their latest Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions, that the electric power sector is among the largest contributors of greenhouse gases in the United States, representing 28% of all emissions.

global carbon emissions

Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2017)
World Energy Outlook (International Energy Agency, 2019).

In order to reduce air pollution produced by carbon emissions and the other harmful greenhouse gases, one of the priorities of governments, environmentally conscious corporations and citizens around the world, has been reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and a faster adoption of renewable energy sources like solar energy, to power a clean and affordable economic future.

LED’s and Solar Power: The Alternatives to Conventional Street Lights

Today, cities and municipalities around the world are transitioning from older tech represented by non-renewable technology (incandescent bulbs, fluorescent and mercury street light bulbs to modern solar powered street lights (LED) due the great benefits they provide over traditional lighting.

LED stands for light emitting diode. A diode is an electrical device – made from semi-conductive materials such as silicon or selenium with two electrodes: anode and cathode: through which electricity flows, when current passes through the semiconductor material the device emits a visible light that is reliable, instantaneous, and able to be dimmed.

This unique characteristics and others like compact size, long life, resistance to breakage and vibration, good performance in cold temperatures, lack of infrared or ultraviolet emissions, ability to dim and provide color control and instant-on performance, have transformed everything from car headlights to streetlights and even Christmas trees.

Compared to their conventional incandescent or high-pressure sodium (HPS) counterparts, a solar street light with LED’s uses less energy, produce better, more direct light, and last almost seven times as long, resulting in significant cost savings.

The new generation of solar street lights, use LED’s as light sources and are cheaper in terms of initial investment, operational and maintenance costs and infrastructure need it before deployment, meaning that more street lights can be installed for the same cost, while delivering greater benefits for the people and the environment.

The ability of LED technology to produce high-quality light with unprecedented energy efficiency is the primary motivation for the intense level of research and development currently supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

According to the DOE, there are now more than 46 million outdoor LED streets and area lights in the U.S., with millions more that will span on the planet offering the potential for reducing the general use of street lighting nearly to half by 2030, improving the resilience of the grid, saving energy and money, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

Due this large list of benefits, municipalities and cities around the world have embraced the LEDs and solar powered street lights revolution.

Solar Power, the Second Part of the Winning Equation

Every year, the Earth receives about 174 petawatts (PW) of energy from the Sun with half of this energy reaching Earth’s surface. In less than an hour, the Earth receives an amount of energy from the Sun that is equal to the world consumption for a year.

This amount of energy is twice the amount of energy created by non-renewable sources like fossil fuels and nuclear uranium. Solar
 electric
 generation also has the 
highest
 power
 density
 (170
W/m2 global average)
among
renewable
energies making photovoltaic systems a great alternative for creating renewable energy.

Solar photovoltaic systems (PV) can generate clean and cost-effective power anywhere the sun shines. In solar street lights, a PV panel, usually integrated into the lamp’s body, transform the sun’s energy into renewable electricity to power the lamp.

In order to generate electricity, photovoltaic panels absorb light particles, called photons sent by the sun. These particles then flow through the semi-conductive materials in the panels, creating an electrical current (the photoelectric effect) with zero emissions.

As solar power as a clean and renewable energy source surges in popularity, the price of the technology has become lower. Over the past 40 years, the price of photovoltaic modules have dropped by 99%. The average cost of a watt generated by PV systems in the US was $6.65, in 2010, this dropped to just $2.89 per watt.

This reduction in the cost of PV panels has made the price of solar street lights also go lower, increasing the affordability and cost effectiveness of these lights compared to traditional, grid-dependent street lights.

The Growing Demand for Sustainable Public Services

A recent study about the solar street light market published by global market intelligence company Transparency Market Research suggest a significant growth in the solar street light sector throughout the next seven years.

The study found that local governments encouragement, rebates on solar equipment and a global shift to sustainable sources of energy are the major driving forces impacting the positive development of the Solar Street Lighting market worldwide.

Electricity costs consume a large part of the municipal budgets, so the adoption of alternative and efficient off-grid technologies could help reduce this economic burden. Solar-powered street lights is an example of such green technology that can produce social and environmental benefits that lead to economic advantages.

Cities like Kampala and Jinja in Uganda, Detroit in United States, Seville in Spain and states like Uttar Pradesh in India, pioneers in the adoption of sustainable public services, are showing to other cities and municipalities around the world the benefits of the solar alternative, are proving that solar street lights are more cost effective and easier to install and operate than conventional street lights.

Solar Street Lights Benefits and Advantages Over Traditional Street Lights

When it comes to traditional lighting, the major expense with the traditional street lighting comes from the initial installation, maintenance, and of course, energy costs for the on-going operation of the lights.

The estimated street light pole and installation cost in the United States is between $2000 to $3000 per light pole and an added cost of up to $1000 for the installation, electricians labor and an ongoing cost of $10.36 kw/h as per energy consumption U.S average electricity cost.

Traditional street lights are also grid dependent, and hard to install in remote locations without supporting infrastructure.

In contrast, Solar Street Lights, are proving to be a financially smart decision, easier and faster to install, and good for the environment making it a clear choice when compared to traditional ones.

Some of the greatest benefits of Solar over Conventional Street Lights are:

  • Compared to conventional incandescent or high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights, solar street lights use less energy, produce better, more direct light and last longer making it more cost effective in the long run.
  • Solar street lights use renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, reducing the carbon emissions and energy expenditure of traditional lights.
  • Their typical rated lifespan ranges from 15,000 to 50,000 hours compared to 2,000 to 29,000 hours for a traditional light.
  • Monthly energy bills and maintenance cost are very little to non-existent resulting in significant savings over the lifespan of the light and in most cases reducing the original cost of the light to 0.
  • A solar street light can work without being affected by power outages, grid failures, power interruptions due natural disasters and many other factors that can impact the proper functioning of traditional street lights dependent on the grid.
  • Using smart and green technology, solar street lights operators can configure lighting schedules to collect data like energy consumption, temperature and efficiency of each individual fixture. This way they can discover all kinds of issues like malfunctions or lack of connectivity by being alerted in real time.
  • Modern solar street lights have built-in solar panels, batteries, motion sensors and control modules which allow a simple and faster deployment and installation over traditional street lights as no trenching for power lines or power infrastructure construction is necessary.
  • Solar powered street lights can work regardless of grid failures, power interruptions due natural disasters and many other factors that can impact the functioning of grid-dependent traditional street lights.

Solar Street Lights Success Stories

Research done by the University of Leeds, UK, for the Coalition For Urban Transitions found that solar street lighting in Africa (Kampala and Jinja in Uganda), could turn to be cheaper than conventional street lighting, as well as more sustainable.

Kampala

In Kampala, capital city of Uganda, installed 1800 solar street lights with a total saving of 950,000 USD over than conventional street lights and is reducing the current electricity bill for solar lighting from $35,000 monthly to almost $0, proving that it would be at least 60 million USD cheaper to install solar street lights rather than conventional ones in urban areas in Uganda.

solar street light Africa

Solar street lights installed in Uganda.

Jinja

In Jinja, local authorities and community organizations are working with the government of Uganda to install street lights in an informal settlement that have long struggled with poverty and violence. The Jinja Municipal Council (JMC) struggles with insufficient transfers from central government and inadequate revenue generation capacity.

When the city’s debt to the electricity provider passed 268,000 USD the power to street lights were cut off, immediately followed by an increase in crime rates and a restriction of economic activities to daylight hours due security concerns.

In 2018, Jinja’s municipal council invested $45,500 in solar street lights, thanks to the World Bank’s Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development Program (USMID), saving around $15,000 compared to conventional alternatives.

Since the solar lights were installed in March 2018, the benefits to the local residents have been evident. According to local residents, the community feels safer, there have been no serious crime recorded, businesses are able to trade for an additional five hours per day and have many more customers averaging an extra $20 per day.

Across the two cities, the average cost for a solar light was around $1,600 per solar street light pole, compared to $2,150 for a conventional street light pole.

solar street light in Uganda

Solar street light in Jinja, Uganda, photo source: WorldBank.org.

So far, the USMID program and the World Bank credit have helped more than 14 municipal governments their urban services and infrastructure. A total of 110 urban roads totaling about 48 miles were constructed in 13 municipalities and 2,807 solar street lights has been installed so far, saving more than $1.5 million over traditional street lights

Solar Street Lights, the Green Alternative for a Cleaner and Brighter Future

Successful cost-effective deployments of solar street lights are clear, real life examples of the benefits of solar street lights, while showing national governments, private enterprises and citizens around the world, that we can build smarter, brighter, safer and more productive cities while reducing carbon emissions, pollution, and the costs of maintenance and installation of street lighting. A total social, economic, and environmental win.

Article written by:

I am a writer and reporter for the clean energy sector, I cover climate change issues, new clean technologies, sustainability and green cars. Danny Ovy

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