Solar traffic lights: When you have the sun, who needs wardens

Pilot project to power three signals with solar panels, will expand citywide if successful.

CDA workers positioning the solar panels on a pylon at Aabpara Chowk, Islamabad. PHOTO: WAQAS NAEEM/EXPRESS


Traffic police wardens in Islamabad could have their work cut out, thanks to the sun.

When traffic signals shut down during load shedding hours, it is the wardens who have to manage road traffic. But now, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has initiated a pilot project to power traffic signals 24/7 using solar panels.

Panels have been installed at three locations in the city as part of the pilot project, a CDA Engineering Wing official told The Express Tribune. The locations are Aabpara Chowk, the Kashmir Highway-Club Road intersection, and the Islamabad Highway exit near PWD Housing Society.

The engineering wing official said the performance of the renewable energy system will be observed over a week.

“If the solar panels succeed in powering the traffic lights round-the-clock, a case could be made to scale it up to cover all traffic signals in the city,” the official said. “But the city-wide project would be contingent upon the approval of adequate funds.”

Navid Hassan Bokhari, solar director at the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB), said solar panels equipped with battery systems and charge controllers can definitely offer a 24-hour power solution for traffic signals.

“The implementation of ‘solarisation’ is a very tricky subject,” Bokhari said. “But this initiative, if implemented properly, is good for our country.”

Bokhari said the AEDB had designed a ‘solarisation’ scheme for 25 major Islamabad traffic signals in January 2012, based on traffic volume. The study had estimated that the power requirements of Islamabad’s traffic signals range from 110 watts to 1,600 watts.

The CDA has not installed solar panels at any of the major signals identified in the AEDB design study, but agency staff has been tinkering with the arrangement of the panels to check their performance.

Eight solar panels, arranged in two east-facing rows of four panels each, were mounted on a pole at Aabpara Chowk last week. On Wednesday, the panels were reconfigured to a four-row, two-panels-per-row arrangement to see if this configuration provides more consistent power.

The engineering wing official said the CDA is also considering solar power to illuminate streetlights by involving private companies who could sponsor solar panels in return for their corporate logos on the panels.

The CDA has tried its hand at energy efficiency and renewable energy before, but with disastrous results. A controversial light emitting diode (LED) streetlights project during former CDA chairman Farkhand Iqbal’s tenure was shut down by the National Accountability Bureau after it found the lights were being procured at around five times the open market price. A power conservation campaign for Islamabad initiated by Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi in October 2012 also lost steam during the first half of 2013.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2013.


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