Solar traffic lights pilot project

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Jul 11, 2013.

Islamabad – 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 manually conduct road traffic. But now, the Capital Development Authority 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, an official of CDA’s engineering wing 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.”

Naveed Hussain Bokhari, Director (Solar) 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 solarization is a mega tricky subject,” Bokhari said. “But this initiative, if it is implemented properly is better for our country.”

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

The CDA has not installed its solar panels at any of the major signals identified in the AEDB design study. But CDA 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 the Aabpara chowk near the Aabpara bus stop 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 CDA is also considering solarization to power street lights and involve private companies who could sponsor solar panels in return for their logo advertised on the panels.

CDA has also tried its hand at energy efficiency and renewable energy before but without much success. But a controversial LED street lights project was shut down by the National Accountability Bureau after it found the lights were being procured at five times the market price. A power conservation campaign initiated by Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi in October 2012 also lost steam during the first half of 2013.

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