2 October 2007
South Africa took another step toward improving its energy efficiency as the first set of traffic lights backed up by solar-power was piloted at an intersection in Cape Town.
The project, funded by Eskom and backed by the National Energy Efficiency Agency, has seen the installation of solar-powered traffic lights along Plantation Road in Lotus River, Cape Town.
As part of project, robots – as South Africans call their traffic lights – have been retrofitted with solar panels at the top of the mast, which charge batteries buried in the ground.
When power from the national electricity grid fails, the robots immediately start drawing power from the batteries until mains power is restored. It is estimated that the batteries can last up to five to six hours, providing the same amount of power needed to run a three-bedroom house.
It is estimated that Cape Town’s traffic lights currently consume the same amount of electricity as 1 200 homes.
Apart from keeping the traffic lights working during times of power cuts, the “green” traffic lights will also determine to what extent traffic intersections can by run without needing power from Eskom.
MagCode SA, the Cape Town-based company implementing the project, said that solar technology was advancing at such a rapid rate that it would soon be possible to run traffic lights entirely on energy harvested from the sun.
National Energy Efficiency Agency operations manager Barry Bredenkamp said the possibilities of the project being rolled out across the country were huge, should the pilot prove to be a success.
“South Africa is known for its year-round sun and it offers perfect conditions to develop solar power applications. I hope this project kick-starts more interest in clean, renewable energy,” he said.
Breedenkamp said that besides the obvious benefits for motorists, solar-powered traffic lights were more environmentally friendly as they drew less electricity that had been generated mainly by burning fossil fuels.
“The project is a step along the path to an energy efficient South Africa.”