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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Solar-powered street lights a cheaper alternative to increasing safety in rural areas

The lights were on show at the Masdar World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday

Thomas Samuel, chief executive of Sunna Design, collects the Zayed Future Energy Prize for Small and Medium and Enterprises from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, Crown Prince of Jordan, and Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, President of Mauritiana, on Monday. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Thomas Samuel, chief executive of Sunna Design, collects the Zayed Future Energy Prize for Small and Medium and Enterprises from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, Crown Prince of Jordan, and Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, President of Mauritiana, on Monday. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Solar powered street lights will help make rural communities cut off from the national grid safer, encourage business and offer a cheaper alternative to conventional lighting.

The latest technological developments in the field were on show at the Masdar World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

Some solar street lights can now run five times longer than existing devices, and can even withstand the harsh environments of Sub-Saharan Africa and the GCC.

One of those is the concept created by Sunna Design, a French company that won the small and medium enterprise category of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, a UAE sustainable energy competition that marked its tenth anniversary in 2018.

Sunna Design’s chief executive Thomas Samuel has taken his solar powered street light design to 20 different countries.

“I travelled the world after my studies and I could see the lack of light in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular,” he said.

“It is a straight forward application, but it is difficult to do it properly.”

Thomas Samuel chief executive of Sunna Design. Pawan Singh / The National
Thomas Samuel chief executive of Sunna Design. Pawan Singh / The National

Mr Samuel took his design to India and then back to France for the research and development side of the project.

“We developed a unique proposition by making our solar street lamps last five times longer than what is currently being used,” he said.

“They should last for 10-15 years, even in harsh weather conditions like in Africa and the GCC.”

The company has 14 patents linked to the product, and is being taken around the world to bring light to communities.

Street lights in areas where there are none changes everything, in both social activities and business.

In rural parts of Africa where the company has taken its street lights, like Malawi, many people are living outside so security and women’s safety is a big issue.

These lights can illuminate market places at night to encourage business, so it has an overall positive effect.

“In some places where there is existing electricity like the UAE, it may be very expensive so solar street lights can offer a cost effective alternative,” Mr Samuel said.

“We have designed these frugally as we have meant from the beginning to make these affordable for governments and municipalities.

“We are working with a business partner in Malawi to bring this idea to communities there.

“Municipalities pay a huge cost to run street lights, and often don’t have the funds to invest in game changing alternatives like this. These solar lights are affordable.”

The return on investment and total cost of ownership are two key performance indicators, and as there are no running costs they are cheaper than conventional street lights from day one.”

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Read more:

Winners of Zayed Future Energy Prize announced in Abu Dhabi

Special report: How the Zayed Future Energy Prize helped to light up the lives of children in Malawi

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Connecting to the grid, cabling and trenching in developed countries is a major cost of installing conventional lights, but there is no need for that with solar lighting.

Sunna Design is now working on tailor-made solutions that meet the specific needs of communities, particularly in related markets such as security or street furniture.

Moon is a revolutionary offer that has been successfully tested in Senegal.

It is a "pay as you go" kit that gives rural populations access to quality solar lighting and also to a smartphone opening on a multitude of adapted digital contents.

Pupils and teachers from the Nkhata Bay district of Malawi are visiting Abu Dhabi this week to see what solar developments could soon be making a difference in their village.

Wilfred Ngwira, a teacher at Chingoma Primary School in northern Malawi, said street lights would make a huge difference in his community.

“At night, because it is so dark, thieves take their opportunity and young people get involved in risky activities,” he said.

“If there was light, this would not happen, I am sure of it.

“Many people have to walk at night, and there are no pavements so they must walk on the roads. With no street lights, it is very dangerous and people are killed.”

Joyce Mhango, graduate of the Zayed Solar Academy in Nkhata Bay in Malawi. Antonie Robertson / The National
Joyce Mhango, graduate of the Zayed Solar Academy in Nkhata Bay in Malawi. Antonie Robertson / The National

Joyce Mhango, 53, who has just completed a course at the solar training academy in Malawi, built with funds from the Zayed Future Energy Prize.

“I don’t feel very safe when I am walking around my village at night,” she said.

“There could be snakes, and women are at risk of being attacked or even raped. You cannot see, and people can hide. It can be very dangerous.

“Many young people move around at night, as they have nothing else to do.”