Street lighting dilemma: If conventional solutions won’t work, let’s innovate


Street lighting is a vital social amenity that brings about several benefits to both pedestrians and drivers – including improving road safety, reducing criminal activities and increasing the general business and living climate of urban and peri-urban areas. The significance of street lighting cannot be underestimated because of the vital role it plays in our communities.

The recent call by the Ghana Police Service requesting for streetlights to be installed on the road between GIMPA and University of Ghana, as well as residents of Achimota pleading with government to improve public lighting in their neighbourhood, are just few instances where citizens have demanded better street lighting solutions. The situation is felt even more when public officials visit rural communities for engagement only to be bombarded with streetlight requests from community leaders.

This paints a clear picture on a broad canvas about the role streetlights play in outdoor public areas such as markets, parks, black-spots, accident prone areas, lorry stations and other key parts of our communities. In a similar vein, other areas in Ghana have consistently boasted good streetlight facilities. This phenomenon draws questions as to why Ghana has not been able to standardise street lighting solutions across the country, in order to ensure that irrespective of your location you are assured of illumination for your community at night.

Over the years, the formulation and implementation of policies to govern streetlights in Ghana have not been effective as envisaged. From the late 1980s when local authorities had direct responsibility for street lighting facilities to April 1988, when the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) took over maintenance of streetlights starting with Greater Accra, attempts were made to improve the situation.

‘Windtulip’ uses wind energy to power the lights (Credit: Mebrure Oral/yankodesign)

The realisation that lack of funding was impeding the overall streetlight agenda in the 1990s led to the introduction of a 1% street lighting levy on all domestic electricity sales, with the objective of generating adequate revenue to cover cost, maintenance and energy consumption of streetlights in Ghana.

Following from there, the street lighting levy was later revised upward. In recent times, the Energy Sector Levy (ESLA) Act, 2015 (Act 899) instituted a Public Lighting Levy at a charge of 5% per kWh (later reviewed to 3%) of electricity consumed by all categories of electricity consumers, with the intention of supporting investment and maintenance of traffic lights, street lights, public lights and highways among others.

It must be noted that while electricity expansion gradually improved over the years, streetlight installations equally increased across the country. Irrespective of the fact that Ghana has all relevant agencies and regulatory bodies in the energy sector as well as at the local level involved in streetlights, and the fact that the street lighting policy stipulates specific actions to be taken, there seem to be repeated challenges which have bedevilled street lighting development in Ghana.

Challenges such as lack of efficient mechanisms to prevent vandalism, damage and theft of streetlights; lack of technical capacity; lack of efficient mechanisms for managing the street lighting fund; and lack of smooth collaboration between players are among the topical issues. We have often tried to solve these aforementioned challenges by repeatedly using the same solutions, thereby failing to achieve meaningful results.

The good thing is that there seems to be high priority for deploying solar powered street lighting systems in Ghana instead of Grid-tied systems, because of obvious challenges associated with Grid-tied solutions. It is also admirable that Ghana is keen on energy-efficient measures such as deploying LED streetlight bulbs. This approach is commendable, but as a country we cannot continue revolving the current failed solutions. We need to explore, develop and adopt new street lighting systems. Improving research and development in the country and collaborating with academia and research institutions would lead to the development of a solution best suited for Ghana.

‘Windtulip’ uses wind energy to power the lights (Credit: Mebrure Oral/yankodesign)

There are various ways of generating electricity, and with the growing global drive for clean energy solutions it is in line for Ghana to focus on renewable energy sources to power streetlights because of the sustainability benefits. In this regard, it is prudent to go beyond solar powered solutions for streetlights. Ghana as a country must explore the viability of utilising other renewable energy sources such as hydropower, wind energy, biomass, geothermal and tidal wave to develop streetlight solutions for its people.

Deploying decentralised solutions tailored to each region or community would help standardise and improve availability of outdoor public illumination across the country. Combining new technology – IoT, automation, robotics, AI, Block-chain, etc. – with these alternative energy sources could be a way of creating a smart Ghanaian streetlight solution.

For instance, in areas where public spaces which need illumination are near rivers and streams, innovative low-cost hydro-based solutions – similar to what WaterLily has been able to achieve – can be deployed to power streetlights in those localities.

‘Flowlight’ uses wave energy to keep the lights on (Credit: Shane Molloy/Behance)

Indeed, having the system alone will not entirely solve issues identified; hence, there must be effective implementation, enforcement of laws, and prudent monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) in order to ensure total success. It is therefore important that as Ghanaians we must think outside the box in order to develop innovative, commercially viable solutions to improve our streetlight situation.

About the writer:

King is a business strategist with expertise in executing projects and helping companies achieve their goals in diverse industries.

Leave a Reply