Lighting the way

A large part of our time is spent outdoors in the evenings in the Middle East, making street lights essential.

HPS provides illumination on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai
HPS provides illumination on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai

New technologies mean street lighting design is advancing faster than the speed of light.

A large part of our time is spent outdoors in the evenings in the Middle East making street lights not just an optional extra, but an essential.

Whether for public or private projects, street lights provide not only a much needed form of artificial light, but are also crucial in reducing accidents - the number of accidents can be cut by as much as 40% through use of street lights, according to statistics from the Dubai Road's and Transport Authority (RTA).

You cannot really use LEDs at present for street lighting.

And on the back of the construction boom in the GCC, they are proving big business in the region with in addition to authorities upgrading street lighting in public areas, private investors pouring huge sums into street lighting for the various residential and commercial projects under development.

The government of Oman, as one example, recently announced it is currently spending US$275 million on street lighting projects.

Types of lights

HPS provides most of the street lighting in the GCC and is considered the lighting of choice for most of the world due to the fact that it requires a lower amount of energy relative to the amount of light produced.

Critics of HPS, however, say it is not appropriate for more aesthetic street lighting projects, because of its poor colour rendition.

"Issues of optimum energy efficiency tend to favour certain lamps which compromise the colour balance in the lit environment, which in turn may cause psychological discomfort to pedestrians in such vicinities," says Ziad Milli, lighting designer at landscape practice Cracknell.

An alternative to HPS is Metal halide (MH) lighting. MH lamps are used by Dubai's RTA in residential areas, and are considered suitable for use in areas that require heightened security, because of their white light and excellent colour rendition.

"Metal halide is very useful in town centres and cities where CCTV and crime reduction is an issue," notes Brian Glynn, exterior lighting manager at design firm Atkins.

MH lamps are also considered energy efficient - a key consideration for developers given that street lighting accounts for approximately 19% of all electricity consumption.

Vikash Banwarie, marketing manager at Philips Lighting Middle East, claims that use of MH lighting for a street project in Germany resulted in energy savings of 50% per lamp post per year. HPS lights remain slightly more energy efficient than MH lamps, although the gap is closing.

New innovations

Other new technologies may also play a role in street lighting in the future. The last few years have seen a dramatic change in advances in street lighting, according to experts.

"There have been more developments in lamp technologies over the last five years than there have been in the preceding 25," says Glynn.

One such development is the use of light emitting diodes (LEDs). LEDs have a longer lifetime and are reaching energy efficiencies close to those of HPS. However, some designers warn against the use of LEDs as a general road lighting option.

"LEDs are used more for the amenity lighting because the intensity to light up the roads is still not achievable. You cannot really use LEDs at present for street lighting applications," says Prabissh Thomas, regional managing director of solar lighting supplier Geosolar.

As the technology develops, the use of LEDs for street lighting is likely to take off, however, according to Banwarie. "Considering the exponential increase in light efficiency in LEDs, it is feasible to have a complete street lighting solution with LEDs within a period of two years," he predicts.

You need light in the night, but you can't hide the pole during the day.

Solar power

A new form of street lighting that is starting to take off in the region is the use of solar power. One of the first noted uses of solar power for street lighting in the UAE was by the Energy and Environment Park (ENPARK), in Dubai.

In September 2007, ENPARK, in collaboration with Gesolar, installed two solar-powered street lights in a demo project at Dubai Internet City.

The use of solar power for street lighting in the region is likely to become more popular as more firms seek to provide evidence of their commitment to green credentials, opines Thomas.

"To comply with the green regulations, one aspect everyone is looking at is to have at least the outdoor [street and park] lighting on solar power," he says.

Gesolar is working with RTA and Dubai Electric and Water Authority (DEWA) to install a four-kilometre stretch of solar street lighting in Dubai, Thomas added. Private businesses are also looking at the potential of solar powered lights, with trials currently taking place at Dubai Outsource Zone for the car park area.

Solar powered street lamps work through charging a battery during the day and discharging at night. The battery is charged through sunlight hitting a photovoltaic panel, which converts energy from the sun into electricity. The unit is self-contained and does not need to be connected to a power grid.

Street lamps powered by solar power are seen as an attractive investment. "From concept to completion, on street lights we're looking at something like five to seven years [in terms of return on investment]," says Thomas.

PV panels also have a longer lifetime - they are guaranteed for up to 25 years, much longer than the lifetime of two to three years for a standard street light.

Another relatively new type of street lighting is plasma induction lamps, which are gaining in popularity because of their ability to mimic sunlight better than other artificial light sources.

Although it is understood that plasma lamps have not yet been used in the Middle East region, they are starting to be used elsewhere, notably in Australia at venues such as Anzac Parade, which was lit by Webb Australia.

Form vs power

Beyond functionality, street light manufacturers are also exploring the possibility of adding aesthetic appeal to street lights through features such as detailing of the pole.

The use of street poles for decorative purposes is particularly popular with private firms, who like to experiment with customising street lights, according to suppliers.

The street lights on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, for example, incorporate the logo of the development in the design of the street lighting pole, reinforcing the identity of the development.

"Now people are looking at the aesthetics of the fixture as well, because at the end of the day, you need light in the night but you can't hide the pole during the day," says Thomas.

The RTA is trying to bring in more innovative lighting techniques.

The choice of pole design, while a seemingly insignificant detail, can also prove a crucial factor in determining the ambience of an area.

In Dubai, for instance, Emirates Hills uses traditional, lantern style street lamps, which help reinforce its identity as a family residential area, whereas the Burj Dubai adopts more modernist, stainless steel poles with lasers and speakers.

"The RTA is trying to bring in more innovative lighting techniques. As part of that they're changing the street lighting to make it more harmonious with the surroundings," says Sandeep Thapar, operations manager at lighting designers and engineers GLS Lighting.

Region's lights

Street lighting in the UAE is considered to be some of the best in the world, according to Thapar, because of its ubiquity.

"If you drive in Europe or America, as soon as you leave the city limits, there are no lights," he says. "Here, you drive on Al Khail or Emirates Road [the main highways outside the cities in Dubai], they're all lit, and lit properly."

The spacing of lights in the UAE is particularly effective, he says, with lights spread on average 100 metres apart with a height to spacing ratio of 1:5.

With all eyes on the UAE over the next few years, it will be up to lighting designers and their clients to continue to show that even at night the region can shine with the best.

Fast facts

The first recorded use of street lights, anywhere in the world, was in 9th Century Cordoba, Spain.

Street lights can help reduce the number of vehicle accidents by as much as 40%, according to studies.

Street lighting is said to account for 19% of all world electricity consumption.

The standard ratio of spacing for street lights on roads is usually a height to spacing ratio of 1:5.

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