Abu Dhabi: The UAE may be blessed with abundant solar energy, but harnessing the sun’s power to light up the capital’s streets may still be some way from becoming a reality, officials told Gulf News last week.

Prohibitively high costs of maintenance, as well as limited durability of components, mean that solar energy cannot yet be used to meet Abu Dhabi’s sustainable lighting specifications. Instead, the use of LED (light-emitting diode) light fixtures could be increased, as more of the city’s street lighting fixtures are retrofitted with this energy-efficient option, said Ahmad Al Saedi, section head of road maintenance at the Municipality of Abu Dhabi City.

“It is commonly thought that solar power could be the answer to reducing energy consumed for street lighting. But we continue to find that there are very few cost-effective solar technologies available on the market at present,” he told Gulf News.

Instead, sustainability and efficiency in lighting is being increased with the use of LED fixtures in key areas such as Shaikh Zayed Street, Al Bainounah Street and the Ministries Complex near Khalifa Park. The use of these fixtures was first undertaken in 2012, and their use is now mandated under the Department of Municipal Affairs Lighting Specifications.

As reported by Gulf News earlier, officials announced that lighting in other streets would also be eventually retrofitted with LED lights.

“This process could begin on a large scale as early as next year. We will divide the city into areas, and offer tenders,” Al Saedi said.

“At the same time, we want to promote consultants and developers to consider and innovate in the field of solar energy for street lighting. This is why the updated edition of the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) specifications includes a whole new section on the guidelines for use of solar energy. Moreover, in every municipality street lighting project, we also require consultants to perform a cost analysis for using solar power so that there is ongoing research into making these technologies viable,” he added.

One of the challenges of using solar power is the installation cost of solar panels. These panels also tend to require regular cleaning and repair, thus adding to maintenance and replacement costs. Moreover, the batteries that are available in the UAE market to store the collected energy have limited lifespans, especially due to the high outdoor temperatures that degrade battery life, and the batteries therefore need to be changed every three to four years.

“The haphazard installation of horizontal solar panels on each light fixture would also diminish the general appearance of the city,” Al Saedi said.

Officials however pointed out that they were hopeful of the development of certain technologies internationally, which could then pave the way for the use of solar power.

“One exciting development by international car and military equipment producers is lithium batteries, which are far more heat resistant than the ones currently in use. They are more expensive, but we expect the prices to fall over time. Once they come on the market, they could be make the use of solar energy viable for our street lighting purposes,” said Martin Valentine, lighting expert at the Municipality.

He added that research is also ongoing in Austria to make photovoltaic panels more efficient at harnessing energy from lights of all wavelengths.

“The panels that are currently available only collect energy from red light. If this can be changed, then more energy could be collected, and this would revolutionise the marketplace,” Valentine said.

He encouraged technology providers to conduct their own research and look into offering more cost-effective solar technologies.

“The environmental gains of using solar technology for street lighting could be significant, but these have to be justified by viable costs,” the official added.