Motorists can look forward to fully functional traffic lights, regardless of load shedding, as the National Energy Efficiency Agency (NEEA) is in the process of finalising agreements for the provision of solar-powered robots at over 2 000 major intersections in Johannesburg, as well as in the rest of South Africa.

“Commuters are at breaking point – retrofitting robots to run on solar power is probably the best solution we have to solving the current traffic crisis,” affirmed NEEA acting operations manager Barry Bredenkamp.

This comes after load shedding and power outages owing to Eskom’s inability to meet the demand for power, has caused havoc on roads.

The NEEA has been occupied with gathering funding to rollout the solar-powered robots throughout metropolitan areas in South Africa, including eThekwini, Tshwane, Port Elizabeth, and Nelspruit. Already, R40-million has been committed to the project by public and private stakeholders, and it is envisioned that more than R100-million in funds could be raised.

The agency said on Tuesday that it had sought funding from State electricity provider, Eskom, as well as corporate companies, which would benefit from productivity increases, as fewer employees would be late for work owing to congested roads caused by non functioning traffic lights.

“Quantified in monetary terms – productivity losses, accidents at uncontrolled intersections, increased fuel consumption and exhaust emissions from stationary vehicles – all have an adverse effect on the economy,” Bredenkamp added.

Although solar-powered traffic lights are more expensive to install than conventional traffic lights, the costs are recovered within the first year of operation.

“These are challenging times for all role-players in the energy sector, and we at the Central Energy Fund (CEF) have been uplifted by the support of government, business and the general public for this intervention,” CEF CEO Mputumi Damane said.

A pilot project took place from October 2007, in Cape Town, at an eight-robot intersection on Plantation road, in Lotus river. The intersection was fitted with a four-square-metre solar panel and battery packs to capture energy from the sun.

Solar panels at the top of the light pole are used to power the lights, and surplus power is stored in the battery packs, allowing the system to work throughout the night, and for up to three days of cloudy weather if need be.

Solar-powered traffic-light systems have been operational in Europe for years and, more recently, have been manufactured in Japan.

The company that implemented the pilot project in South Africa was MagCode South Africa, of Cape Town.