It would cost R459-million, or roughly R350 000 an interchange, to provide alternative power solutions, such as solar power, to traffic lights at the 400 pilot interchanges forming part of the Total Energy Solutions project, said Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) operational manager executive business support Sipho Nhlapo on Thursday.

He was speaking at Africa Roads 2009.

The long-term goal of the Total Energy Solutions project was to make all 2 000 interchanges using traffic lights in Johannesburg independent of the Eskom power grid, saving 56 373 MWh of power.

The 400 initial interchanges were chosen on the basis of their importance in relation to the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, the high congestion experienced around them, and the traffic pressure created owing to power failures, explained Nhlapo.

Five interchanges in and around Johannesburg already used solar power of some kind, one example being the William Nichol interchange off the N1. These were test sites, where different configurations and technologies were being tested to find the most suitable solution.

“We are satisfied with the way the solar-powered traffic lights are working,” said Nhlapo. “Just look at what happens when there is a power failure and these lights still work.”

Challenges remaining at the test sites were choosing the technology best suited to local conditions, the cost of the solar panels, and implementing theft deterrents.

“At the moment we are putting these solar solutions at a height thieves can’t reach them, and at interchanges where there are many eyes,” noted Nhlapo.

Solar power was not be the only solution on the table, with fuel cells, uninterruptible power supply, and wind power also being considered.

“These energy sources will ensure these traffic lights can continue working in the event of a power failure, and that the city of Johannesburg reduces its carbon footprint,” said Nhlapo.

Exchanging the current incandescent light bulbs used in traffic lights for LEDs alone can save the city up to R49-million over a five-year period in terms of reduced electricity consumption and maintenance, he added.

Softer, less tangible cost savings of the Total Energy Solutions project included city work hours which would have been lost owing to power failures.

Implementing the project was proving to be a challenge on some levels, noted Nhlapo.

“This is a world first. Everywhere in the world cities have only implemented alternative power at one or two or three traffic lights, so there is no benchmark available against which we can work.”

Despite the mention of 2010, there was no firm time-line available for when alternative power sources would be implemented at the 400 selected interchanges.

“As the money becomes available we’ll implement the technology,” said Nhlapo.

The JRA had already approached the Department of Energy for financial assistance, with some positive feedback, with South Africa Inc. also on the funding wish-list.

“We are thinking of asking large companies to help us, especially if there is a major interchange close to their offices.”