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THOMBOZI —Solar lights do not need sunshine daily

By Gospel Mwalwanda:

Fifty-year-old Grace Nduli is a vendor who has been plying her trade at Zomba Central Market, selling raw cassava and tomatoes for the last 20 years.

Until recently, Nduli and other vendors used to knock off before sunset, lest they got robbed on the way since the route to Chikanda, within the city where she lives, had no street lights.

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“But that is now a thing of the past. I am so grateful to the city council for installing street lights in the city. We now work late and walk home without fear of being mugged,” the mother of five says.

It is unimaginable that there can be a city without street lights. Lights provide security and contribute to the improvement of residents’ quality of life.

But vital as they are for towns and cities, street lights are not cheap, especially if they draw their power from the national electricity grid.

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It is not surprising that the high cost of maintaining street lights using power from the national grid has compelled the country’s cities, including Zomba, to embrace solar power to light their streets.

Zomba City Council (ZCC) was the first to install solar-powered street lights in 2017 in an effort to promote the socio-economic status of the city’s estimated 156,000 residents.

“Cities should have effective street lights because they help to enhance security and in raising the socio-economic status of residents,” ZCC Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Charles Thombozi, says.

“In our case, among other things, the street lights are expected to boost the city’s economic activities, improve security and help to beautify our city,” he adds.

Thombozi says when there are street lights, people are not forced to leave their business premises early because of darkness, but trade into the night and make more money.

ZCC decided to install solar lights first on routes that had no street lights. They included the route on the city’s boundaries along the M3 because the road had no lights.

“There were no lights on this road and that meant people had to risk travelling in darkness. Right now, we are extending to residential areas and trading centres,” Thombozi says.

He states that solar lights are not just effective, but also sustainable and self-operational as they switch on automatically when darkness falls, and switch off at daybreak.

“When there are no vehicles or people below them the light is weaker, but it becomes stronger when there is an object moving below as they sense movement,” Thombozi said.

One benefit to be derived from solar lights is that the council will not have to pay bills since street lights are currently billed as commercial at the State-owned power company Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom).

“It becomes very expensive for councils to maintain street lights when Escom bills them as commercial. This has led to disconnections, resulting in having dark city streets.

“This is one of the reasons that we, as a council, we opted for solar-powered street lights as we are assured that they will be there for a long time and, even when there are blackouts, we will have lights in our streets,” Thombozi says.

To date, ZCC has installed 867 solar powered streetlights in three phases. The first phase covered the city’s boundary along the M3 road from 4 Miles to Chikupira.

The Roads Fund Administration is funding the solar street lights project. Each year, the fund disburses resources for road construction in the country’s cities and towns.

“It is up to the council to decide how the funds will be used in road infrastructure projects,” Thombozi says.

The council does monitor the solar lights to detect problems. It has also been calling on the public to help it in protecting the 867 poles and lights after realising that vandalism could be another reason the council finds it difficult to sustain the solar-power initiative.

Thombozi says the council noted from the beginning that some people feared that solar lights would not be effective during the rainy season and winter.

“But they have seen that there have been no changes to lighting in bad weather and this is because the lights store heat and do not need sunshine daily to light,” Thombozi says.

Another reason the council opted for solar-powered street lights is that it wanted to promote clean energy and reduce pressure on hydro-electricity.

Thombozi says one good thing about solar-powered street lights is that, for the past four years when they started installing them, there has been no complaint of lights not lighting.

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