Meeting demand for sustainable urban lighting in Eastern Africa

Friday October 30 2020

50,000 street lighting project in Senegal. PHOTO | FONROCHE


Population growth, economic development, infrastructure expansion, and land-use change are all key factors leading to the expansion of cities worldwide.

By 2050, about 68 percent of the global population is projected to live in cities, with the vast majority of the urban population growth taking place in Africa.

Energy is one of the key services and challenges facing urbanisation. Providing access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all is the seventh Sustainable Development Goal. The New Urban Agenda also commits to the provision of inclusive and safe streets that are free from crime and violence.

Street lights can contribute to these goals by increasing the electricity supply, improving safety in urban areas and protecting the environment.

The multiple benefits of city lighting

  • Well-lit streets and roads enhance safety and security, thereby reducing violence and thus contributing significantly to crime management.
  • Well-lit streets and market centres increase the economic activities and trading hours, propelling urban centres towards 24-hour commercial centres.
  • Streets lit up using solar energy contribute massively towards climate change mitigation efforts through the prevention of carbon emissions to the environment.

Challenges facing solar street lighting in Eastern Africa

  • Technical capacity, sustainability and reliability 

The engineering aspect of balancing the lighting requirements and the size of the solar panels, charging assembly and the battery size is a big challenge, often leading to inaccurate decisions on the set of the equipment to use, especially the battery size and technology. This leads to unbalanced designs, wrong choice of equipment, and ultimately poor lighting solutions. Early failures imply massive loss of funds.

  • Investment, operation and maintenance costs

Countries in the region are consuming a range of between 20,000GWh to 65,000GWh of electricity to light up streets at an average cost of $7 cents per unit, translating to over $450 million annual billing per country. In Kenya alone, there are about 250,000 grid street lights installed, with over 1000 high mast floodlights, leading to an average billing cost of Ksh1.7 billion annually for operation and maintenance. This ties up funds that should have been used for other social /infrastructural improvement activities.

  • Vandalism and theft

Street lighting equipment, especially both grids connected and solar, especially modules and batteries, have been stolen for use by the community in their domestic needs. Most installations lack anti-theft management.

  • Inadequate capital

There is still a lack of capital in the management of street lighting investments. Most municipalities are underfunded and do not collect enough revenues to fully light up their towns and market centres and maintain the lighting.


Well-lit streets and market centres increase the economic activities and trading hours, propelling urban centres towards 24-hour commercial centres. PHOTO | FONROCHE

Fonroche approach to managing the challenges

ENGINEERING: Complete systems design, local design office, training in France, four-step design approach.

1. Understanding the lighting requirements: We conduct site visits to collect data on the size, specific location of the installation, type of the road, traffic, quantity of lights required and the lighting profile desired for a customised design.

2. Energy flow analysis: An irradiation data is collected and analysed from the nearby metrological data averaged over 10 years.

The final yield values are based on the worst case of production over the longest night periods to guarantee 365 days of lighting.

3. Photometry study: A customised lighting analysis for the particular site is carried out to determine how light leaves the source of production and is distributed on the ground. This involves quantities of light on the ground (lux), inter-pole distance determinations and dark spots minimisation to meet compliance with EN13201 standards.

4. Optimisation: Economic solutions arrived at by careful choice of balance of systems on equipment of solar modules, battery size, smart charging and discharging communication software and pole height.


• Available financing for the projects, based on debt financing for up to seven years, allowing urban centres to be lit without current constraints of budgetary availabilities.

• With bankable engineering, our equipment costs vs grid is 25 percent less.

• Design with high-quality equipment allows for usage of less poles with maximum inter-distances, making Fonroche Lighting solutions up to 40 percent cheaper than alternative solar street lighting solutions.

• The use of the nickel metal hydride battery with over 4,000 cycles guarantees a minimum of 10 to 12 years before battery replacement, the shortest life cycle component making operation and maintenance zero for the first 10 years. This frees up bills and maintenance allocations for other uses – freeing up more than Ksh200 million from county governments monthly for other development engagements.


• Tapered pole design with every equipment installed at the top of the pole limits accessibility by thieves and vandals. Similarly, our pole design comes in three parts held together by a mechanical structure with 16 different nuts and bolts, supported by an internal battery management system (BMS) that provides for live remote pole monitoring, further enhancing security and protection.

• The battery technology designed for this application is limited to solar street lighting only, rendering it a wasted venture to thieves and vandals should they succeed in stealing.

Partnering with Fonroche Lighting

Fonroche Group is an expert in renewable energies and the leader in solar public lighting. Created in 2008 with a regional office in Nairobi-Kenya, the Group designs, manufactures and assembles solar lighting kits at its factory located in the South West of France.

We have developed a range of solar street lights, called Smart light, from four to eight metres pole height, single and double arms with LED lights from 20W to 80W adapted to work in normal as well as extremely harsh environments all over the world.

We take pride in having installed solar street lights in over 3,000 sites globally, across five continents, with emphasis on technology and knowledge transfer.

We are currently undertaking the single biggest solar street lights project in the world – to install 50,000 solar street lights to light up 30 percent of Senegal in West Africa.

Partnering with Fonroche Lighting localises lighting engineering skills and manufacturing strength with worldwide experience, ensuring timely execution of public and area lighting solutions by solar, and thereby saving millions of cash in electricity bills and securing a place in the world for supporting climate change war through deployment of clean energy.

The writer is the Regional Business Development Manager, Fonroche lighting. @fonroche | [email protected]