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Lights go out on solar street

A project to illuminate Jessore Road with solar lights has failed to take off because of lax maintenance, putting a question mark on the use of renewable energy for street lighting.

The majority of the lights installed on Jessore Road by the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA) has not been working for more than two months. As a result, the busy stretch between Patipukur rail bridge and Lake Town remains dark after sunset.

According to experts, the lights are malfunctioning because of lack of maintenance. “The photo-voltaic plates installed on top of the 15-feet high light posts are covered by a thick layer of dust. As a result, even bright sunlight is not reaching the plates and the batteries are not being charged,” explained P. Ganguli, a consultant in several renewable energy projects.

“The WBREDA has failed to keep the surface of the photo-voltaic plates clear. Lack of vision on the part of the agency is creating a negative impression about solar energy among the people,” added Ganguli.

The 35 solar lights — each costing about Rs 30,000, about three times more than conventional lights — were installed on Jessore Road in 2006, said an official of the WBREDA.

This is not the first time the lights are malfunctioning. Several vital components of the lights were stolen in August-September 2007 putting them out of order.

Rathin Dey, a resident of Kalindi, said: “They started malfunctioning within a year. Many of them became defunct barely six months after installation.”

The WBREDA director, S.P. Gan Chowdhury, admitted that “some lights on Jessore Road” were not working, but refused to elaborate on the reason. He said that the agency was finding it difficult to prevent theft of the battery and other parts of the lights.

The WBREDA has spent lakhs to install solar lights on EM Bypass.

Officials of the agencies that installed the solar lights on behalf of the WBREDA also said that they were not being maintained.

“Maintenance of the lights is not our responsibility. We are only bound to look after the faulty components for a stipulated period,” said an official of one of the agencies.

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