Lessons on solar-powered street lights from Kampala and Jinja, Uganda


This new policy brief is one of a series on frontrunning climate actions in cities around the world. The objective of this series is to strengthen the evidence on the economic and social implications of low-carbon, climate-resilient urban development. The series focuses on providing robust data on actual or ex post outcomes of climate action, ranging from better public health to job creation to greater equity. Each case study explores some of the preconditions for the successful design and delivery of urban climate action and provides national policy recommendations that could enhance their effectiveness and benefits.

In developing countries, entrenched poverty and rapid urbanisation are putting pressure on municipal authorities to improve basic public service provision for urban populations, especially in informal settlements.

  • One area of public service provision where there is a clear need, and potential, for improvement is street lighting. Street lighting plays a crucial role in public safety, especially for women, and the promotion of inclusive social and economic development. Efficient and more sustainable lighting technologies, such as LED lights powered by solar energy, are emerging and could bring many benefits.
  • At present, basic public services such as street lighting are lacking in many African cities. In Uganda, the ambitious development plans of the cities of Kampala and Jinja have been constrained by inadequate municipal finance that has resulted in street lights being turned off, with subsequent negative social and economic impacts. ▪ In Kampala and Jinja, solar-powered street lighting has proven cheaper to build and operate than conventional street lights. It has also generated a range of social and economic benefits such as inclusion of marginalised groups, reduced crime rates, improved road safety and an enhanced night-time economy. Tens of thousands of additional working hours a day could be generated by strengthening the night-time economy. This could equate to approximately 4,000 more full time jobs in Kampala and approximately 14,000 more nationwide.
  • According to the National Roads Authority, there are 2,800 km of urban roads in Uganda. If these were fitted with conventional street lighting, the initial cost would be 896 billion UGX (~238 million USD), further increasing the already unaffordable cost of electricity for the authorities. If they were fitted with solar street light poles, then the initial cost would be 672 billion UGX (~178 million USD) with no added electricity costs for the authorities. If the solar poles were partly fabricated locally, the cost would drop to 448 billion UGX (~119 million USD).
  • Across sub-Saharan Africa, installing and maintaining solar-powered LED street lights as opposed to conventional grid-based lighting could reduce upfront installation costs by at least 25 percent, electricity consumption by 40 percent and the maintenance costs of lighting by up to 60 percent. Lighting these new roads with solar power would be an opportunity to substitute consumption of grid-based electricity with the generation and consumption of between 96 and 160 GW of distributed renewable energy, equivalent to more than doubling energy generation in sub-Saharan Africa, currently at just 92 GW.
  • Solar-powered street lighting has particular benefits for informal settlements. In Kibugumbata, Jinja, the co-production of solar-powered street lights has created jobs in the solar sector for a vulnerable population while helping to strengthen existing livelihoods by allowing trading to continue outside of daylight hours and enhancing safety and security in the area. Such multi-stakeholder models – which include local residents, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and local and national government – can transform the relationship between the urban poor and the state, contributing to more sustainable and inclusive urban development.
  • A number of challenges to rolling out solar street lights at scale exist. Lack of technical capacity hampers the tendering process and means municipalities rely on external donor expertise for developing city plans. Although the economic case for choosing solar over conventional street lights is clear, there is still a lack of capital in the short-term and a high risk that replacement lights could be unaffordable if municipal budgeting is not improved.
  • To overcome these challenges, national governments should create an enabling environment for investment in sustainable urban infrastructure such as solar-powered street lights by: creating a more a robust regulatory framework to grow and control domestic solar markets; building the capacity of municipal staff to plan, finance and deliver infrastructure projects; and ensuring a wide range of stakeholders – including local communities – are involved in the planning of projects in order to maximise the social returns.

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