Feature, Outdoor

How solar-powered LED lighting is making Australia’s remote communities safer

Power outages, cyclones and vermin are just some of the challenges facing Roper Gulf Regional Council and its project to provide more reliable lighting to its most remote communities. But the benefits are significant; the council hopes that these new solar-powered LED fixtures might help reduce anti-social behaviour.

Situated in the Northern Territories, Roper Gulf Regional Council stretches over 186,000 square kilometres. Its vast area stretches from the Gulf of Carpentaria to west of the Stuart Highway, from just north of Elliot to the southern edge of Kakadu, from the Queensland border to 100 km from the East Arnhem Coast.

“It’s difficult to change social issues but it’s easy to identify the physical aspects”

Sharon Hillen, director of council ervices and infrastructure

The region includes wide savannah plains, big rivers, pristine coastlines, tropical forests, rocky escarpments, and while romantically typifying Australia’s landscapes, lighting the remote communities in these harsh environments is a challenge.

Roper Gulf Regional Council has nine remote indigenous communities which unlike other small towns have very little urban design or basic infrastructure. Street lighting is a constant issue within the region with wet seasons causing constant power outages.

The council now thinks it has found a solution: the sun. The Northern Territory Government has funded 30 solar-powered LED streetlights at $3,570 each. Another 10 are on order.

Not only will the kit make the street lighting in these areas more reliable, it might also bring down crime rates.

 ‘It’s difficult to change social issues but it’s easy to identify the physical aspects; antisocial behaviour generally happens in dark places,’ explains Sharon Hillen, director of council services and infrastructure at Roper Gulf Regional Council.

Roper Gulf Regional Council is including local people from its indigenous communities in the installation of the new solar-powered LED fixtures.

Installed by the community

A key element in the installation process is engaging with the local community; the council consults with key leaders in the community, determine where the dark spots are and perform a safety audit.

‘By being involved, the community takes ownership of the lights and this increases the care for them and makes them take pride in their community, says Hillen.

As well as running with no ongoing power costs, a major benefit of the solar-powered fixtures is that they don’t need to be installed by a qualified electrician. This means the council can include the local indigenous community in the construction process.

‘Our feedback is that people are happy, feel safer and are really grateful,’ says Hillen.

Solar makes sense

In remote areas, digging up existing roads, footpaths, car parks, and existing infrastructure to get power to sites is expensive and disruptive, and the sheer distance to run mains is challenging.

This makes standalone solar-powered LED lighting an attractive option, according to David Wilson, the managing director of Green Frog Systems which has supplied lighting to the region.

The solar panels convert sunlight into electricity, which is used to charge a deep cycle battery.

“The ants up there will eat the copper out of cables” 

David Wilson, Green Frog Systems

The LEDs are equipped with sensors which turn the lights on when daylight fades, running at 30W. The batteries are expected to last for up to eight years, while the lamps themselves will last for up to 15.

Green Frog System’s solar panels are flat-packed, which is practical for deliveries to places as remote as Borroloola, Mataranka, Ngukurr and Numbulwar. ‘They can easily fit on the back of a ute and be transported across flooded creeks to the remote communities,’ explains Wilson.

The fixtures are built to withstand harsh and rough conditions, something that comes in handy on savanna plains that are subject to cyclones, heat and humidity. And the weather is not the only hostile condition new streetlights will have to be equipped for: ‘The ants up there will eat the copper out of cables,’ Wilson says.