By Azad Majumder
DHAKA (Reuters) - In a bid to encourage green technology, Bangladesh is set to unveil solar powered lights on one selected street and install solar powered traffic lights at intersections in the capital.
The measures are still unusual for Bangladesh, where only 45 percent of its more than 150 million people have access to electricity. Most still depend on kerosene and wood for their daily energy needs.
Frequent power cuts often trigger violent protests in the impoverished South Asian country, which suffers daily shortages.
"This is a pilot project, part of our green initiative," said Jafar Ahmed, an official of the Dhaka South City Corporation. "If this is successful, we will take initiatives to have solar powered lights in other city streets."
The installation of the LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights that will be powered by the sun has already been completed at 61 lamp posts in the designated street in Dhaka. The lights have been tested for short periods of time and will come into full use in a week or two.
Currently, Dhaka uses around 22,000 sodium lights and 57,000 fluorescent lights for its streetlights.
Plans are also afoot to have solar-powered lights at 100 traffic intersections under a separate project funded by the World Bank. The solar panels will also power automatic time-countdown displays at intersections to tell motorists when the next change of lights will be.
The power demands of traffic lights are insignificant, but officials said the project will raise awareness among the motorists about green technology.
"Maybe it will not have much impact on our overall energy needs, but I still would say this is a positive initiative," said professor SM Lutful Kabir, Director, Institute of Information and Communication Technology.
"It will raise awareness among people about solar power and they will be more encouraged to use it."
The project will be implemented by Rhaimafrooz, a local renewable energy firm, and CMS Traffic System of India, with the 265 million taka ($3.2 million) cost funded by the World Bank.
Population growth, increased industrialization, additional connections and rise in the use of modern, electrical appliances have all boosted demand for electricity in Bangladesh.
Still, Bangladesh aims to meet 10 percent of its total power demand from renewable energy sources by 2020. One pioneer in this effort is the central bank, which in 2010 switched to solar-powered lighting.
Experts gave the new streetlight plan guarded praise.
"From a social point of view this is a good initiative," said Alnun Nishat, a professor and vice-chancellor at Dhaka's BRAC University.
"When there is a load-shedding (power cut) we see the streets go completely dark, and muggers take advantage of it to prey on people. With solar-powered streetlights this can be avoided."
(Reporting by Azad Majumder, editing by Elaine Lies)