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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Green light for solar energy
The system can store enough energy for five days
A British engineer has adapted solar power technology to create a set of traffic lights powered by sunlight.

Brian Ellis, from Norfolk, decided to develop the system after being kept awake all night by a generator powering temporary traffic lights outside his home.

The first set was switched on at roadworks in Norwich on Wednesday by contractors who plan to use them on sites across East Anglia.

The solar panels used to power the lights store surplus power in batteries so the system can work throughout the night.

Solar powered traffic lights
The greener way to power traffic lights

Mr Ellis said the idea first came to him three years ago when he was working on using solar power to drill through concrete.

He was spurred on by the need to create a quieter system to replace the noisy generator of the roadworks outside his front door.

"The generator was so noisy that it kept me awake all night. It was also very smelly and gave off a lot of exhaust fumes.

"I realised there must be a greener way to run the light using solar energy."

Civil engineering group, May Gurney, will be using the new system on projects for Anglia Water.

Clean and efficient

A spokesman for the construction firm said: "There are many advantages to solar power - it is environmentally friendly, silent, odour-free, contamination-free and safe to use.

"It is also quicker to install and remove and certainly cheaper to run and needs minimal maintenance."

Each set of lights costs 10,000 and is packed with hundreds of tiny LED lights.

The battery-powered lights will each also last for up to 10 years without servicing, unlike the traditional diesel machines.

Future possibilities

In overcast conditions they should have stored enough power to work five days and nights.

Mr Ellis revealed he wanted to take his interest in solar power further.

He would like to see the sun's energy being harnessed to power lights in operating theatres in Third World Africa.

"If we could get cheap and reliable power to them, just think what they could do with it," he said.

See also:

16 Jul 01 | Wales
New dawn for solar power
15 Jun 01 | Business
Shell explores alternative energy
17 Jan 00 | South Asia
Harnessing the sun's power
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