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Solar lighting towers could be most efficient lighting source for GCC

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Michael Sagermann, regional business line manager, portable energy division, Atlas Copco
Michael Sagermann, regional business line manager, portable energy division, Atlas Copco

Atlas Copco’s Michael Sagermann explains how solar powered lighting towers could become the GCC’s most efficient on-site lighting equipment

Many GCC region construction projects today are under increased pressure to be completed in shorter timeframes. The pressure creates a situation where work is often continued beyond normal working hours, and extending into additional shifts well into the night and following morning. In order to conduct the work during the evening hours, the need for on-site visibility to carry out the work in a safe environment is apparent. When light is needed in the evenings, the diesel-driven lighting tower has thus far been the solution.

Challenging conventional thinking

Today, we have seen our customers put more and more focus on the efficiency of their operations to improve profitability. There’s various ways in which to achieve that goal when speaking of on-site equipment. Buying a cheaper product and the risk quality issues along with possible higher operations and maintenance costs is a short-term approach. A more sustainable approach would be opting for a quality product that offers a lower total cost of ownership. Typically, the initial equipment investment cost normally represents only 20 per cent of the total lifecycle cost, with operating and maintenance costs accounting for the remaining 80 per cent. What if you could virtually eliminate the operational costs of your equipment, would you as a business owner begin to rethink purchasing strategies? Invest a little more now, to gain much more later on.

From a product design perspective, creating a solar powered lighting tower has its own unique set of challenges. The product needs to be small, maneuverable, easy and safe to operate, easy to maintain, and be cost effective. The bulk of the solar lighting tower is without doubt the solar collecting panels themselves. These need to be efficient enough to collect enough energy from the sun to be stored in the connected battery bank to ensure strong and clear light is guaranteed to last an entire night of work, while also being small enough not to oversize the lighting tower making it impractical to transport and move on site. However, no longer needed was a sound attenuated enclosure around a heavy and loud diesel engine with numerous moving parts that if not treated with caution and respect could pose a potential safety concern. Solar offers no moving parts, no chambers under pressure from combustion, no extreme hot components that can accidentally burn or harm the operator.

Atlas Copco’s QLTS solar led light towers, for instance, require no fuel, oil or coolant. They have no rotating parts, no wear and are basically maintenance free.

The QLTS is charged during the day by the sunlight. That energy is captured by highly efficient solar panels that are easily tilted for optimal performance. The energy is then stored in heavy duty batteries. For many of the applications, regions and seasons, no extra charging is needed. For those challenging winter days and 24/7 operations with shorter day light hours, an external charge connection is provided. When light is needed, the high efficiency LED lights switch on and off instantly. The QLTS optimises light output for the battery charge to provide quality light throughout the night.

Free and Clean

Oil & gas reserves in GCC region are in such abundance that the availability of diesel fuel for running equipment could last generations. The traditional fuel source is virtually unlimited, so why change? Well, the GCC is also simultaneously blessed with virtually unlimited sunlight, with a mean of 9 hours of sunlight per day, and it’s both free and clean!

What’s in it for me?

The traditional diesel engine driven lighting tower would on average consume 4 litres per hour of diesel fuel. Over an 8 hour night shift and operating six days a week this working time would translate to 2,500 hours a year and 10,000 litres of diesel fuel. On top of the fuel costs, there are the scheduled engine maintenance periods each 250 running hours, meaning 10 service interventions per year requiring oils, filters and labour to conduct the service. All this translates to as much as US$15,000 to US$20,000 in operating costs each year.

Eliminating the diesel engine and moving to solar power offers significant savings and benefits. Solar power is not without need for periodic maintenance, but the costs to maintain solar are significantly less, actually a staggering 95% less than its diesel engine counterpart. No more diesel fuel, no more engine oil and coolant, no more scheduled engine maintenances. Engines have moving parts which wear and eventually need repairing or replacing, whereas solar has zero moving parts.

Solar technology is admittedly more expensive in equipment investment cost; however, the reduced operational costs soon enough generates savings to bring an estimated payback time under 3 years. Simultaneously the payback to the environment is instantaneous; no more harmful exhaust emissions (CO, NOx, particulates, etc) and no more noise - as the solar powered unit is perfectly silent. With so much attention to a sustainable green outlook in day-to-day activities, imagine the positive environmental impact if every current diesel engine driven light tower in GCC (an estimated 30,000 units) were replaced with solar powered - up to nearly 1,5 million barrels of oil saved per year, and how much less exhaust emission pollution and noise!

With such an increased focus in the GCC towards sustainability and a push to developing green solutions to reduce negative environmental impact, a solar solution as an alternative to replace the old technology diesel engine wherever possible seems a very logical and smart step towards achieving these goals. From a business owner’s perspective, by reducing the operational costs, minimising the lifecycle costs of equipment, the solar solution is clearly a step in the right direction to improving profitability performance.

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