Abu Dhabi turns a greener shade of light

A new approach to lighting the capital's roads, parks and buildings could improve its night-time ambience while cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions.

October 18, 2010 / Abu Dhabi / (Rich-Joseph Facun / The National) An overview of the Sheikh Zayed Bridge designed by Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (CQ), has a clearace of 16 meters, arch span of 234 meters each, three arches and four traffic lanes on each side, photographed Monday, October 18, 2010 in Abu Dhabi.
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Dubai // A new approach to lighting the capital's roads, parks and buildings could improve its night-time ambience while cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions.

Martin Valentine, a lighting expert at Abu Dhabi Municipality, told the Light Middle East exhibition and conference in Dubai yesterday that such a strategy was vital to coping with the "rapid growth of the city".

Abu Dhabi currently lacks official guidelines for lighting designers and equipment manufacturers, but is working on a policy to be issued within 18 to 24 months.

Part of its new approach will revolve around the concept of "hierarchy of brightness", where there is a contrast of light and shadow. Light intensity would vary depending on the type of facility and its use.

Another objective is to produce brightness limits, with minimum and maximum requirements.

Such "smart design" concepts, said Mr Valentine, would enhance Abu Dhabi's appearance at night, helping to create a city that is "beautiful to live in and look at".

Smart design would also reduce overlighting, which wastes energy waste and leads to glare.

"This is a problem around the world," he said, explaining that, while roads and buildings in the UAE were particularly brightly lit, the issue was something many countries and municipal authorities encountered.

Mr Valentine said the guidelines were already being applied to two key projects: the Sheikh Zayed Bridge and the Salam Street revamp.

The new bridge will be fully lit for traffic when it opens in December and, early next year, will also be fitted with architectural lights to highlight its beauty at night. On Salam Street, besides road lights, the municipality will install new lighting in recreational areas along the road.

There are three park projects in the works, and improvements planned to the residential area around the Shangri-La and Fairmont hotels.

Abu Dhabi will also be shifting to efficient light-emitting diodes or LED lights. While considerably more expensive than traditional lights, they are 20 to 50 times more efficient than traditional bulbs, which makes them cheaper to operate and maintain.

The municipality is also working on an approvals system for all lighting fixtures used in the emirate. Mr Valentine said the UAE climate placed unique requirements on lighting fixtures. Sun, humidity and dust are three main issues that affect the operation and durability of equipment, said Mr Valentine.

"We cannot take the risk on a road or a major project here of lights failing," said Mr Valentine.

Manish Sharma, the chief executive officer of Dubai-based Maximus ME Integrated Technologies, agreed.

"This is an open market," said Mr Sharma, whose company represents a UK-based lighting manufacturer. "Quality is the thing least talked about and price is very much talked about," he said.

"Regulatory authorities have to come forward and draft a good technical requirement for the country," he said. "The guidelines and criteria are not very clear."

Michael Nuyttens, the chief executive of the lighting manufacturer ETAP Dubai, described Abu Dhabi's plans as a good start. "But we still need to see these ideas being implemented," he said. "And that is a challenge for everybody."

While a project may be designed with the best efficiency performance in mind, it is contracting companies that implement the designs.

"If nobody watches a contractor, they will try to maximise their profit," said Mr Nuyttens, explaining how often - despite the presence of good designs - older, cheaper and less efficient technologies were installed.

Light Middle East is a trade show for urban, architectural, theatrical and retail lighting solutions. It runs until tomorrow.