The Big Switch: Abu Dhabi’s Plan to Convert Old Lights to LEDs


If you live in Mushrif or the Capital Centre, then you could be among the first to have your old streetlamps replaced with LEDs.

The white lights are the new LEDS, with the older yellow lights on the right in this shot of Abu Dhabi's Salam Street. Abu Dhabi Municipality

Abu Dhabi Municipality last month announced ambitious plans to replace 42,632 older, inefficient lighting fixtures across the island. It is one of the largest projects of its kind in the world.

The older lights are mainly high pressure sodium or metal halide. They give off a familiar orange glow, but are also notoriously inefficient.

The new LEDs, or luminaires, will be up to 90 per cent more efficient; cost 90 per cent less to maintain; and also will lead to an 80 per cent reduction in harmful CO2 emissions. The quality of light and the fact it is more even will make it better for drivers and pedestrians.

“Electricity bills were so high with all the old lights,” said Eiman Alameri, from the municipal infrastructure and assets sector at Abu Dhabi Municipality.

“They really consume a lot of energy – and Abu Dhabi wants everything to be more sustainable,” she said.

Ramon Peñas / The National

The retrofit is set to start early next year once the tendering process is completed. Work will be undertaken in five phases across the island and each phase is expected to take three months. The island is set to be finished by the middle of 2019. Poles or foundations will not have to be touched and only the lighting fixture will have to be replaced.

Newer projects on the island such as on Salam Street and on Yas Island for example already use LEDs and the new fixtures are expected to last for about 12 and a half years compared with two to three years for the older lights.

“The project is one of the biggest of its type in the world,” said Martin Valentine, lighting expert at the municipality.

Mr Valentine said the Abu Dhabi plan is way ahead of other global retrofits when it comes to the quality of light. “It’s not just about changing to save energy. We’re [also] improving the lighting on the roads. We’re reducing the pollution,” he said.

Traditional street lights, known for their yellowish hue, will be relaunched with bright white LED lights across Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi Municipality

“A lot of other plans around the world are done purely on energy saving. They forget about the colour being too blue or light spilling into people’s houses. We are way ahead.”

The initiative is also a public-private partnership. This is a relatively new phenomenon for the UAE but it is expected to become more widespread. Design, installation and maintenance will be taken care of by a private firm for a contract of about ten years. Then it’s handed back to the municipality.

“We want the private sector to be involved with the urban development of Abu Dhabi. We don’t want to have all the budgets coming from the government,” said Ms Alameri.

While it is a public-private partnership, the municipality will retain control of the system. The retrofit includes the addition of a smart control system and it will yield consumption reports; identify failures; and allow lights to be dimmed at certain hours which will lead to even more savings. “These can be dimmed at times when traffic is quiet, after rush hour and between 1am and 5am,” said Mr Valentine.


It is thought that there are 290,000 of the older lights still in use across the emirate. When the island retrofit is completed, it is believed that other areas of the emirate will be next.

Local authorities around the word have been looking at introducing LEDs to cut costs. In some cities, such as Rome, residents have complained that harsh white light emanating from these new LEDs has distorted the ambience of the city. But for Mr Valentine, crude implementation is to blame. There are nine colour temperature options when it comes to LEDs, and these range from warmer yellow light to a harsh blue light.

“You have to look at colour temperature. A historic city centre and a main road are completely different things. We encourage warmer colours for the streets,” said Mr Valentine.

“We are not going too cold on the colour temperatures as some cities have and they’ve done that to save money. We banned the cold blue white colours from Abu Dhabi. We’ve got a neutral white colour which is the most efficient warm colour.

“Maybe a lot of cities haven’t thought about the social and environmental aspects as well as the economic. It’s important all three are looked at in every design.”


Published by: John Dennehy

Main Article: The Big Switch: Abu Dhabi’s Plan to Convert Old Lights to LEDs

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