Solar security - TransJamaican Highway ponders how to protect batteries from theft
Sheldon Williams, Gleaner Writer
TransJamaican Highway Limited has taken precautionary measures to secure the remaining batteries that operate solar-powered street lights along its highways. This is after 53 batteries were stolen from solar-lighting systems along the interchanges of the Highway 2000 East-West network recently.
According to Kim Chin-Shue, public relations director at Advertising and Marketing Ltd, which does public relations for TransJamaican Highway, "The batteries in the remaining solar-lighting systems in the targeted areas have been removed and transported to storage, while the company searches for an effective solution to the matter. We are currently exploring implementing additional security mechanisms to deter the theft of equipment, including hidden surveillance devices."
Chin-Shue conceded that the lights which were affected by the theft are still not working, as the batteries have not been replaced as the toll operators deliberate on what to do next.
"Yes, they currently have no power source," she told Automotives. "Once an effective solution to secure them has been determined, the company will schedule the reinstallation and replacement of the fixtures as our budget permits."
However, Chin-Shue emphasised that the theft has not discouraged TransJamaican Highway from considering constructing additional solar-powered street lights. However, that is dependent on the introduction of effective security measures.
The batteries were stolen from three different locations on different days. According to Chin-Shue, "six battery-housing boxes (containing 24 batteries in total) were discovered missing from systems along the Spanish Town Eastbound On Ramp of Highway 2000 East-West on Sunday, March 24, 2013.
"On Saturday, March 30, 2013, three battery-housing boxes (containing 12 batteries in total) were discovered missing from systems along the Mandela Highway Westbound On Ramp of Highway 2000 East-West.
"Perpetrators removed an additional 17 batteries from solar-lighting systems along the Mandela Highway Eastbound Off Ramp of Highway 2000 East-West, on Sunday, March 31, 2013. In this instance, the police were alerted of their activities and the thieves fled, leaving behind four damaged batteries in the adjoining cane field."
Ironically, Chin-Shue said: "As safety is of paramount importance to us, the project has been undertaken to provide lighting to assist motorists in safely negotiating these interchanges."
Chin-Shue said the company has not received any reports from motorists of poor visibility on the highways, even though the lights have been affected.
VALUE NOT DISCLOSED
TransJamaican Highway did not say if any of the stolen batteries were recovered; nor did it identify what security measures - if any - were in place prior to the theft. The total value of the batteries stolen was not disclosed.
In a prior interview, Chin-Shue told Automotives about the role the batteries play in the solar-lighting system.
She said: "The solar panels collect the sun's light and converts it to electrical energy. This energy is stored in the battery bank during the day. The solar panels also act as sensors, so once there is no solar light impacting on the panels, the lights turn on."
Chin-Shue also highlighted the durability of the solar-powered lights, confirming that, among other things, they can withstand hurricane conditions and are able to operate a number of days without sunlight.
Solar-powered street lights are being installed along several legs of Highway 2000 to gradually eliminate the dependence on traditional street lights as part of a cost-saving initiative by TransJamaican Highway.
They are being installed on the interchanges of Highway 2000 East-West, including the Portmore, Spanish Town, and Vineyards legs of the highway. Interchanges on the May Pen leg were already outfitted with the systems before it was opened to the public last year.
Chin-Sue attributed the changeover to the company's determination to reduce electricity costs and lessen direct emissions into the atmosphere.
"The decision to use solar lights was made in order to minimise electricity costs and reduce our carbon footprint, which is in keeping with our environmentally friendly practices," she said.