An almost-eerie quietness prevails at the EA's central Midlands depot at Lea Marston, near Sutton Coldfield. Colonies of wild rabbits and Muntjac deer roam the land, while swans and water fowl glide across its lakes and the River Tame that runs through the site.
But should a major flood event affect any part of the UK, this peace will be shattered as the depot springs into life. Operations teams gather and the site transforms into one of a number of strategic hubs. Articulated vehicles circle the access road to collect the pumping equipment and temporary flood defences stored there, before heading to the nearby M42 and on to the wider highways network.
Solar-powered lighting bollards line up along Lea Marston's main access road to provide bright, LED illumination, always ready to guide the safe progress of vehicles along the river's edge. The bollards are supplied by the UK's leading solar lighting provider, Prolectric.
But the bollards are not the only way in which the EA is trialling solar with Prolectric as a means of providing bright, reliable illumination. The EA's flood defences and vehicle compounds are often located in areas with no access to mains electricity. Using solar technology offers a solution to providing safe, bright illumination in remote, rural or difficult-to-access locations, just when it is needed.
In Ashby de la Zouch, a single Prolectric ProTemp stands sentry over the entrance to a culvert in a flood-prone urban location where regular maintenance is essential to keep a screen clear from debris. Water levels can rise quickly on the Gilwiskaw Brook as it flows down a steep-sided ditch adjacent a neighbouring housing development, before entering the culvert. The book then continues underground under the town centre before re-emerging on the other side of town.
Environment Agency delivery lead for the West Midlands Neil Lote explains: "Our asset had a mains powered light connection from an adjacent dairy, but when the dairy closed and the site was cleared, we found ourselves having to aim the headlights of our Land Rover on the screen, so we could maintain it. Keeping the culvert clear is essential as there are around 400 residential and commercial properties at flood risk in the town.
"We frequently need to maintain screens, set up temporary defences, apply temporary structures, or operate gates and sluices in an emergency situation during the hours of darkness. Temporary solar lighting is an encouraging prospect for us because it can provide bright, reliable, year-round lighting at many such locations across our area.
"The beauty of the technology is that it is activated only as-needed by PIR motion sensors and without the fumes or noise nuisance from a Land Rover or diesel-generator tower light. The ProTemp light is mounted on a concrete block, and we have found it easy to position using a fork lift for temporary defences. We also have the option to transfer the lighting unit to a permanent post and provide a permanent installation."
The lights are also being trialled at its Uttoxeter depot. A single ProTemp is sufficient to provide light when needed for operations staff to safely access an emergency chemical store.
"Solar lighting offers a solution to ensuring operational safety with minimal maintenance, no noise or emissions, and no need to refuel as there would be with a diesel tower light. There are 1,000s of such assets all over the Midlands region, and across the UK, and we are now keen to share our experiences of the technology with colleagues."
Prolectric is an independently-owned UK SME and the first company to introduce permanent solar-only street lights to the UK market in 2011. Armed with what they learned from installing more than 3,000 solar street lights UK-wide, Prolectric developed mobile solar-powered lighting to be 100% reliable even in winter conditions. The lights are now being seen as a viable off-grid alternative for infrastructure projects and at events, by contractors looking to reduce their use of conventional diesel-powered temporary lighting or even hybrid technology, according to the manufacturer Prolectric.
Dominic Hale, Account Manager at Prolectric comments, "We can now provide completely reliable solar lighting technology, that is easy and quick to set up, cheap to run and requires no excavation or wiring. That offers a new prospect for emergency responsiveness to floods or pollution incidents and we are happy to assist the Environment Agency in any way it can in its role to protect the public."