Washington is looking at ways to brighten its nighttime streets with sunlight. The District of Columbia Energy Office has granted $3,000 to Washington Energy & Communication Services of Washington to develop a solar-powered street light.

The grant, from the Energy Office's small grant program, gives groups up to $3,000 to "do something that would not otherwise get done" in the field of energy, said Chuck Clinton, director the D.C. Energy Office.

Most of the awards have gone to educational programs that teach consumers how to use energy efficiently, "but the city or the private sector may want to look at this project," he said.

The lamp will be powered by the photovoltaic process, which converts sunlight directly into electricity and stores it in a battery. A photoelectric eye, that measures the amount of light outside, triggers the lamp to turn on at dusk.

"This is not a new technology. It is used in watches and calculators. The Federal Highway Administration has constructed solar street lamps in remote areas of Arizona and New Mexico. We are trying to ascertain if this technology is applicable to an urban area," said Anton V. Wood, president of Washington Energy.

The solar street light model will be fitted with a 10-year storage battery in its base, and a three-foot square southward facing solar panel on top. The solar panel can collect enough energy on a sunny day to power the light for three consecutive days. An extra storage battery can store another 10 days of light power.

The solar lamp costs as much to construct as a conventional incandescent lamp. Its savings occur in electricity costs and maintenance.

Wood projects that every solar street lamp will cost $50 to $60 less to run annually than conventional street lights. The District currently has 66,000 street lamps, according to the Department of Public Works.

Why haven't solar lights been used in cities before? "No one thought of doing it. It is usually considered an alternative source of energy in remote areas where it is difficult to set up electricity lines," Wood said.

This is Washington Energy's first venture into solar street lights. The company currently makes video-telephones, desk-top pay telephones and energy auditing systems that all are powered by solar energy.

The grant money will cover the cost of equipment for the lamp, which includes an educational display and an economic feasibility study of replacing the District's electric street lights with solar ones.

Woods is now deciding where to put up the lamp: downtown, Capitol Hill or the Washington Circle area.

If this model is successful, it "may lead into an arrangement with the District to put up more lights, and then we can approach other city and county governments with the same proposal," Wood said.