Why Europe’s cities are getting turned on by LED lighting

As more and more cities and towns across Europe make the switch from conventional to LED (light-emitting diode) lighting in the public realm, we take a look at what’s driving this quiet revolution…

Keeping an average municipality lit accounts for about 50% of its overall energy consumption, yet LED lighting can save up to 70% on energy used, thus significantly reducing both costs and CO2 emissions. LED and compact fluorescent bulbs also last considerably longer than sodium or mercury vapour bulbs, making them easier and cheaper to maintain once installed.

In addition, many opinion polls about local pilot schemes – such as a recent one in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh – have shown decisively that citizens prefer the white light of LED to the orange glow of sodium, saying they can see better and feel safer.

And in some environments, the potential benefits of LED can go even further when combined with a ‘dynamic control system’ allowing subtle shifts in colour temperature and light intensity. The results of a year-long scientific experiment using indoor dynamic lighting in schools across Hamburg, Germany showed that attention span, concentration and the behaviour of pupils all improved significantly. Not only did their performance improve, they read faster and made fewer mistakes.

Northern Lights

Back on the streets of Scotland, in an attempt to show just what can be achieved using advancing technologies, Glasgow is set to become one of the world’s leading ‘smart’ cities. By the time it hosts the Commonwealth Games this summer, some 10,000 sodium streetlights will have been replaced. The new LED lamps will be equipped with digital sensors allowing them to be controlled remotely, responding to changes in local environment such as increases in traffic. Such controls can push energy savings even higher.

Also leading the way in the lighting revolution are cities such as Manchester and Birmingham (UK), Albertslund (Denmark), Eindhoven and Tilburg (The Netherlands), Mechelen (Belgium), Lyon (France), and Hódmezövásárhely (Hungary).

However, many other councils still seem nervous about taking the leap to LED in spite of all the apparent pros. But why? The UK’s Guardian newspaper recently chaired a roundtable discussion between leaders from industry, law, environmental groups, and government-funded bodies, where the question was asked. Its interesting post-discussion write-up identified a number of possible reasons for inaction.

The Question of Cost

Unsurprisingly, one of the most frequently cited barriers to progress was the relatively high cost of initial purchase and installation compared to conventional lighting systems. However according to the Guardian’s report, research by management consultancy, McKinsey, has shown that costs are dropping 30% a year, while efficiency rates and life-spans are on the up to the extent that “by 2020 the energy saving compared to today’s conventional lighting is expected to reach 90%”.

The group discussion also revealed that some councils used falling costs as an excuse to put off decisions – the “it will be cheaper tomorrow” approach. However, Iain Watson, Director of Energy Efficiency for the Green Investment Bank warned, “the savings in energy and maintenance costs that councils can make by acting today are already so substantial that delay no longer makes financial sense”.

Another explanation offered for the slow take-up of LED is the way in which councils are commonly structured. Responsibility for introducing such schemes is often spread over different departments, with no one person empowered to make decisions. Watson felt that each council needed a visionary to get matters up to Chief Executive level where the benefits could be seen.

The discussion group also identified the problem of councils being blinded by science. Agostino Renna, CEO of GE Lighting warned that focussing on ever-smarter technology runs the risk of putting councils off simpler solutions such as replacing conventional lighting with LED. He told the meeting, “I am convinced the answer isn’t more technology. I’m a big fan of evolution instead of revolution. Small things that work well, done repeatedly by a lot of people, can make a big difference.”

Lighting the Way

To help address some of these issues, last year the European Union issued a step-by-step guide called “Lighting the Cities” offering solid, practical advice to municipalities who have not yet taken the plunge. An EU press release states that the report “provides guidelines on how to prepare for the transition to LED – assessing the status quo, engaging with stakeholders, etc – and on how to make the transition, from scoping the market for good-quality products, to securing financing and advancing with procurement”.

The guide is aimed in particular at cities still considering their first LED lighting projects or those with limited experience in the field. Within its pages it offers valuable advice on securing finance through various channels, including public funding, finance models (PPPs), and energy service models. At EU level, two schemes are noteworthy – The European Energy Efficiency Fund, and the European Local Energy Assistance programme.

“Lighting the Cities” also cites some thought-provoking statistics, including the fact that there are currently in excess of 90 million traditional streetlights in Europe alone. When you consider this, the global opportunities for cutting municipal energy bills by switching to smart lighting – coupled with its positive effect on the planet – are mind-boggling.

Gail Taylor

Written By admin 
January 27, 2014 16:18 pm
Posted In COMMENT, ENERGY