Can We Live Without Streetlights?

Oct 13 2016 Read 1064 Times

”Be home before the streetlights come on” – it was the catchphrase of most people’s parents when they were growing up. The streetlights come on as the sun goes down and give our walk home a bit of light in the darkness of the evening and night. But what if the streetlights didn’t come on? Well, it would be pretty dark – unless there was an alternative. Read on for a summary of the latest idea when it comes to brightening up our streets.

The problem with streetlights

A lot of people forget that streetlights exist. They take them for granted. And with that they also forget that they’re a constant use of electricity. As we get further into winter, the nights get longer and the streetlights need to be switched on even more. This means more electricity being used.

From an environmental perspective, it means more emissions from coal burning to produce that electricity. While solar powered streetlights have been suggested and planned for in Britain, they haven’t actually been introduced. And then there’s the cost. The cost of running streetlights is estimated at around £300 million a year for the British.

Harnessing luminescence

The solution? Luminescent paths. In Lidzbark Warmi?ski, a small Polish town, luminescent bike paths are being trialled. They’re made up of luminophores – tiny man-made particles which give off light. The amount given off by each particle is very small on its own, but together the floor coating creates enough light to get around in the darkness.

Is this the first of its kind?

Similar to solar powered lights, they soak up light during the day, which enables them to emit it in the darkness. There are similar ideas floating around other parts of Europe like France and Holland, but this is the first initiative that is solely self-powered – it doesn’t need any supplementary power supply.

If the initiative proves to be successful, it could change the way other towns light up their streets. The energy saving – and financial benefits – could be huge. But it could also solve problems of light pollution and wasted heat energy.

Lighting up the environment

It isn’t unusual for light to be mentioned when you’re talking about the environment. Reducing light pollution is important, but light can also help research into other kinds of pollution. Advances in LED technology have given us methods of detecting pollution in natural water sources. Fluorimeters emit light and detect how this light is interacted with to assess water content, as discussed in ‘The Use of Tryptophan-like Fluorescence as an Indicator of Organic Pollution’.

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