London, UK, Royal Philips Electronics (AEX: PHI, NYSE: PHG), states that adopting modern street lighting technologies such as LEDs and control systems offer potentially greater savings than simply turning the lighting off. Reductions in street lighting are seen by a majority of councils as an easy option to cut costs in response to the 27% lower local authority budgets imposed by central government. This might look an easy option, but Philips Lighting believes that, based on headline figures only, it is a false economy, and likely to end up costing more than it saves.
“Three-quarters of councils are said to be prioritizing cuts in street lighting,” says Andy Gowen, Director of Philips Outdoor Lighting Solutions, “The UK has an estimated 6.9 million lights around the country, costing some £207 million a year [£30 each] to power. On the face of it the simple calculation is, turn them off for 10 per cent of the time and save £20 million. The reality is, adapting the day/night sensor on each street lamp will cost an average £21 per unit1 on top of which the running costs still have to paid so achieving savings is not as straight forward and certainly not as high as we are led to believe.”
Gowen also argues that shaving an hour or two of street lighting at the start and end of the day is likely to have undesirable impacts on transport, personal security and safety: “Do councils really want kids going to school in the dark, and crossing unlit roads, and the same returning home?”
Surprisingly, councils have no statutory obligation to light our streets. Cutting the amenity might appear as a soft target, but if the direct result is more traffic accidents, crime or personal injury, local communities will be quick to react. Recent research2 by Philips shows that 56 per cent of city dwellers would be prepared to pay higher taxes to improve the quality of roads: 61 per cent affirm that improving transport and roads should be city leaders’ priority. Around a third cite crime and safety as a critical issue. Transport, crime and safety are all likely to be adversely affected by less light – a point confirmed by data1 showing that good street lighting cuts the number and severity of night-time road accidents by up to 30 per cent.
“For the overall public benefit, local authorities would be advised to abandon any thoughts that street lighting is an appropriate place to look for savings: it isn’t,” asserts Andy Gowen.
“Councils would do well to turn the argument on its head. By looking for upgradeable and controllable lighting solutions that provide longer term savings alongside superior illumination councils are future proofing their investment to ensure that they can always maximize their savings. Light-emitting diodes [LEDs] are the future. The running cost of LED street lights are 70 per cent lower than conventional lamps, so that the current national spending of £207 million a year could drop to £62 million. That’s a better way to go than simply switching off the lights.”
1 Source: Institute of Lighting Professionals
2 Liveable Cities: challenges and opportunities for policymakers