How does public lighting work? Everything you have always wanted to know about costs, management and much more

If we look at the history of public lighting, we realize that it is a pretty recent history. Public lighting appeared in our society only recently. The public lighting system is the result of the improvement in the lighting industry and the arrival of cars on the roads. Since the beginning of time, men had understood that there was a day/night cycle and that in dark hours it was necessary to invent something that would illuminate objects and people.

However, major progresses have not been made until after the Industrial Revolution, as people kept on sleeping at night, while doing everything else during the day.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a public lighting system, based on the use of gas, was patented. The first street lamps made their appearance on public spaces and roads. The reason why Paris is still called the city of Lights or La Ville Lumière in French, is because of the gas lighting system that was tailored for the city at the beginning of the 19th century. The real breakthrough came with Edison, who invented the incandescent bulb and above all he invented a low-cost system that became very popular throughout Europe.

From the 20th century onwards, with the invention of cars and a massive increase of the road traffic, public lighting powered with electric current has become an inevitable requirement throughout the world.

The situation today

Today, the fact that we have street lamps illuminating our roads is something absolutely normal. It would be pretty strange if they weren’t there. With law UNI 11248, the State regulates street lighting. Each category of road must be illuminated to ensure the driver safety. Street lighting also depends on the area and the traffic. Every single aspect should be taken into consideration, such as the number of pedestrians and people passing by. However, open spaces, such as public squares and pedestrian parks have received over the years an increase in both quantity and quality of lighting.

Of course, if on the one hand, the extension of public lighting to many other public areas leads to an increase in the government expenses, on the other hand, it guarantees a better quality of life for citizens. It would be a shame to see a park full of joggers, completely in the dark from dusk onwards.

Costs and optimization of public lighting

In recent years, the matter related to costs and management optimization of public lighting, gained a foothold in society. Many projects are underway both at the national, but especially, at the local level, in order to minimize public lighting costs for the Government, while maintaining the same level of security. Many Italian citizens have been experiencing for a few years now, the arrival of LED technology in street lighting but not only. LED technology is synonym for energy saving and good quality services, not exclusively for the lighting industry. First of all, this technology is used because of its minor effects on the environment and people compared to traditional lighting systems. We hear a lot about the so-called light pollution, that darkens the stars and causes problems to the environment and society. LED technology is already a great solution for this problem. Moreover, it seems that its white light ensures greater safety on the roads. LEDs consume 80% less than normal lights and are easier to be monitored by technicians.

Public lighting seems to be a minor issue, however, according to statistics, the world’s population, including Italians, starts to concentrate more and more in urban centers. This percentage will exceed 50% within a few decades. This means that municipalities and local authorities must start planning and creating a safe and efficient system of public lighting, to be ready when the time comes.

Public lighting impact

Public lighting consumes about 14% of electricity in the European Union and recent data confirmed that over 70% of electricity power plants, that provide public lighting, should be replaced. This data suggests that immediate changes and extraordinary projects should be planned. Actually, we do not need to be too worried about it, as governments have already launched awareness campaigns and improvements are just around the corner. Nevertheless, it is in everybody’s interest to make efforts in developing new researches for reducing public lighting costs, that will represent an immediate benefit for the community. Let’s try to think of all the activities that we usually do in the evening. We have dinner outside, we go to the cinema, we walk around, we drive long distances, and we do many other activities. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to have better public lighting even in less urban areas?

Public lighting related costs in Italy

Local and public authorities are well aware of the data.

In Italy, since 2000 until now, the flow of light emitted by public lighting has doubled. This is also due to the extension of public lighting to other areas such as gardens, monuments and illuminated signs.

It may seem a lot, but in Italy around two billion are spent on public lighting, that is to say €20 per citizen. In some cities like the big ones of the North of Italy, there is a very high public lighting consumption, resulting in higher payments for Municipalities.

The extension of the public lighting network isn’t the only cause. Behind these figures, there is a huge waste of energy represented by the lightning of outdated equipment and places of little use to the community. We cannot solve the problem by removing these places. Technological researches along with the development of new revolutionary low cost lighting systems, that could light everything that needs to be lit, without neglecting the environment, may represent the best solution. We are starting to see some improvements, but this process will still take time.

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