Dim Streetlight

Lights off to save money in UK, lights off to save electricity in SA

While Britain’s councils are flicking their street lights on and off to cut costs, South Africa is being forced into darkness to avoid a national blackout. Are the British overreacting?

Dim Streetlight

There has been a significant increase in the number of street lights in the UK that have been dimmed or switched off at night since David Cameron implemented his policies in 2010.

According to the Labour Party’s survey, the number of street lights switched off or dimmed has increased from 148 000 in 2010 to 1.36 million in 2014  nine times the amount.

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said the increase was owing to a “great pressure” on council budgets as well as the high cost of electricity. Councils have reported that the money they save on electricity bills can be used for core services such as road maintenance and social care.

A total of 106 of the 141 councils were said to be dimming or switching off street lights in the survey of 141 of the 150 councils in charge of lighting the streets in Britain. It was found that Tory councils are more likely to switch off or dim lights with 29% of streetlights switched off or dimmed in Tory areas compared to 13% in Labour ones.

The worst hit areas include Surrey (where 99% of streetlights are dimmed at night), Essex (where 83% of lights are turned off) and Northamptonshire (where 29% are switched off and 54% are dimmed).

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said that switching off street lights saves a great deal of money and reduces crime “because burglars love ambient lighting”.

However, after a series of burglaries a few weeks later, police demanded the streetlights be switched back on.

Benn believes that such money saving measures put pedestrians walking in the dark at risk.

“Streetlights ensure that people are safe on our roads and feel safe walking home, especially at this time of the year when the nights have drawn in,” Benn said.

Research conducted by the Road Research Laboratory shows that improved street lighting at 64 sites resulted in a 30% average reduction in night accidents and a 45% reduction in accidents involving personal injury. Research further indicates that the number of road accidents increased by 20% in areas where street lights were switched off.

Head of road policy for the AA, Paul Watters said:

“We need to get a handle on what’s going on because lots of authorities are doing it and clearly there appear to be some disbenefits probably outweighing the savings that are being made on energy, certainly when it comes to human life.”

Pickles contested earlier in 2014 that “[Britain] can’t have lights burning all night on the off chance someone wants to do aerobics at 3am”.

A number of local authorities are in the process of switching to LED street lights as an energy-efficient alternative to dimming or switching them off.

Light dimming vs Load shedding

While street light dimming and/or switching off is a money saving measure, load shedding in South Africa is an electricity saving one.

Load shedding, according to Eskom, is when it becomes necessary to interrupt electricity supply to certain areas, as there is not enough electricity available to meet the demand from all Eskom customers. It is a means to avoid a national blackout resulting from a total collapse of the electricity supply grid.

In November 2014, Eskom Chief Executive Officer Tshediso Matona warned that load shedding could be a reality for South Africans over the next few months.

Image: Flickr.com/DaveKirkham