In our “new normal” COVID-19 pandemic world, essential services are a popular topic. Jobs like health care and emergency services, utilities, transportation, and food and grocery store workers are considered essential to preserving health and social well-being. A less discussed but still essential innovation for modern society is an example hailing from the dawn of electricity: the lightbulb.
Since its inception, electric lighting has become a more and more essential part of everyday life—and we don’t often realize this until we lose it temporarily, for example, in a power outage. Lighting is also necessary to fulfill other essential duties required to address the current ongoing COVID crisis.
While everyone is accustomed to having lights in their homes and most public spaces, there are still many areas in North America where people live, work, and play that lacks adequate illumination. Adding lighting to these areas is often too expensive because of the distance to the power grid and construction costs for trenching new cable. Like food, health care, transportation, and other services, lighting too is an essential service in our contemporary society. Outdoor lighting makes our cities safer to live and travel in, more secure, and more beautiful to experience and enjoy.
Lighting makes safer streets.
Whether you’re walking, cycling, or driving, traveling at night on unlit streets can be dangerous. Not being able to see where you’re going makes travel difficult, but not being able to see where other people are makes it even riskier. Many agencies and organizations around the world have studied how lighting impacts safety and have observed that it can help to noticeably reduce incidents.
For example, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)—a division of the United States’ Department of Transportation—recognizes how poor street lighting reduces visibility and can directly contribute to higher crash rates. They commonly cite studies where pedestrian crosswalks with improved nighttime lighting improved safety by reducing all types of crashes by 23%. Adding street lighting and other crosswalk enhancements is one of their first recommendations to cities looking to reduce traffic incidents.
In the United Kingdom, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), a century-old charity, focuses on preventing accidents that affect our lives at home, on the road, at work, and at play. This group was founded to address the increase in traffic accidents caused by the blackouts that disrupted street lighting during the First World War. Summarizing research from institutions around the world, RoSPA notes that high-quality street lighting can reduce collisions with injuries by 30+%.
Lighting improves security
Many police and security officers can attest to areas with good outdoor lighting being more secure and deter more crime, which can help promote confident, positive use of community spaces. One systematic review of 13 studies found that improved lighting helped to reduce crimes like burglary and theft by around 20%. A New York study of nearly 40 public housing developments found that those receiving new outdoor lighting saw significantly lower crime rates than those that didn’t—in the end, the study concluded that exterior lighting led to a 36% reduction in index crimes (a category that includes murder, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as certain property crimes).
Sol recently worked with the Navajo Housing Authority to provide several subdivisions with high-quality street lighting that has helped address their safety and security concerns. Read our case study to learn more.
Lighting makes cities beautiful.
The last few decades have seen outdoor lighting practices expand from a purely functional, security role to one with a more community-focused vision. Today, more cities are using exterior lighting to beautify and promote the positive use of new, historical, and everyday spaces. This broadened use of illumination is now a key consideration for city master plans and community projects. Adding effective overhead lighting to pathways, playgrounds, and parks can promote the use and enjoyment of these spaces, which helps improve public health and foster a feeling of community.
Well-designed lighting plans can also be used to improve cities’ tourism sectors. By enhancing landmarks like boardwalks, promenades, and waterfronts, outdoor illumination can create beautiful ambiences that add charm to nighttime views and events. For historical areas especially, lighting can highlight the identity and uniqueness of local historical spaces.
How solar lighting helps deliver this essential service
While adding lighting can help make cities safer, more secure, and more beautiful, traditional grid-connected lighting can often be expensive and disruptive to install. The cost to trench and bring a distant power grid to a remote area can strain city budgets, reducing the amount of lighting that can be provided.
Solar lighting installs without trenching or lengthy disruption and can allow municipalities to avoid capital costs involved with conventional street lighting projects—plus, since they’re powered by the Sun, there are no ongoing utility fees. Because of their sustainable operation and simple installation, solar lights can help cities put lighting exactly where it’s needed.