In the modern world there is hardly a house, a street, a business or a transport facility that does not make use of electric lighting. Although electricity is often seen as a panacea for all environmental ills, a lot depends on how the electricity is generated. Electricity generated by fossil fuels will still create carbon dioxide pollution. This is still a big advantage over petrol and diesel powered vehicles created noxious fumes in town and city centres, but the human race still needs to work towards generating electricity from renewable sources.
Lighting is by no means the heaviest user of electricity on an individual basis. But when you consider the sheer number of street lamps in a heavily populated city, it all adds up. If the power consumed by electric lighting could somehow be generated by a renewable source, the savings in polluting emissions would be considerable. As of now, the technology for street lighting powered by renewable sources is not yet commercially viable. But we are getting there. Already, there are many different types of solar powered light available for domestic gardens.
It has even been rumoured that the British Government had been considering dimming lights on British roads, even on motorways, in an attempt to save on electricity. This has not been implemented due to the reduced vision for drivers and the increased risk of accidents. It will be far better to create a lighting system, which will create the same amount of light, from a renewable source. Wind power would be a possibility on exposed motorways, as the noise factor will be of less importance on roads that are largely a long way from homes or workplaces. Solar energy however, is noise free. So it could be implemented on any roads, if the technology can be developed to produce the panels at a cost effective price.
An interesting example of solar powered lighting on a transport facility can be found on the railway stations of North Wales. The railway line that snakes around the Welsh coast comes out of Shrewsbury and many of the stations are only small village halts serving a very small number of people. These stations are largely unmanned and a source of lighting was needed that would require little maintenance. These stations in North Wales now have lamps that are attached to solar panels. The solar panels generate electricity – even in the cold, dull, cloudy climate of North Wales – and that electricity is then stored in a battery similar to a vehicle battery.
This Welsh experiment hopefully shows the way forward for solar powered lighting to become an ever more important part of the provision of public lighting. Of course, solar panels are used on the roofs of many homes, especially in climates such as California where there is an abundance of sunshine. The one problem with solar energy for lighting is that the power is generated at the time of day the light is not needed. This means that batteries are required to store the power until the nighttime when it is needed. With the advances in fuel cell technology we are seeing emerge in this decade, this should not be a problem. The future looks bright for solar powered lighting.