Vivienne Cockburn: Street lighting toolkit can save millions

In Scotland around 900,000 street lights collectively cost Scotland's councils �40 million each year. Picture: Jon Savage
In Scotland around 900,000 street lights collectively cost Scotland's councils �40 million each year. Picture: Jon Savage
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Also offers chance to cut carbon emissions, says Vivienne Cockburn

They’ve been a common sight on our streets for hundreds of years providing light and security as we go about our business.

The first street light dates as far back as the mid 1600s – candles shining on to the streets protected by a glass case.

Those simple street lights quickly advanced through to paraffin lamps and on to gas-fuelled lanterns which were still being used up until the early 20th century. However, when electricity became more widely available it was inevitable that street lighting would change to what we know and recognise today as the sodium filled bulbs with their characteristic yellow hue.

Today, across Scotland, there’s some 900,000 street lights that collectively cost Scotland’s councils £40 million each year to power. In addition, each year those lamps release nearly 200,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere which also has a tax allocated to it which burdens councils’ coffers even further.

With clocks set to go back an hour this Sunday, marking the end of British Summer Time and thereby triggering the onset of earlier darker evenings leading to greater energy consumption for councils’ street lights, many local authorities are seeking alternative ways to keep streets lit.

It should therefore come as no surprise that as a canny nation the Scots have come up with an ingenious device that will allow councils to save hundreds of millions of pounds from their energy bills, which is sparking huge amounts of interest all over the world.

In 2012 the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) carried out a pathfinder project with two councils to establish what savings would be generated by introducing new LED lanterns. West Dunbartonshire Council was one of the pilot projects supported by SFT and is now the first council to have transformed all its old lamps to new LEDs. Today, the council is on track to save £500,000 each year in energy costs, illustrating the size of the prize.

With energy efficient street lighting seen as a priority across Scotland, Scottish Government established a steering group comprising representatives from SFT, councils, Resource Efficient Scotland, Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland, Scotland Excel, Cosla and Scottish Government. The group’s task is to co-ordinate the support required by all Scotland’s councils to take projects forward.

At the same time, SFT published a Street Lighting Toolkit in March 2013. Since then, SFT has worked on making major improvements and in March 2015 produced its much advanced Toolkit. This has now been rolled out across the UK by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

It has been uniquely designed to input data councils already hold to calculate what level of investment is required and for the council to then put forward a strong business case.

By using the Toolkit, the cumulative energy and maintenance cost savings for all Scotland’s councils would reach £1.2 billion and save 2.6 million tonnes of CO2 over the next 20 years.

Such has been the appeal of the new Toolkit that SFT has received over 150 download requests from countries across Europe and further afield including Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Mexico, Chile, USA and Singapore.

SFT’s Street Lighting Toolkit is the first guide of its kind in the world and is providing councils with clarity and understanding of the financial and environmental benefits of undertaking a street lighting investment programme.

With the whole of the UK now looking to use SFT’s Street Lighting Toolkit, the UK’s cumulative energy cost savings will amount to £13bn.

Vivienne Cockburn is director of corporate services and low carbon at the Scottish Futures Trust