France commune

Europe’s streets are going dark to save energy – POLITICO

Press play to listen to this article

Driven by a looming energy crisis, cities across Europe are turning off the lights.

While Spain has made such measures mandatory, ordering shops to turn off their lights at night, in other places local authorities are voluntarily flipping the switch, arguing it’s a good time to test measures saving light.

Berlin goes out the floodlights illuminating 200 of its historic buildings and monuments, and a number of towns and villages in Austria, Germany and Italy dimmed street lights or turned off commercial signs.

In France, 14 municipalities in the Val d’Oise department north of Paris are testing measures to completely turn off public lighting at night. Local authorities estimate that they turn off streetlights for three and a half hours each night will help reduce energy consumption by about a quarter.

“Energy [price] boom made us take the plunge and try this experience”, Yannick Boëdec, mayor of the town of Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Told BFMTV in June.

The municipalities join some 12,000 municipalities in France which already totally or partially turn off public lighting at night.

These measures are backed by light pollution activists and scientists, who say excessive artificial light wreaks havoc on human health and the environment.

Turning off the lights is the “easiest” measure to take because it “costs next to nothing and…immediately pays off in euros, saved kilowatt hours and reduced light pollution,” said Anne-Marie Ducroux, door-to-door manager. word of the ANPCEN. , French association for the fight against light pollution.

The plans are part of the bloc’s response to the energy crisis, but some worry that switching off streetlights will make cities less safe.

“Public lighting contributes to public safety”, declared a business manager living in Taverny, one of the municipalities participating in the experiment, arguing that it was necessary to endeavor to limit other types of lighting. , for example those of shop windows.

Security Debates

For the French municipalities of Val d’Oise, the main motivation for switching off public lighting between 1:15 a.m. and 4:45 a.m. is to control public spending in the face of soaring energy prices.

Boedec said his municipality spent €2 million on public lighting in 2021; this could rise to 2.8 million euros this year if no action is taken.

But the municipalities are keen to point out that the experiment will also make it possible to curb light pollution. More darkness will help “respect the rhythm of day and night, allowing species to regenerate”, said Carole Faidherbe, the first deputy mayor of Taverny.

Scientists have long warned that light pollution disrupts biodiversity and human health | Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP via Getty Images

Scientists have long warned that light pollution disrupts biodiversity and human health. Excessive use of artificial light at night is related declines in insect populations – with potentially disastrous impacts on food webs – and changes in bird migration routes. It was also found to contribute to a host of health issues in people, including cancer.

Still, not everyone is convinced that it makes sense to turn off the lights to help nature.

“Cities are becoming denser and more concrete. Trees are regularly felled for real estate projects, in school or college yards, to build cycle paths… therefore, highlighting the protection of animals to justifying this decision is not credible,” said a resident. d’Eaubonne, a municipality participating in the scheme, adding that she would like to “know the statistics of the problems encountered during the periods of extinguishing the lights”.

Most of the concerns raised by locals revolve around security, according to Faidherbe, the Taverny manager, although she also pointed out that the backlash was not as strong as she had expected.

The measures were designed with safety in mind, she said. The time window takes into account the arrival of the last train of the night and the departure of the first train in the morning and can be adjusted on public holidays, when the streets are busier than usual at night. She added that CCTV continues to work even when the lights are off.

Faidherbe and Ducroux of ANPCEN also pointed to data from other regions of France that show no link between switching off public lights and an increase in crime.

The town of Mouy in northern France, for example, checked in a slight drop in theft and damage after turning off street lights in 2015.

“Many fear that security will decrease, but there are several studies which show that safety does not decrease with less light or that more light does not contribute to more safety,” said Reinhard Klenke, a biologist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany.

But one perceived lack of security can have a major impact, especially on women, who could thus limit their movements, according to Inés Sánchez de Madariaga, holder of the UNESCO Chair in Gender in Science, Technology and Innovation.

Being able to see your surroundings is key to feeling safe, she said. “When women perceive a risk of sexual assault, a risk of insecurity, they stop moving.”

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

The one-stop solution for policy professionals fusing the depth of POLITICO journalism with the power of technology


Exclusive and never-before-seen scoops and ideas


Personalized Policy Intelligence Platform


A high-level public affairs network