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Across Britain and America, and no doubt elsewhere in the world, deep conversations are going on at a local level about the replacement of old traditional street lights with LED bulbs. These light bulbs offer a wide range of positives to people, urban environments, and our global carbon footprint. However, there are movements against LEDs being used in street lights. This article examines some of these complaints and explains why LEDs themselves are not the problem, but how they are being utilised is.

 

Complaints About LED Lights

Traditional Street Lighting

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LED Street Lighting

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In Britain, when people think of street lights they probably think of the warm, yellow glow of modern lights or perhaps the still existing wind-up gas lamps being lit and tended to every day in parts of London. These yellow lights are being replaced by white light producing LED lamps with the aim of saving energy.

However, there are complaints about the use of white light LEDs. Some doctors from the American Medical Association have complained that the blue light they emit maybe detrimental to our health and ability to see and sleep. It is thought that LEDs emit a light which suppresses melatonin and that interferes with the body’s circadian rhythm, and thus stopping sleep. This is also why doctors recommend that people reduce their usage of mobile phones, tablet computers and TVs before going to bed as the blue light emitted can disrupt sleeping patterns. The AMA, however, says that reducing blue light may ease these issues. However, a Swedish study has shown blue lights to improve mental and physical performance if used at the right time and to have similar effects of the morning cup of coffee. As we can see, the use of LED Spotlights on their own isn't necessarily the cause of any negative health side effects, and more so of which the way they are implemented into our everyday lives.

 

Used at the right time, blue light has many benefits

     
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Considerations to Turn into Positives

There are considerable areas of debate which have been used by some people and campaigners to seek to remove or ban LED lights in our streets. When looked at in depth, however, it is often the misuse of LED lights which is causing the problems. Here’s the major considerations being debated:

Environmental Friendliness

It is a well established fact that LED light bulbs produce equal amounts of light for a fraction of the cost. The sound environmental argument is that this cuts a company, household, or council’s electricity spend, which reduces demand on power stations and means less fossil fuels are burned/used. Thus, with less need for traditional fuel sources and an emphasis on environmentally friendly energy sources such as wind and solar power, LED lighting becomes a win-win situation.

Environmental Friendliness of LED

Criticism of this theory when put into practice by governments and councils, centres around the amount of lights used and total energy spends. The International Dark Sky Association admit that LEDs can reduce the carbon footprint of organisations, but this is not the case. Instead of cutting energy consumption in line with switching to LED lighting, organizations are installing more light, so keeping consumption consistent. This is known, in economic circles, as the Jevons Paradox, but it could be turned into a positive by creating sensible municipal lighting plans with retrofits rather than expansions.

     
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Light Pollution

The correct use of LED lights can focus light better than conventional lights

The main complaint from light pollution advocates is that LEDs produce the same amount of light as conventional lighting so do not reduce light pollution. Indeed, if the Jevons Paradox is correct, then cheaper LED bulbs are proliferating the amount of light pollution rather than reducing it. Furthermore, LEDs produce brighter glows and more light spillage compared to long-wavelength (red) lights.

However, as with environmental impact, these can be mitigated because the use of correct LED light bulbs can focus light better than conventional lights, plus these lights can be shielded to reduce brightness. Controlling the shape of lighting is vital.

Driver & Pedestrian Safety

Some believe that LED lights, as stated above, have a detrimental health effect on people living near by and that the glare can distract drivers. Experts disagree over whether light colour and brightness improves both driver and pedestrian safety or not. Lighting researcher Nancy Clanton has suggested that LEDs make it safer for people to see objects and especially moving objects compared to traditional lighting, but the jury is still out. It is entirely possible that a clearer light will make roads and pavements safer, but as with the above considerations, shaping light will be the key.

Quite often myths are circulated in the media to deter consumers from buying new products simply because manufacturers of old technology refuse to let their grip go on the industry that they serve. Unfortunately, this often leads to great technologies, such as LED lighting, to have a delayed wide-acceptance into the market.

     
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LEDs are the Solution and Here’s Why

One LED campaigner, however, is not calling for a total ban on LEDs. Simon Nicholas, instead wants councils to deploy LED light bulbs more sensibly around the country. He insists that LEDs are “a sophisticated technology being used crudely” by councils. For example, he has asked councils to reduce colour temperatures by 40%, though perhaps further reductions would be better to get the lights down to a safer level. With a sensible, considerate, and economically literate plan, he does believe councils across the world can create lighting plans which save money in the long term, but which also improve life quality.

LEDs are the solution

The LED can do that when effected properly and the solutions are simple. They need to be thoughtfully bought for the long term, they need to have lower colour temperatures, to be well designed to minimise the number of lights while maximising the ground light coverage, to prevent light leakage into homes and gardens, to reduce night glow, reduce glare, and ensure minimal disruption to wildlife.

 

     
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