Streetlights of the Sustainable Future
Streetlights are a romantic part of the urbanscape. Lovers meet clandestinely under them, passing strangers on the road are briefly illuminated by their glow, and the falling rain at night becomes visible in their light. But their charms are only secondary to their purpose: to give adequate light to public spaces.
A city without streetlights would be hard to imagine, yet the hundreds of streetlights that make our streets safer are not without their cost. Installation, maintenance, and energy costs make up most of the bill. The most important of these is the amount of energy required to keep them running night after night.
Therefore streetlights are a good place to test and apply sustainability solutions. Not only are they an essential part of our cities, they are also visible and accessible to the public in a scale not possible with other renewable energy/sustainability projects. They demonstrate first hand how sustainability can be a practical, workable aspect of our modern life, even without the familiar expendability of fossil fuels.
Many concept streetlights are designed to run on renewable/alternative energy. Solar and wind power, as well as a combination of both, are favorite sources of renewable energy. Advanced concepts include on-board batteries that store excess energy for cloudy and windless days. This is a good provision for emergency cases (stormy nights, flooded streets, etc.) not available with traditional streetlights. Other optional features such as benches, swings, parking meters, and shades add function to the concept streetlight.
The following streetlight projects are some of the more unusual ones that we might see in the near (sustainable) future. They feature unexpected energy sources and greater degrees of interaction and participation from the public.
Powered by Dog Poop UK-based company Streetkleen is on a mission to put pet dogs to work through Park Spark, a biogas conversion station that uses dog waste to power traditional gas-fired street lights. Pet owners are encouraged to put their dogs’ waste into biodegradable bags, dump it in an underground Digester, and stir the concoction. The methane gas arising from the Digester is then piped to a gas burning streetlight. Triple Pundit calculates an estimated 1 million dogs produce about one thousand tonnes of waste every day in the UK alone.
Powered by Algae The micro-algae powered streetlight is said to absorb up to 1 ton of carbon dioxide per year, or as a TreeHugger article put it, 150-200 times more than the average tree. This unusual streetlight by French biochemist Pierre Calleja seems to contain nothing more than water and algae, prompting a wave of questions and dubious remarks about how exactly it generates light. However, if the micro-algae powered streetlight stands up to scrutiny and safety/maintenance issues (vandalism, algae overgrowth, etc.), it will not only contribute to lessening CO2 emissions from roads and parking lots, it can also help in addressing the environmental issue of massive algal blooms.
Powered by Dead Batteries The Energy Seed is the brainchild of Sungwoo Park and Sunhee Kim. It runs by collecting leftover energy from ‘dead’, non-rechargeable alkaline batteries. The Energy Seed features a storage compartment where dead batteries can be inserted and used to power LED lights. It’s a clever way to involve and remind the public about the environmental hazards of disposable batteries, which can pollute the environment when improperly disposed of. Inhabitat featured this innovative concept streetlight a few years ago, and it also made GreenDiary’s Top 10 concept renewable-energy powered streetlights last year.
Do these concept projects fit your idea of a streetlight from the sustainable future? Perhaps yes, perhaps not quite; all the same, these ideas give a glimpse of how a sustainability-oriented mindset can make a point through something as commonplace as a humble streetlight.
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