Will the World’s Traditional Street Lights be Replaced by Solar?

Street lights date back to the 16th century, although they were a very different prospect to today’s lighting. Back then, torches were used to light darkened streets at night before oil and gas lamps came into effect. 

It wasn’t until 1876 that electricity was used to keep streets and paths illuminated after dark. The first electric street light was invented by a Russian man, Pavel Yablochkov the year before.

By 1878 many countries started to replace their street lights with these new electric arc lamps. London had 4,000 installed by 1881, Paris was illuminated around the Arc de Triomphe, and the USA fell over itself to install as many of these new lamps as possible.

There were over 130,000 of these types of lamps in the USA by 1890, but there were still changes to come. Later years saw incandescent lights appear, then high-powered sodium lamps that you can see on many streets still today.

Now, it is solar street lights that are starting to appear on roads across the world, as countries look for more renewable power sources and more eco-friendly options. 

Why do the street lights in the world need to be changed?

Quite simply, traditional energy sources are running out. The world’s nations and people have been reliant on fossil fuels, and possibly taking them for granted, for too long.

It is estimated and generally accepted that coal and gas supplies will run out around 2060, with oil reserves running dry by 2052 if they are burnt at the current rate. It is quite likely that some new reserves could be discovered by then, but the world is living on borrowed time when it comes to fossil fuels.

If you need to understand further how fast humans have consumed the planet’s fossil fuels so far, then consider the following. These natural fuel sources have been around for millions of years, however, it has only taken the planet’s inhabitants 200 years to almost deplete them. 

What is the best alternative option?

There are many renewable power sources, and governments around the world are investing time and money into researching various options. Hydro, wind, and biofuels are just three potential options for the future, but one other energy source is being used all over the world already, the sun.

There are many everyday uses for solar energy in and around the home, and now it is being used to power street lights too. The reasons that many countries are starting to switch to solar-powered street lights are due to cost savings and environmental benefits. Also, these types of street lights would normally use LED lighting which brings its own range of benefits.

But, are solar-powered street lights going to replace all the traditional sodium lamps, and are they really the best option? Keep reading to see the case for, and against. 

The case for solar street lights

Fossil fuels are used to create electricity, and this is a problem in many ways. As you have already read, these fuels are running out, but there are other issues to consider as well.

Creating electricity costs money, and that money could be used by local governments to fund hospitals, schools, and other areas that are in need of investment. For example, according to the Department of Energy, LED lights use at least 75 percent less power than traditional incandescent lights, and up to 60% less than regular street lights. Then there are the environmental management concerns. 

It is necessary to burn fossil fuels to create electricity but this has dire effects on the environment. It can harm the atmosphere by releasing pollutants such as nitrogen oxides. This in turn can cause smog which is harmful to human health, and create acid rain. 

The case against solar street lights

Nothing is ever quite perfect, and this is true with solar street lights too or at least certain types. They have recently been linked to light pollution that is harmful to insect life.

This is a concern for environmentalists, who are ironically the very people that should be rooting for solar lights. However, it isn’t the energy source that is the problem, it is the type of lights that are used.

Many solar-powered street lights use LEDs which produce a very bright white light. This is ideal for lighting up motorways and streets, and it lets people see colors more naturally than sodium lighting does. The problem may be that the brightness has been linked to light pollution, and not everyone is happy. 

So, are LED lights a good match for solar power street lights or not?

It should be noted that the recent news about LED lights causing adverse effects on insect populations is not conclusive. Farmland has been reduced over the years as towns and cities increase in size, and this also affects wildlife.

The benefits of LED lights are plenty, and when it comes to the environment they are a good partner to solar power. Traditional sodium street lights take around 15 to 20 minutes to power up, this is wasted electricity. In contrast, LED lights are good to go as soon as they are switched on.

Homeowners are starting to discover the potential uses of combining LED lights with solar power too. It is very common now to see solar-powered LED lights for security, driveways, decking, and uplighting.

The savings on energy are obvious, but the lifespan is also a plus. Sodium lamps may last up to 24,000 hours, but LED lights can be used for up to 50,000 hours. Incandescent lights, in contrast, may only last 1,000 hours.

This long lifespan means there is less need to change and replace them, making them ideal for the home and for street lights. LED lights can be water-resistant too, which makes them useful for outdoor purposes. 

Is light pollution unavoidable with these street lights?

LED solar lights have the benefit of providing bright, clear lighting, without the need for large amounts of electricity. The units store up solar power during daylight hours and then use this to light streets during the night, creating a safer environment for pedestrians and drivers.

However, it is the lack of electricity that is causing problems with light pollution in some areas. Because local authorities are saving money on their energy bills, some are then deciding to use this extra cash on buying more lights. This is sometimes the source of light pollution.

Solar power is an excellent source of renewable power, and LED lights can last for a very long time. But, they must be installed correctly to avoid the serious effects of light pollution. 


So, looking at the overall benefits and some of the issues with solar power and LED lighting, it would appear that they are the best option available now. Sodium lights create an unnatural orange color on paths and streets. These types of lights use electricity and need to be disposed of correctly due to their contents which include mercury. Conversely, solar power street lights use long-lasting LEDs, require no power source other than the sun, and have a long lifespan.

As the world looks to reduce emissions, cut costs, and protect the environment, solar power street lights could be a useful addition.

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