Hindsight is a wonderful thing. How many of the world’s problems could have been avoided had those with power and influence yesterday known what we do today? The ignorance of our forebears makes their errors easier for us to stomach. But the judgment of future generations will not be as kind if they discover that our inaction in tackling many of the greatest threats to the planet stemmed from negligence.
When it comes to energy and climate change, the world faces a perfect storm–a storm that can be diffused, at least in part, by technologies that already exist. And yet, in spite of these solutions, the world is not acting fast enough, and so risks sleepwalking towards disaster.
Cities today account for 54 percent of the global population and consume more than 70 percent of the world’s energy supply. With the urban population predicted to nearly double by 2050, the impact of cities on energy consumption, natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions will rise further still. This means that we must focus on making cities more sustainable and grasp the solutions already at our disposal to increase energy efficiency.
Lighting is a case in point where huge savings–both in energy and money terms–are being made using existing technology, with tangible knock-on benefits for the environment, economy and society. Lighting accounts for 19 percent of all electricity used globally, as we cling to outdated, inefficient systems.
However, a universal switch across the world to LED lighting would slash this figure to 11 percent, drastically cutting energy costs and freeing up funds that could be spent in other areas–such as health and education–to stimulate economic growth and create jobs. It would also cut carbon emissions by 670 million tonnes.
While the contributions of every household can help make this a reality, the biggest gains hinge on the decisions of governments, policymakers, businesses and other large organisations. And, given their scale, cities hold the key.
Street lighting is the obvious starting point. There are 290 million streetlights around the world–most of them in cities–and yet only 10 percent are LEDs. Switching from conventional street lighting to LEDs can cut energy consumption by 40 percent.
But cities can go even further: by connecting LEDs to enable remote management–and provide light only on demand–energy savings of up to 70 percent can be achieved. Just one percent of the world’s street lights are currently connected, yet this is where the real gains can be made both in cutting energy consumption and costs, and in improving the way cities function.
Connected lighting systems allow each street light to be remotely monitored and controlled individually, meaning city managers can tailor the lighting to suit the specific needs of each location. From a cost-saving perspective, this means lights can be dimmed or switched off at times and in places when they are not required. It also lets city managers see in real time where there are faults, thus reducing maintenance costs and improving operational efficiency.
These attributes help cities run more smoothly, as controllers are able to raise lighting to improve visibility on demand, such as in the event of road accidents, peak traffic periods, poor weather, or outdoor events. This not only empowers cities to make smarter use of their lighting infrastructure but also delivers a greater sense of safety and security to citizens walking the streets after sunset.
This technology is just as applicable to the growing number of megacities as it is to villages. Bustling metropolises such as Buenos Aires, mid-sized cities like Szeczin in Poland, and small hilltop towns like Città Sant’Angelo in Italy are all benefitting from upgrading to connected LED street lighting systems.
It’s also possible for those cities that pioneered LED street lighting to unlock their full potential by connecting older LED fixtures. Los Angeles has just overcome this hurdle through mobile and cloud-based technologies from Philips, without the financial burden of upgrading to modern LEDs.
Adoption of these kind of technologies must become the norm, rather than the exception, if cities are to make meaningful energy efficiency improvements. The environmental argument for taking action is the most compelling, and has been well documented. But the social and economic case is often overlooked and demonstrates that improving energy efficiency does not translate to austerity. Recent research suggests that roughly doubling the annual rate of energy efficiency improvement from 1.3 percent to three percent would create some six million new jobs by 2020–1.2 million of them in Europe. Furthermore, it would also cut the world’s energy bill by more than US$2.3 trillion by 2030.
Such ambitions need not be pipe dreams–especially when the solutions are there for the taking. As 25,000 delegates from governments, UN agencies and NGOs convene in Paris for COP21, world leaders must put a stake in the ground to drive faster, decisive action to combat climate change. That means setting more ambitious goals for energy efficiency and implementing processes to achieve them. Government regulatory bodies must be prepared to set high but attainable energy standards for buildings and lighting in streets and other public places.
We have a responsibility to see these pledges through, and the clock is ticking. Every day, the global population has risen by close to 200,000 people; the same number have moved to a city; the world consumed 60 billion kWh of electricity; and 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were pumped into the atmosphere.
The time to act is now if we are to retain any shred of credibility among future generations. We have the benefit of both knowledge and technology to reverse these trends–it’s now up to us to break the inertia and apply them for the collective good of the planet.
By Harry Verhaar, Head of Global Public & Government Affairs, Philips Lighting
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