From Stargazers to Astronomers: The Importance of Dark Skies
By Paul Vesel, Director of Intelligent Infrastructure, RTE Energy Solutions
What is the Dark Sky Movement?
In an effort to reduce light pollution, the Dark Sky movement is a global campaign fueled by amateur astronomers and professionals alike engaging in observational astronomy. As more individuals engaged in observational astronomy activities like moon-watching or identifying constellations, they couldn't help but become advocates for reducing light pollution. The movement grew stronger as more voices joined in, amplifying its message across continents.
In 1980, a non-profit organization called the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) was formed. Its goal is to protect the night skies so that astronomical observations can be made without the disruption of artificial light. The organization consists of more than sixty chapters across the world run by volunteers with twenty chapters representing five continents. These dedicated volunteers work to educate communities about the importance of preserving dark skies and advocate for responsible outdoor lighting practices.
Why is it Important to Protect Dark Skies?
The topic of light pollution has gained attention from governments in recent years. Authorities have instituted local ordinances and national regulations to take action against this issue. In addition to protecting the night sky for scientific purposes, there are a variety of other benefits to protecting dark skies that I will explain below – let's check it out:
1. Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
By decreasing the light pollution in a city or town, a reduced amount of energy is needed at night. This, in turn, reduces greenhouse gas emissions. According to the IDA, approximately 35% of outdoor light is wasted. This wastage occurs due to inefficient lighting fixtures, excessive brightness, and poorly directed light. To address this issue, it is crucial to promote the use of energy-efficient lighting technologies such as LED technology. LEDs consume significantly less energy compared to traditional incandescent or fluorescent bulbs.
Furthermore, implementing proper lighting design and smart lighting controls can help minimize light waste and ensure that illumination is directed only where needed. “Incorporating lighting practices like photometric lighting design and smart lighting technologies has helped our clients save over 525,000,000 kilowatt hours cumulatively,” says Paul Vesel, Director of Intelligent Infrastructure at RTE Energy Solutions.
2. Promote Energy Savings
Reducing light pollution is not only beneficial for the environment, but it also has substantial energy-saving implications. The excess and misdirected light that escapes into the sky contributes to wasteful energy consumption on a massive scale. In fact, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) estimates that if all cities in the United States were optimized with proper lighting practices, over $3 billion could be saved annually in energy costs alone. This significant reduction in energy usage would not only help mitigate environmental issues associated with electricity production, including air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions but also result in significant financial savings. By adopting responsible lighting practices, communities can significantly reduce the amount of electricity consumed for outdoor lighting purposes.
For example, the Town of Yarmouth, Maine cut its energy consumption by 64% and started saving $87,672 or 81% in annual streetlight costs after a turnkey LED streetlight upgrade which included Ubicquia smart controls. “Investing in smart controls for your streetlight conversion project is a bright idea that pays off in both efficiency and cost-savings. Cities can match light levels to their preferred usage resulting in savings of 20 to 40%,” says Keith Chinchar, Vice President of Sales, Smart Street Lighting at Ubicquia.
3. Protect the Circadian Cycle
Preserving dark skies plays a crucial role in promoting our circadian cycle. Our bodies have evolved to follow a natural rhythm, known as the circadian rhythm, which is adjusted based on the amount of light we are exposed to. Artificial lights disrupt this delicate balance by tricking our bodies into thinking it's still daytime even during nighttime hours. This can confuse our internal body clock and lead to various health issues such as sleep disorders, mood disturbances, and even an increased risk of chronic diseases.
Studies have shown that exposure to excessive artificial light during nighttime hours can suppress the production of melatonin—the hormone responsible for regulating sleep—and disrupt its normal release pattern. This disruption can result in difficulties falling asleep or poor sleep quality overall. By embracing darker nights and reducing unnecessary lighting in our cities and neighborhoods, we give ourselves a better chance at enjoying restful nights and achieving optimal overall well-being.
4. Animal and Plant Conservation
About half of the species on Earth are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night and not during the day. Many different species rely on natural light patterns to migrate, hunt, breed, and more. For instance, passerine birds use the stars to guide them at night and city lights may disorient them. On the coast, sea turtles rely on the moonlight to navigate when they hatch and make their way to the ocean. However, artificial lights near beaches can confuse them, leading them away from their intended path and endangering their survival. Just like for humans, light pollution affects animals and plants. It can prevent plants from reproducing by inhibiting their natural circadian rhythms.
How Can We Preserve the Night Sky?
As governments strive to combat light pollution, new advancements in solid-state lighting technology and lighting design present possible strategies for success. Solutions like smart controls with dimming features, warmer CCTs (correlated color temperatures) luminaires, and comprehensive photometric lighting design can help reduce unnecessary or excessive illumination while still providing adequate lighting for public safety and other essential purposes.
Governments can also play a crucial role in minimizing the detrimental effects of light emissions by implementing regulations and standards across their communities. Recently, the Chilean Ministry of the Environment established new standards to protect the country’s dark skies by reducing light pollution from artificial luminosity preserving the quality of night skies, biodiversity, and human health. Other regions like Antofagasta, Atacama, and Coquimbo already have regulations in place to minimize light pollution.
By embracing sustainable lighting practices while also implementing appropriate regulations, governments can strike a balance between energy efficiency goals and minimizing the harmful effects of unnecessary nighttime illuminations.
About RTE Energy Solutions
We have successfully completed over 350 LED streetlight conversion projects across North America. We have worked with 70 municipalities to acquire the streetlights and upgrade to LED technology. These are the results of the municipalities that purchased and upgraded their streetlight assets with RTE:
- An average reduction of costs by 61%
- An average cost savings of $114 per light per year
- An average annual maintenance cost of $22 per light per year
- Approximately 110 million kilowatt hours per year in savings
- $20 to $25 million in savings
Feel free to reach out to learn more about photometric lighting design, LED conversion projects, smart city application management, and more.
About the Author: Meet Paul
Paul is an energy and telecommunications expert with over 25 years of experience leading municipal infrastructure and energy efficiency projects. Paul has led 60 streetlight municipalization projects in 5 states. Prior to joining RealTerm Energy, Paul was CEO of Poderco, a Central American renewable energy company, and CEO of Omniwatt, a solar development company. Before launching Omniwatt, Paul was the Managing Director of Swisscom Eurospot’s Spanish subsidiary. Book a meeting with Paul.