A trend is spreading through small towns across Germany. Tight budgets have forced hard decisions, including turning the lights out at night. No one is on the streets at night anyway, so why pay for the electricity to run the street lights? But residents have revolted. They fear an uptick in crime, or simply for their safety while stumbling through the dark streets to walk the dog or return from a late night out. Proving necessity is the mother of invention, a handful of clever solutions are being implemented; some with interesting consequences.
The solution seems to have started in the small town of Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz in the Erzegebirge. Over one and a half years ago, the 900 citizens of Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz were plunged into darkness each night, but given the option to turn the lights on by mobile telephone. Older citizens were concerned about their ability to master this new technology, but practice makes perfect. The first two weeks of the program, the lights remained on almost all night long as residents remained awake late for an opportunity to test the new system! But now the lights stay off except when needed. The town saves 4000 euros ($5300) per year. According to the Berliner Morgenpost daily newspaper, Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz is the inspiration for 4300 person community of Groß Pankow, the most recent community to consider on-call streetlight.
The town of Döblitz has used a similar system for about a year. In Döblitz, the invention is attributed to local resident Heinrich Frühauf. After tripping and falling in the darkness, Frühauf got permission from the town to install a modified mobile telephone in the electrical box controlling the street lamps. All of the citizens can call that number, and the lights come on. A timer shuts the lights off again in 15 minutes.
Things take a turn for the complicated in Dörentrup. A BBC interview identifies Dörentrup resident Dieter Grote as the inventor of the dial-in system installed there. Although residents appear happy with the system in this BBC clip, the Dörentrup system requires users to register, and to enter a 6-digit number to identify the area which they want lit. Users must know the number of the area where they want light--either by looking the numbers up in an on-line database, or finding the numbers posted on the nearby streetlamp, probably a difficult task given that the streetlamps are not yet lit.
An application to patent the idea has been submitted, under the business model of Dial4Light. The communities of Lemgo and Rahden have joined Dörentrup in the Dial4Light system. In a further twist, some communities are requiring users to pay for the lighting. All of the areas in Dörentrup and Lemgo can be lit up for the cost of the phone call. But in Rahden, 60 minutes of light will cost the caller €3.50 ($4.65). Dial4Light suggests that expensive lighting systems, such as stadium lights, can also use the dial-up database to charge users for lighting on demand. A pay-to-use system does align the costs with the user benefits, but leaves open the question of whether residents will take unneccesary risks with their safety for the benefit of the city budget.
More on German on call street lights:
German village turns off street lights, BBC
Bei Anruf: Licht in Döblitz (German only)
Groß Pankow erwägt für die Nacht neue Steuerung der Laternen (German only)
Dial4Light (German only)
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LED Street Lights are Coming
The Autonoma: Self-Powered Programmable Street Lighting
Los Angeles California To Retrofit 140,000 Street Lights With LED Bulbs
TreeHugger Forums: An idea to reduce light pollution and energy use