Governments across Europe have long been preoccupied with political power rather than powering their nations. Today most are scrambling to find ways of keeping the lights on this winter without the aid of Russian energy. What’s more, the question of how to protect people from soaring wholesale prices and conserve supplies is sparking debate.
Some cities are offering solutions. In Berlin, 1,400 spotlights illuminating 200 historical monuments have been switched off, while the hot water in Hanover’s public buildings has been cut. Madrid (and the rest of Spain) has legally decreed that businesses must limit their heating to 19C this winter. Most striking is the decision that, from 21 September, the Eiffel Tower will go dark from 23.45, after it closes to visitors. This is a very public and rather symbolic move: night-time illumination only accounts for a modest 4 per cent of the monument’s energy use. We need to make meaningful cuts to energy consumption now or face involuntary power outages and perhaps rationing later.
Darker cities might benefit us in unforeseen ways too, from providing respite from the light to animals and plants to saving upwards of $3bn (€3bn) a year in wasted energy in the US (an estimate calculated well before prices peaked). According to the International Dark-Sky Association, up to a third of all outdoor lighting in the US is cast on uninhabited areas anyway. And that’s before we wade into research suggesting that artificial lights disrupt our sleep, mood and ability to see the stars.
Lights at night are important for safety and security, of course, but cities are still burning resources that they could save with smarter solutions. Dimming the Eiffel Tower for a few hours is an admirable statement but it could also be the beginning of a much brighter idea.
Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s editor.