Monday, September 26, 2016

Everything is Illuminated

During the Obama administration there have been a lot of incentives to move toward more energy-efficient building materials, heating and cooling systems, appliances, cars and street lighting in an effort to cut down on oil dependence.  As a result, we have seen a sharp drop in oil prices as supply has far outstripped demand.

One of the big shifts these past eight years has been in lighting.  Incandescent bulbs are no longer being produced and the cost of LED lighting has dropped considerably.  We refitted most of our home with LED lighting and not only is it more energy efficient, but provides considerably more light than standard halogen and incandescent bulbs.  The reason for that is that LED lights have a much higher color temperature on average.

The AMA recently published a study questioning the use of high-intensity LED street lamps, which many cities have adopted because they provide much greater illumination at significantly less cost.  At 4000K you can easily distinguish colors, make out roads and sidewalks much better, which give most persons a greater sense of safety at night.  However, the AMA cautions that such high intensity lighting has harmful effects, such as disturbing sleep patterns and suppressing melatonin.

I'm surprised Michelle Bachmann and her incandescent light bulb brigade didn't jump all over this report as proof positive we should have never done away with Edison bulbs.  You might remember a few years ago she led the charge on Capitol Hill to repeal a 2007 bill that made these old bulbs obsolete.  She put forward The Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, which was defeated soundly in the House.  Before she tells everyone "I told you so," she might note that the AMA simply recommended lower Kelvin-rated LED lights, preferably 3000K, not urging cities to abandon these energy-efficient efforts.

However, many city officials have argued that there is nothing wrong with 4000K street lamps, as a typical LED monitor produces color temperature in the range of 6500K to 9300K.  Police departments have reported that better night time visibility has resulted in fewer road accidents, better eye witness reports, not to mention fewer excuses for not heeding street signs.  It is doubtful many cities will opt for lower color temperatures, as they feel the benefits far outweigh whatever harmful effects the AMA has posted.

LED street lamps are relatively new, so we really don't know the long term effects of this brighter night-time world.  These high-intensity lights have become very popular in high northern latitudes as a way of offsetting the lack of sunlight in winter, which is a well documented cause of depression.  Russia has even pursued an artificial star to boost the amount of light in winter.   But, you lose the ability to see all those shining stars as our night sky becomes increasingly more illuminated by the glow of the silvery street lamps and overlit buildings.

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