The Right Light for Long Nights: Sunlight, Solstice and Safety

István Laskai - Business Segment Manager Road - Schréder
István Laskai
Road Business Segment Manager

Every year, December’s winter solstice marks the shortest day - and the longest night - across the Northern hemisphere. Celebrated since prehistory, the term 'solstice' derives from the Latin word 'solstitium', meaning 'sun standing still,' and is seen as a time of hope and rebirth, as the days gradually start to lengthen. It’s also a time to think about lighting. 

In the weeks around the solstice, things get murky - literally. Polar regions will be in darkness for 24 hours a day. Many towns in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Canada experience several weeks where “daylight” consists of vague twilight around noon. Major cities including Moscow, Helsinki, Copenhagen and Glasgow see the day shrink to seven hours, and those hours of daylight are often cloudy and grim. Across North America, Europe and large swathes of Asia, people going to work or school can expect to arrive and leave in the dark.

Artificial light has given humans more hours to use in the day, creating huge changes in society. At the same time, cities are faced with rising energy costs and the climate crisis. How can they stay safe and comfortable in the depths of winter? How can cities save energy and make cost savings to invest in other vital services? And how can they ensure lighting choices respect fauna and flora through the winter months, as well?

Long Dark Nights of the Soul

This lack of light can have a serious impact on everyday life. We tend to “hibernate” more, get winter blues, and some people even experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Artificial light can help us get on with necessary tasks such as going to school, the office, or shopping by improving safety for those who have to go out. It also encourages people to venture out for fun during the winter months - supporting 24/7 urban life and contributing to a city’s night-time economy. From festive markets to COVID-safe gatherings outside, there’s a lot of good reasons to socialise outdoors at night, and lighting supports them all.

It’s particularly important at road junctions: up to twice as many pedestrians are killed on the road during the winter months than between March and June. Dark lighting conditions make pedestrians less visible to other road users, resulting in more frequent and serious pedestrian crashes. Better lighting can literally save lives. And it also makes women, in particular, feel safer. Following horrific events in the UK recently, students at the University of Lincoln have asked for all-night lighting. And in Vienna, the importance of “see and be seen” as a principle is built into the city’s standards on lighting as a factor in gender equality.

A Light in the Darkness

At Schréder, we’ve been bringing safety and comfort through light to regions with long, dark winters for many years. Some 400km north of Stockholm, Sundsvall is the birthplace of the Swedish industrial revolution, a hub for the pulp and paper industry, and home to the Mid-Sweden University. It also has just 5 hours of daylight for much of December.

Many of the roads, streets and parks in Sundvall are lit with Schréder’s luminaires. High-performing, energy-efficient classics such as ALBANY, ZYLINDO, and ZELA create well-lit, great-looking spaces which encourage people to get some fresh air, even when the nights are long and the air is cold. However, dark winters are no excuse for compromising on looks: the flipside of long winter nights is late, late sunsets in summer, the backdrop to the traditional Swedish Midsommar. Street furniture this far North should always be beautiful as well as functional!

High-performing LED luminaires ensure the safety and comfort of residents in Sundvall during the long winter nights Sund

Responsive, All Year Round

There is no doubt that public lighting has changed the world - transformed cities, our work/life patterns and enabled huge economic growth. However, it also represents, on average, 40% of city authorities’ electricity bills. Smart lighting can change that. Light that comes on when the sun sets, rather than at fixed times, can be useful in northern (or southern) areas where seasonal changes are marked. Sensors can also take into account footfall, traffic levels, weather and events to ensure areas are lit to the right level, whatever the circumstances - and data can be used to set lighting patterns in future. 

Control systems like Schréder EXEDRA mean authorities can save energy and money, while minimising light pollution. Wloclawek, one of the oldest cities in Poland, is implementing a series of initiatives to improve public infrastructure and create a smart, sustainable and inclusive city. They wanted to update public lighting throughout the city, and local authorities opted for IZYLUM luminaires controlled by the Schréder EXEDRA control system.

Smart lighting enables the city of Wloclawek to reduce costs and light pollution

The highly efficient and cost-effective IZYLUM has increased visibility, colour perception and comfort for all road users while reducing the power consumption by 40%. Furthermore, it directs the light onto the road so there is less light spill, protecting fauna and flora along the sides of the road and the night sky.

Dim It, Aim It, Tone It, Change It

Light pollution affects everything from caterpillars to stargazing, and too much artificial light in the long, dark months in the middle of winter can be particularly bad. Schréder’s expertise can help reduce light pollution in a number of ways. We have always designed lighting with optics that direct the light downwards, avoiding light spill and pollution (complaints about light getting into people’s houses have existed for nearly as long as urban lighting!). New technology shouldn’t mean a return to old problems. 

In addition to dimming lights when not needed, our luminaires can also be fitted with FlexiWhite LEDs which are tunable in order to adapt to our circadian cycle. That means bright white light in the morning when we are going to school or work, tuned to a gentle amber in the evenings to protect our skies and wildlife. At La Defense in Paris, we installed SHUFFLE columns fitted with LEDs that provide a warm white light until midnight, a gentler light til 6am, and then return to full intensity as people start their day - all while respecting France’s strict new public lighting standard, EN13201.

SHUFFLE columns with FlexiWhite ensure comfort and safety for people while protecting the local wildlife in Paris

No matter where you are on the map, or how you mark December solstice, good lighting is an investment that will make people feel safer and happier all year round. As we turn to the new year, a time of change and renewal, perhaps it’s time to think about a lighting overhaul that puts smart control in your hands - and keeps those long, dark nights safe for nature.

About the writer
István's 25-year career spans sales, marketing, product development and lighting education. With his passion for understanding customer’s needs, he has acquired a depth and breadth of experience in road and urban lighting across Europe. He joined Schréder in 2016 and now drives product development in road lighting with cutting-edge technology to anticipate and address our customers challenges.

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