Offices, retailers, banks, there are many culprits leaving lights on unnecessarily. When did this become acceptable, and how does it sit with energy price rises, dwindling natural resources and the Green Deal?
After meeting up with a few friends, I wandered out of a slightly grotty central London pub into the light. Bathing in the incandescent glory that cascaded from the buildings around me, I felt like I was in a tanning booth or a summer Spanish beach front.
It was 11pm, mid-November.
Don’t worry; this isn’t a rant about Christmas lights (which are as tasteless and essential as bad panto) – but it is a rant – against office lights. From shops to banks, estate agents to law firms, leaving your lights on at night seems to be in vogue.
Let’s get statistical
In its 2011 report on Energy Consumption in the UK, the Department of Energy and Climate Change analyses energy use within the service sector.
In 2009, commercial offices used the equivalent of 2,848,000 kWh on lighting alone. Retail facilities made that look like peanuts, consuming the equivalent of 13,475,000 kWh to keep stores lit. To put that into perspective, it’s about the same electricity as around 20,400 homes would use every year on lighting alone.
More goes towards electricity than natural gas, oil and solid fuel combined. The total electricity consumption across the service sector (including schools, sports and leisure, government and warehouses) is 95,600,000 kWh. The vast majority of this goes towards normal day-to-day use – although even then there’s a lot of waste – but anything we can do to cut this figure would surely help.
Admittedly, lights from office blocks and the high street at night have other uses. Turn them all off for instance and your street gets a lot darker, and consequently the council’s street light bill could go up. Likewise, building sites often leave the lights on at night for safety and security reasons. I’m not blind to this; but companies shouldn’t use it as a cop-out.
Businesses aren’t blind either. Research from the Carbon Trust last year revealed that rising energy prices, along with taxes, are the biggest worries facing British businesses, although predictably it’s in sectors like manufacturing where that concern is greatest.
The flick of a switch
What really annoys me is the feeling that the lights are often left on for commercial reasons. There’s a Foxtons estate agents near me, which not only leaves the lights on in its giant glass box at night but also has rolling news on a huge flat screen TV blaring through the night. Does anyone really watch it?
Reassuringly, it sounds like the government not only recognises the problem, but is also aware of how easy it is to find a solution. Here’s a quote from the DECC report I referred to earlier:
‘The non-domestic lighting and appliances sector presents opportunities for relatively quick, significant reductions in demand.’
And that’s the point. We’re not talking about wind farms, solar panels, or nuclear power stations. We’re talking about flicking a switch.