EU-backed project lights up energy savings in England

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Looking for ways to reduce the amount of energy it uses for lighting streets and public spaces, the town of St Helens in North-West England decided to work with partners in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. This partnership provided the basis for a five-year project called BLISS, which is being supported by the EU.

Is it possible to save money and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by cutting the amount of energy that is used for lighting streets, roads and public spaces?

Can this be done in ways that don't lead to problems such as an increase in crime and insecurity, or more road accidents?

What are the best lighting solutions that are currently available in terms of being both affordable and sustainable?

These are the questions that led one town in the north-west of England to take the initiative in setting up a European cooperation project called BLISS – Better Lighting in Sustainable Streets.

The five-year BLISS project, which started in 2009 and will be completed by mid-2014, has a total budget of €7.2 million. €3.6 million of this comes from the EU in the form of a European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) grant.

BLISS is just one of 49 transnational cooperation projects that are currently being supported by the North-West Europe (NWE) programme of Interreg IVB (see 'Background').

BLISS is being implemented by four local authorities: the town of St Helens in North-West England, the city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, a cluster of municipalities in Belgium called Interleuven, and the German town of Kaiserslautern.

The main aim of the project is to identify and try out different ways of reducing the consumption of electricity in the lighting of streets, roads and public spaces. Each of the partners is installing new lighting technologies in specific streets, and experimenting with innovative approaches for saving energy.

The partners are motivated by the need to cut their electricity costs and reduce their overall energy consumption by 20% by the year 2020, a target which is part of Europe's efforts to tackle climate change.

The birth of a bright idea

Both St Helens and Liverpool are part of Merseyside, which is one of the most economically disadvantaged parts of England. Up until 2006, the entire area received support under the so-called 'Objective 1' of the EU's regional policy.

But as a consequence of the EU's enlargement to 27 member states, and also as a result of economic growth in the UK during the years leading up to 2006, Merseyside can no longer be counted as one of Europe's poorest regions. This means that it no longer receives as much European money as it did in the past.

Anticipating this change in status, some five years ago St Helens started looking for opportunities that would allow it to access European funding and use it in ways that would contribute to improving the quality of life for its own residents.

Rory Lingham is a lighting engineer, responsible for street lighting in St Helens. He came up with the bright idea of trying to develop a European project that would help the town to make improvements to lighting, making use of new technologies and innovative approaches.

''We were looking for a project that we could match […] with our own capital and revenue funding […] to bring about some new ideas and innovation within the borough of St Helens,'' says Lingham.

The initial idea was to look at how street lighting could be used to deter crime and reduce insecurity, which is a particular concern for many people in St Helens. But as the project evolved, a decision was taken to focus more on the issue of energy consumption and make the connection with international efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

According to Lingham, what makes the BLISS project interesting is that it helps cut energy consumption in street lighting but without having any negative impacts on people's quality of life.

''Any fool can switch the lights off or dim the lights and save energy, but at the same time you might well cause crime [or] accidents, and the public might not accept what you're doing. So that very much became part of the project,'' explains Lingham.

Testing innovative solutions

The BLISS project partners are testing various kinds of street lamps to find out which are the most effective, efficient and affordable. They have installed different lighting solutions in different areas, including residential streets, main roads, business zones and public parks.

Particular attention is being given to LED (Light Emitting Diode) lamps, which use around 70% less electricity than a traditional incandescent lamp with the same level of brightness. The project partners have been in contact with some 60 manufacturers of LED lamps, and made a selection of 10 different kinds of lamp which are currently being tried out.

In St Helens, they are especially interested to know what local people think about the different kinds of lighting, and related issues such as the level of brightness and the times when lamps are turned on and off. The borough council is using public meetings, focus groups and market research to get a complete overview of people's opinions.

According to Lingham, one of the benefits of working with partners in other countries is being able to compare and learn from some of the different approaches that they apply to meeting the same needs. For example – each country has its own standards for how much lighting should be provided on main roads or on residential streets.

''If we put a slightly less powerful lamp in, but still light to a standard that's acceptable to the public, we can get some significant savings,'' says Lingham. ''You can get 30% and 40% savings for not a lot of money, and the payback period is only about four years.''

The BLISS partners are already thinking about the outcomes of their project, which will be presented in 2014. Lingham explains: ''The object of it all is to produce a design guide which will help local authorities choose the most cost-effective way of reducing their energy costs without sacrificing accidents, crime and public acceptability.''

Interreg was first set up by the European Commission in 1989, with the aim of supporting cooperation between regions in different member states. Interreg IV is the programme for the current period, which runs from 2007 until the end of 2013.

In the framework of the European Union's regional policy, Interreg is now officially referred to as 'the European Territorial Co-operation Objective'.

Interreg is financed through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with a budget of €8.7 billion for the current seven-year period. This accounts for around 2.5% of the total budget for regional policy in the European Union.

Within the Interreg budget, most of the money (64%) is used to support cross-border cooperation between neighbouring regions in different countries.

Around one fifth of the Interreg budget (€1.8 billion over seven years) is used to support 13 transnational cooperation programmes which are aimed at local and regional authorities in different parts of Europe. This is known as 'Interreg IVB'.

One of the programmes under Interreg IVB is focusing on North-West Europe. The eligible area includes the whole of Ireland, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as the northern half of France, most of the Netherlands, and much of Western Germany. 

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