Idea – More Efficient Highway Lighting

Here’s an idea that could be widely used:
Self power generating highway streetlights.

Whilst driving along the freeway one night in Austin I realized everything was darker than usual. Apparently a large section of freeway had the overhead lights turned off.

Suddenly I realized, “I drive by this freeway every day and never consciously noticed the whole thing was beautifully lighted the whole way.” I looked ahead and saw literally hundreds of tall, light posts illuminating the freeway, and my first thought was, “I wonder what the electricity bill is like?”

*Notice: I’m simply theorizing here. I’m sure all you smart alecs out there can poke huge holes in the feasibility of this plan…it’s just a thinking excercise.

A typical freeway system will have hundreds of these high-output lights populating urban lengths of road:

In an effort to save on the massive electricity costs, it would be cool if these tall posts could take a hint from those widely available solar garden lights you can buy at any store:

A quick Googling of something similar reveals that solar light posts do exist. However they generally run off L.E.D. lights and are not very bright.

Even better would be to have a wind energy component since the lights are generally very tall and must catch a lot of wind. This “city-turbine” (which is in actual use already and can be readily purchased) spins no matter which directing the wind blows from:

These are compact enough to where they could fit nicely atop a pole, something like this:

(Please excuse my poor, non-scaled Photoshop rendering)

Not only would the turbine create energy to operate off, but it would most likely create an excess amount of energy which could be put back into the power grid for a profit.

Obviously a self-generating light pole would cost more money upfront, but the longterm benefits could offset those costs in the long run. It would also be great for more remote areas without access to the main power grid.

Blog posted on: October 30, 2008

13 comments on “Idea – More Efficient Highway Lighting

  1. Anonymous

    I’m fairly sure most places have a solar type system to save energy. How do you think the lights come on when it gets dark, theres not a light switch that the power company just flips on at night time.

    In my town theres a system where instead of just keeping all street lights on at max brightness, every other light is bright and the others are dim, then after a while the dim ones brighten and the bright ones dim. etc

  2. Peter Cooper

    One idea I’ve heard being considered is lights that are only on when there’s traffic nearby. Only citation I could find all this time later is here

    Given that the infrastructure is already in place, I suspect converting to solar en masse would not be very cost effective in the short/mid term (even if it would be in the long term).

    I have seen many road signs using solar panels though. Mostly temporary ones or automated speed reminders.

  3. Anonymous

    The last thing you want to install on countless street lights is a moving part. The maintenance would eliminate any gains.

    The size of a solar/battery stand alone system to power a street light for 12 hours would not be small. It needs to be grid connected for redundancy anyway.

    The simplest and cheapest solution is to plug more solar into the grid, rather than modifying or replacing anything.

  4. Jay Lin

    I thought about the same thing but then I figured that those lights use huge amounts of energy to create bright lights. Not sure if solar power would be enough.

  5. drivelocity

    It’s too bad LED lighting is not more efficient. LEDs produce a great amount of light using a fraction of the electricity of other lights, but they don’t illuminate well enough at a distance of more than a few feet.

    I was thinking along the lines of what peter cooper posted, but if the sensors don’t work well enough, or stop working over time, they would probably need to retain the every-other-light method for safety reasons…

  6. Lance

    I think probably the best way to save power and money would be through solar panels. It might not have enough power to light up a street, but it would help, wouldn’t it? Then they wouldn’t have to pay for as much power to completely light up the streets.

  7. Finance Blog

    Great idea… I was actually wondering about this a couple weeks ago. I don’t see why they wouldn’t do it… especially in LA where the sun shines almost daily!

  8. Anonymous


    What has happened to this blog? The quality and regularity of the posts seems to have dropped off.

    How about posting about some issues that face on-line business during an economic slow down?

    Do you believe that the drop ship model will make it through the credit crunch? In hard times are people cutting back on the purchases of LEDs and glow sticks?

    Or are you planning to make up for the short fall with more Ad banners?

  9. Neville


    Posting definitely has slowed down here. No particular reason other than I’m relatively busy, and posts take a long time to make!

    A slowdown in the economy will of course take its toll on most retail….it just means you have to work harder to push through.

    As for ad sales on the blog, I post ads whenever people request (and pay) for them. I’m generally not very agressive about finding advertisers.

    I realize I do need to maintain the blog more. Thanks for the extra nudge!


  10. Anonymous

    > LEDs produce a great amount of light using a fraction of the electricity of other lights

    Not quite. Lumens per joule, LEDs aren't really any more efficient than compact fluorescents. Both have their niches… it's not practical to make a 100-milliwatt CFL, but it's cheap and easy to make a 100mW LED. Likewise, it's not practical to make a 13W LED (it would either damage itself from the heat, or require active cooling that drew too much additional power to be worth bothering with), but you can almost buy 13W CFL bulbs for a buck apiece.

    LEDs make sense when you need unidirectional, tightly-focused beams of light capable of reaching full brightness almost instantly, with minimal ceremony or support circuitry… or where you need a cheap, easy indicator light that doesn't draw much power.

    Some facts you might not know:

    * "White" LEDs and fluorescent bulbs actually produce visible light in almost exactly the same way… they produce ultraviolet light, which causes fluorescent phosphors to glow. The source of the UV light differs, but the way it becomes white light is the same.

    * If you shine red light and green light at the same spot on a white wall, you'll see yellow light. If you shine the pair on something that's GENUINELY yellow, it will appear to be dim gray. That's why you might see RGB LED lights at a nightclub, but you'll never see them being used to provide natural-looking light for a stage. The RGB effect only works for direct viewing, and completely fails for reflective color. "pure" spectral yellow light happens to excite the cone cells in your eye the same way the right combination of red and green will, but it's an optical illusion.

  11. Anonymous

    for road-only lights, i think the best thing to do is turn every second one off … i wouldn’t even notice the difference


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