French towns introduce ‘smart’ street lights which locals can turn on

The innovative system allows towns to save money by switching off street lights overnight, without compromising the safety of people walking home

‘J’allume ma rue’ allows you to switch on the street lights along your route using a smartphone
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A French engineer has invented a system that allows towns to switch off their street lights at night – and residents to turn them back on.

An increasing number of towns have been going dark to save on electricity, but this can lead to safety concerns.

Read more: Why some French towns are switching off their street lights at night

J’allume ma rue,’ however, allows you to switch on the street lights along your route using a smartphone.

Olivier Bozzetto, who came up with the compromise, said: “I had the idea five or six years ago when lots of communes wanted to switch off public lighting, which always divided people.”

There is no need to download an app, as the creator wanted it to remain anonymous.

You just need to activate the GPS function on your phone.

The website allows you to select a junction box, meaning you can switch on several lamps at a time.

They will usually remain on for around 15 minutes, and if you move in that time, the system will light up other areas.

While some local authorities have taken the opportunity to start turning off their street lights overnight, other areas where this was already the case have used the system to switch off for longer periods – from 22:00 to 06:00, instead of 00:00 to 04:30, for example.

The timings can be adapted: residential areas are likely to go dark earlier than town centres.

“If you turn off between 23:00 and 05:00, you will save 50% over the course of the year,” Mr Bozzetto said, adding that ‘J’allume ma rue’ does not significantly diminish these savings.

“Lights are switched on three or four times a night, on average.”

Mr Bozzetto calls his system a form of “non-punitive ecology” – a way of reducing pollution without making residents feel they are paying more in taxes for worse public services.

As well as the environmental and economic benefits, reducing light pollution is good for biodiversity.

In Pont-del’Arche, in Eure, Normandy, where the project was launched, locals report a rise in the number of owls and bats.

Rising energy costs mean demand has not been steady.

The company has equipped almost 50 towns across France.

Its largest client is the Cergy-Pontoise urban area in Ile-de-France, which represents 210,000 residents.

While free for users, local authorities pay €390 per box (each controlling 10 or more lights), plus an annual €120 subscription fee.

One commune reported the energy savings paid for the system after a year, and there are indirect savings as future changes to the time the lights go off can be done remotely.

Firefighters or gendarmes can easily switch on lights during operations.

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