4 Sustainable Ways to Light Up the Outdoors at Night

As we know, passive sunlight (using daylight strategically to light a room) or LEDs are great ways to illuminate your home while reducing energy consumption. But what about lighting up outdoor areas?

Inefficient street lighting costs cities and towns millions every year. Replacing incandescent street lamps with LEDs (a retrofit that’s saving Las Vegas $2 million a year and will soon be implemented in New York City) is a good start, but it still requires huge amounts of electricity, almost always generated by coal-fired power plants.

As we all know, there are other, better ways for producing power and light, thanks to technologies that are creative, responsive and above all based in sustainable energy, leaving less pollution and waste all the way around.

Just for fun, we’ve rounded up four renewable energy alternatives to traditional street lights. Keep your eyes peeled, these cool luminaries could be headed to a street near you very soon.

4 Sustainable Ways to Light Up the Outdoors at Night

1. Sun-Powered Starpath

pro teq starpath

A UK company called Pro-Teq Surfacing recently announced a new innovation in sun-harvesting spray-on coatings. According to the company, the aggregate material, called Starpath, absorbs and stores energy from ambient light (UV rays) during the day, then releases this energy at night allowing the particles to glow. It’s ideal for bike paths and other surfaces where traditional lighting would be costly or contribute to unwanted glare.

2. Bio-luminescent Plants and Trees


What if, instead of any kind of artificial street lamps, we just lined our roadways with plants and trees that glowed in the dark? That’s the dream of a bunch of biohackers at Singularity University in Moffett Field, Calif. The group recently raised nearly half a million dollars on Kickstarter to fund their plan to crossbreed a plant and bio-luminescent bacteria. If successful, their result will be a fully viable herb that can emit light. It’s certainly less energy-intensive, but there are some drawbacks to this plan. While bio-luminescent bacteria occur naturally in nature, infusing them with a normal plant is a type of genetic engineering and comes along with all of the same risks as GE corn or fish. We’ll have to watch the results of their successful campaign very carefully.

3. Solar-Harvesting Pavement

GWU solar pavement

George Washington University recently installed what some say is the world’s first solar-harvesting sidewalk. The school recently covered a popular campus walkway with slip-resistant and semi-translucent panels designed by Onyx Solar. The total power installed is 42 Wp/m2 and generates an energy of 51 kWh/m2 per year, which is used to power 450 LED pathway lights beneath the panels themselves.

4. Human-Powered Street Lights

human-powered street light

What could be better than a street light powered by the sun? How about one that helps people to exercise and builds a sense of community? “Located in public areas, the lamps are connected to outdoor fitness facilities which carry and transfer human power generated to the light system,” explains designer Zhongren Zhang. “The interactive linear lighting pattern in the central of the pole indicates if the LED lamp is being charged by human-power and presents current battery status, which encourages people to participate the green exercise. A monitor located on the pole displays the calories burned and the duration of lighting contributed by individual’s exercise.” This design received top marks in the 2011 Green Dot Awards.

Images via pankseelen, Pro Teq, Antony EvansOnyx Solar/World Architecture News, Green Dot Awards

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Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra1 years ago

Thank you Beth, for Sharing this!

JL A.2 years ago

some cool ideas--will look for spam to report

Amandine S.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Laura Saxon
.2 years ago

Very informative. Thanks for sharing.

Kate Raymond
Kate R.2 years ago

I carry a wind-up torch.

Angela Ray
Angela Ray2 years ago

Human-powered street lights is an interesting one. I like all these ideas.

Nimue P.
Nimue Pendragon2 years ago

I like the sun-powered starpath. I want one :)

Aud Nordby
Aud nordby2 years ago


Molly Michelle
Molly Michelle2 years ago

If only the government could afford these things.

Dave C.
Dave C.2 years ago

thanks, really cool!