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UK highways: are they on the road to energy efficiency?

HEA Business

Published:  April 17, 2024

Energy efficiency has quickly become one of the top priorities for those working on UK highways — and for good reason.

Transport accounts for over a third of CO2 emissions, with most of this alarming figure attributed to road vehicles like cars and buses. That’s because they consume far more fossil fuels than lorries and trains.

This issue has never been a secret in the highway electrical industry. However, it’s growing more important to mitigate the ever-worsening effects of climate change every year. As a result, the connection between roads and global warming is becoming impossible to ignore.

Fortunately, a lot’s being done to minimise the energy consumption associated with UK highways. But is it enough to put them on the road to being energy-efficient? Let’s find out by looking at how some key energy reduction initiatives are going…

EV charging infrastructure

The government launched its electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure strategy in spring 2022 to speed up the rollout of EV charging infrastructure. And we’re glad to say it’s going well!

There were 59,590 EV charging points across 32,322 charging locations in March 2024. This marks an impressive 47% increase in the total number of charging devices in the UK since March 2023. With more chargers, EV drivers can top up more easily — making it more practical for diesel and petrol drivers to switch to electric.

However, a recent inquiry by the House of Lords found that the number of EV charging points is highly variable. Moreover, the government didn’t ensure there were at least six high-speed chargepoints at each motorway service area by the end of 2023 as promised. So, we need to provide consistent availability of high-quality EV chargers to deliver energy-efficient UK highways.

LED upgrades

Many councils have been upgrading discharge lighting to ultra-efficient LEDs — helping drastically minimise their energy consumption (and expenditure).

Take Leeds City Council’s LED upgrades as an example. Its LED lighting scheme, completed in February 2024, is set to reduce its street lighting energy consumption by around 62%. That’ll save an astonishing 7,050 tonnes of carbon in Leeds alone. In addition, other areas, like Walsall, are following suit.

What do we think about this as the leading trade association for the highway electrical industry? It’s great to see LEDs make such a big difference to local areas. Just imagine what would happen if everyone made the upgrades — and let’s not forget about converting all those non-LED traffic signals out there. We’d have much more energy-efficient UK highways in no time!

Streetlight switch-offs

It’s become pretty popular to turn off streetlights during the night and early hours of the morning to minimise energy consumption in recent times. And we can see why…

Areas that only have their lights at full brightness some of the time can save millions of pounds (and tonnes of carbon dioxide). And above all, they can help build a more energy-efficient road network. But it’s not always that simple. We’ve seen a fair amount of opposition to these energy-saving initiatives!

Some people quite rightly worry about the risks of women travelling in the dark. Meanwhile, lighting experts are concerned about the effect of additional switching on the life of the LEDs. Naturally, dangerous UK highways are the last thing we want as a trade association. Therefore, we’re only happy for switch-offs to continue if they’re done safely — with proper risk assessments.

Solar road studs

New ways to harness the power of the sun are emerging all the time. With that has come an exciting range of energy-efficient solar-powered equipment for use on UK highways.

For example, an intelligent transportation system technology company has just trialled solar road studs. These renewable lighting solutions are designed to reduce night-time accidents, improve visibility and offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional lights. They also click into a standard P09 cast iron housing unit, so can be easily retrofitted into existing housings.

The studs sound impressive, so we’re all for them. After all, the more solar-powered solutions used on our highways, the more carbon emissions we save. We’ve just got to make sure they generate enough reliable electricity to ensure safe, well-lit roads around the clock…

AI-enabled UK highways

The highway electrical industry has made good use of artificial intelligence (AI) over the last few years — giving rise to an array of high-tech systems supporting lower energy consumption.

Many organisations are leveraging AI algorithms to identify and rectify inefficiencies on UK highways. Plus, companies are using predictive maintenance to anticipate equipment failures before they occur. Thanks to these technologies, anything with a high energy consumption can be promptly swapped for an eco-friendly alternative.

Being a trade association for the highway electrical industry, we hope AI continues to minimise the energy consumption of the country’s highways. Although it’ll take some time for industry professionals to get to grips with the technology, it’s got so much potential to revolutionise the way we maintain and improve our roads!

We can’t wait to see how these developments take shape as the year goes on. Watch out for future updates in our bi-monthly journal, Highway Electrical News.

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