Belgian motorway drivers face a journey into the dark as streetlamps are switched off overnight in Europe’s latest energy-saving scheme.
Philippe Henry, a minister in the French-speaking region of Wallonia, watched from an overpass as the lights were dimmed and then went off in a trial run on one of Belgium’s 'autoroutes'.
The lights-out policy will take effect across Wallonia from Wednesday evening, with motorways going dark from 10pm until 5am every night in what Mr Henry called “a measure of sobriety to reduce our energy consumption”.
The dark roads will save energy “without too much impact on users and taking into account road safety”, he said, with motorway entrance and exit ramps remaining lit.
The regional government hopes the measure will save the equivalent of 2,670 megawatt hours of power, roughly equal to what 1,000 households would typically use in a year. Officials hope to cut costs by €400,000 ($396,000).
About 20 per cent of motorway lights cannot be switched off because they are older sodium lamps rather than LEDs. Authorities plan to upgrade the rest over the next four years.
“In the context of the economic crisis, this measure aims to both make a Walloon contribution to reducing energy consumption, but also to contribute to reducing the electricity bill of the public authorities,” a statement said.
The move is one of several in Belgium to prepare for a Europe-wide energy squeeze this winter, after Russia drastically reduced its westward gas exports.
Public buildings in Belgium have a 19ºC cap for heating, and a 27ºC lower limit for air conditioning, while national monuments will have their lights switched off after 7pm.
Members of the European Union agreed in July to set a 15 per cent target for reducing gas consumption this winter, which is initially voluntary but could become compulsory under certain conditions.
However, the Belgian government was one of several to seek an exemption, in Belgium’s case because it exports plenty of gas and electricity to its neighbours via cables and pipelines.