Why are the streets of Berlin still lit with gas?
Wait, the streets of Berlin are still lit with GAS?
In the age of climate action and geopolitical tensions around gas supply, it definitely feels like this source of energy should belong to the past.
Public lighting in Berlin
Yet, it still plays a major role in the German energy mix, especially when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. All across the country, massive gas-to-electricity plants fire up to flatten those peaks in demand.
In Berlin, the use of gas plays an even more antiquated role: public lighting.
Berlin, the gas lantern capital of the world
Gas lanterns have been prevalent in pretty much all countries since before the Industrial Revolution. The first gas lanterns were set up in Berlin in 1892. At the time, they were considered a marvel of engineering and a great leap forward for public safety. Before the Second World War, there were as many as 88.000 lanterns all over the city.
Fast-forward a hundred or so years, and most cities around the world began phasing out gas in favour of electricity for public lighting. However, Berlin chose to keep a lot of those old-fashioned lanterns for a long time. Today, there are an estimated 22.000 lanterns remaining in the city, which is about 80 percent of all the gas lanterns in the world!
However, the recent conflict in Ukraine has again put the relevancy of this technology on the table.
Are gas lanterns better?
Gas lanterns do emit more CO2 and they are about 10 times more expensive to run. Surprisingly, however, they do have some major pros:
- Their light spectrum is closer to that emitted by the Sun. That’s why the light feels cosier.
- They don’t emit UV light, sparing the insects that are attracted to electric lights and killed in the process.
There are some grassroots initiatives pleading in favour of retaining gas lanterns as a key part of Berlin’s historical heritage. The state monuments office has issued a statement saying that, even if most lanterns will be switched to LEDs, the plan is to keep at least 3.000 of them running.
For a lantern fix, old romantics like me can go to the open-air gas lantern museum in Berlin, near the Tiergarten S-Bahn station. It has dozens of beautiful models of lanterns from different eras from across the whole of Europe. A great place for an evening-time date!