Lights out!

Nate Tyler is founder of Lights Out San Francisco, and here, he explains what's behind the project:
Our goal is to get everyone in the city to turn off their lights from 8-9 PM on Saturday October 20th, to save energy. We started just a few months ago and the momentum behind this movement is growing beyond our expectations.

Today we announced the Golden Gate Bridge will turn lights off on the main towers, Alcatraz Island, City Hall and a bunch of local businesses are also turning off (non-essential) lights that night. And, we plan to hand out more than 110 thousand free compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) to help save energy and build awareness for the event. It's amazing how the small things we do can make a huge difference. If everyone installs one CFL and turns lights out for one hour we think we'll save more than 15 percent of an average Saturday night energy usage. Not to mention the ongoing energy savings for each efficient bulb that gets installed.

We're not stopping in San Francisco. Stay tuned, we're launching a national event on March 29th in 15 cities across the nation.

Image: a poster for the SF event, designed by Nick Rubenstein. Link to larger size.


  1. Has anyone considered the effect on the power grid of turning millions of lights back on within a period of few minutes? Sudden load spikes are a good way to discover failure modes…

  2. Earlier this year there was a similar initiative in here (Portugal), but the REN (responsible for the power grid) and Quercus (green association) both warned to the possible danger of it (story here, sorry, only Portuguese, sorry).

    As they put it, electricity from thermal power stations is constantly generated regardless of the consumption, and sudden changes aren’t planned by the system. The practical example given is a truck that has the trailer suddenly detached: there’s a sudden surge of power that can result in the truck going out of control. He also presented two actual examples, after a 9-11 memorial in Germany following and in Spain for 3-11.

  3. The BBC was planning a similar event in the UK but decided not to go through with it since the pwergrid would probably collapse when everybody switched on again.

    The crunch issue with the big switch-off idea, [the National Grid] suggests, is that nobody would be able to estimate how many people would take part. Estimate too few and loss of supply could follow. Too many and unnecessary energy could be wasted.

    “Saying we want to switch off everything now is not going to be sustainable and is very, very unpredictable. You would create far more carbon [emission] than what you would actually save.”

    Background information on this decision is here:

  4. Yes! Lets blow up the grid, and start over again! We need to beef it up in order to support plug-in electric cars anyhow.

  5. I keep hearing how wonderful CFL lights are, but everytime I install them the failure rate is ridiculously high given how expensive they are.

  6. This would be great for astronomers – can we do it longer and more often?

    (Oh, that didn’t sound the way I meant it to!)
    -anonymous astroboy

  7. I hope they pull it off, mainly because I like the idea of one night without light pollution when you can actually see the stars. Or at least more of them than usual.

    But surely there’s a way to coordinate this without blowing the grid. I mean, c’mon.

  8. In our city (Ottawa, Ontario) there is a non-profit group called Project Porchlight ( that is working to deliver one CFL bulb to every household in Canada. We got one shortly after moving into our new house. The CFL bulb initiative part of this story makes much more sense than the lights out idea.

  9. A neat idea, but doesn’t sound too healthy for the grid, particularly with respect to the date chosen. October is usually a pretty low-demand month (Halloween lights notwithstanding). The power savings would have more of an impact if done in the height of summer (perhaps get everyone to turn their AC off for an hour at 3pm in July? — or for the whole day!)

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