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Global Economy

How much electricity billboards consume

The Düsseldorf CDU city councilor Andreas Schröder wants to curb light pollution and energy waste in the North Rhine-Westphalian state capital with his parliamentary group and the Greens. For him, this also includes illuminated advertising, which often unnecessarily illuminates completely deserted places at night. However, the Düsseldorf initiative is still a rare exception.

Although the flood of lights is increasing everywhere year after year and not only wastes energy, but also harms people and nature. Whether at bus stops, in pedestrian zones or on the side of the road, there are now advertising banners and advertising pillars with changing posters in many places in Düsseldorf city centre, which are illuminated from behind at night and thus contribute to the flood of lights.

Increasingly, they are being replaced at central locations by digital billboards – LED displays from two to nine square meters in size. They are in train stations, shopping malls, airports, but also at traffic junctions where they have to be illuminated against daylight. According to a survey by the University of Sankt Gallen, three quarters of all German cities were planning to modernize or digitize their commercial advertising space last year.

High power consumption of digital advertising

The two market leaders for outdoor advertising, the companies Ströer and Wall, do not reveal how high the power consumption of the various analogue and digitally illuminated displays is. However, internal documents from the Wall company were leaked to WDR. This shows that a large LED advertising display consumes more than 100 times the electricity compared to a backlit billboard. This corresponds to the consumption of about ten single households per year.

Based on data from the Outdoor Advertising Association, which lists the power consumption of important display sizes, and the Düsseldorf agency Crossmedia, which states the number of digital displays in Germany, the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research RWI calculated the power consumption of digital advertising for WDR.

The institute assumes that digital advertising displays in Germany consume around 113,000 megawatt hours. This corresponds to the consumption of almost 40,000 two-person households, for which 28 wind turbines have to be operated.

Health risks from light pollution

That seems little in view of the total German electricity consumption, which according to the industry association BDEW was around 508 billion kilowatt hours last year. But for CDU city councilor Andreas Schröder, illuminated advertising still has to be put to the test because every kilowatt hour saved counts and advertising is not essential.

Franz Hölker sees it similarly, but not only because of the energy consumption. Together with other experts, he examined the consequences of light pollution for the Bundestag. The main result: In humans, the sleep-wake cycle is disturbed by nocturnal light and blood pressure and body temperature are also influenced.

According to expert Hölker, this can lead to cardiovascular problems and even depression. In addition, initial studies have shown that light pollution is associated with the occurrence of various types of cancer.

Insects become disoriented

But the damage caused by the increasing flood of lights is not only significant for humans. It also has a significant impact on the environment. Insects, for example, become disoriented and drawn as if by a vacuum cleaner to light sources with a blue spectrum. They then fly against the light sources to the point of utter exhaustion and die.

According to Hölker, these insects are then missing in the ecosystems as pollinators and as a food source for birds, amphibians and fish, but also for other insects such as spiders. The animals could no longer help to break down organic material and make these nutrients available to other organisms.

Business is booming

The market leaders in electrical outdoor advertising, Ströer and Wall, say that the power consumption of digital advertising displays is reduced or neutralized by being fed with green electricity, optimally dimmed and often even switched off at night. From a municipal point of view, the displays provided important city information, argues Kai-Marcus Thäsler from the Outdoor Advertising Association.

The Düsseldorf city councilor Andreas Schröder also sees this function, but primarily it is advertising systems that are also financed in this way. The share of digital advertising space in total sales of outdoor advertising has risen from 24 to 36 percent over the past four years. This emerges from figures from the Nielsen Company Germany.

And a further increase is expected from the advertising industry. Understandable, because business is booming – also because many more customers can be reached with digital displays than with classic outdoor advertising.

What opportunities do cities have?

CDU man Schröder does not want to ban digital systems entirely. But he wants to limit the times at which the banners are allowed to shine and the intensity of the lighting. In addition, advertising should always be switched off at night.

These are just a few items from a long list to reduce the damage caused by illuminated advertising. Cities have good legal options for restricting advertising in public spaces, says Schröder. In the case of advertising on private land, on the other hand, one can only appeal to companies to save energy and thus light.

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