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  • Blackpool Illuminations Shine On

Photonics Spectra
Sep 2015

The English seaside resort town of Blackpool, County Lancashire, is home to one of the greatest free light shows on earth. The annual Blackpool Illuminations will shine for 66 days this year, from Sept. 4 to Nov. 8. Referred to locally as The Lights, the display’s long history illustrates the exponential rate of development of artificial light sources, from eight precious arc lamps in 1879 to 1 million LEDs and other sources today.

Continuing a 136-year tradition, six miles of Blackpool’s coastal promenade will display 1 million electric lamps in various configurations and installations, including 40 large tableaux and, new this year, a 3D projection show to adorn The Blackpool Tower building.

In total, visitors can enjoy more than 500 light-based scenic designs and features, as well as programs like “Ride the Lights,” which lets visitors preview the illuminated promenade by bicycle. And each year, the Festival of Light features interactive installations to offer a contemporary look at the concept of light and art working together to create entertainment.

The Blackpool Illuminations will shine from Sept. 4 to Nov. 8. The annual event attracts visitors from around the world, offering an amazing look at technology and tradition.

The Blackpool Illuminations will shine from Sept. 4 to Nov. 8. The annual event attracts visitors from around the world, offering an amazing look at technology and tradition.

The first Illuminations or “artificial sunshine” experiment was sanctioned by Blackpool’s Council, which provided £5000 in funding to explore the concept of electric street lighting. The original technology — Siemens dynamo-electric machines — required 16 Robey engines for power. The eight lamps, spaced 320 yards apart, emitted the equivalent of 48,000 candles of light. It may sound like a rudimentary setup today, but at least 70,000 visitors witnessed the event, which was widely publicized, in its inaugural year. Not until 12 months later would Thomas Edison patent the electric light bulb, and Blackpool’s 1879 display is one of the earliest instances of electric street lighting.

The first modern manifestation of Blackpool Illuminations was in 1912, set to coincide with the very first royal visit to Blackpool and the opening of a new section of promenade, called Princess Parade, by Princess Louise. To mark the occasion, electrical engineers arranged about 10,000 bulbs in what was then a novel fashion of garland lamps. The after-season event was such a boon to local commerce, the Blackpool business community lobbied for its annual reprisal. With the exception of some years surrounding World War I and World War II, the Illuminations have returned and grown annually; over 3.5 million visitors are expected to attend the 2015 event.

Today, Blackpool Illuminations uses electricity from renewable resources comprising wind, small-scale hydro, landfill and biogas. In 2004, two wind turbines were introduced on the South Promenade, linked directly to the Illuminations supply, that generate about 3 percent of the power needed. The production team is also exploring other renewable options, such as solar power.

The procurement of green electricity has reduced the annual carbon dioxide emissions to zero, saving the atmosphere from about 420 metric tons of CO2 each year. First introduced to the event in 2002, high-efficiency LEDs are now used in over 30 percent of the show and are standard for all new and upgraded features. Over the years, low-voltage neon, lamps and microprocessor control technologies have all contributed to the Illuminations’ decreased energy consumption. Blackpool Illuminations draws millions to the Fylde Coast each year, proving simultaneously the powerful draws of tradition and new technology.


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