Connecting Coastlines, Creating Journeys: How Lighting Transformed Galway Bay

At Schréder, we’re proud of the work we’ve done lighting spaces and creating places from road tunnels to sports stadiums. One of the things that sets us apart is the way we work with customers to create bespoke solutions. When urban planners commission us, we discuss their needs - energy efficiency, the local environment, use cases, aesthetics - to make the right choice, together. In this blog, we’ll hear from Galway City Council, the local community and Schréder staff about the process of bringing a project together.

Immortalised in song and famed for its seafood, Galway Bay is a stunning stretch of the West Coast of Ireland. Galway City Council recently started a major programme to upgrade all its public lighting by 2022, at a cost of €4 million. With public lighting accounting for 50% of local energy use, the challenge was to find a smart, low-carbon solution that would enhance the area’s character, respect the environment and protect bay views

The council wanted to provide a dedicated network to encourage walking and cycling, instead of car use, including lighting environmentally protected coastal areas at Blackrock, Salthill and at South Park, Claddagh. The area is popular with tourists: the Blackrock path links a number of holiday parks to the village of Salthill, going past the golf course. The council wanted to enable visitors to access local businesses and get more from their holiday without getting in their car. A dedicated cycling and pedestrian network means that residents and tourists can all use the network whilst respecting the local ecology. 

Lighting the coastal path had been debated by councillors for years, and during the pandemic national funding became available to upgrade routes throughout the city. Together with Electric Skyline, Schréder created a smart lighting solution that really lets the landscape shine.

A Coast for Every Season

The two existing walkways along the coastline were heavily used by both leisure and pedestrian and bike commuters in summer, but in the winter it’s pitch dark by five o’clock, and there’s nobody out there. It’s gone from being a coastal path which was completely empty after dark, to being a popular route for pedestrians and cyclists.

Colm Shaughnessy
Engineer - Galway City Council

But it’s not just people that live on the coast. Because the area had never been lit before, and the coast is a special area of conservation, the local environment had to be protected. Shaughnessy’s team contracted an independent ecologist for a full screening report. “He did all his checks, did a bat survey, a bird survey, an otter survey, everything” Shaughnessy recalls. The area also has stunning views out across the sea and starlit sky - in fact, Galway is gateway to some of the darkest skies in Western Europe - so the solution needed to minimise light spill up into the sky, as well as in natural habitats.

Galway Bay has been lit at night to encourage cyclists all year long while protecting the dark skies and local wildlife

Galway is now home to the first FlexiWhite installation in Ireland, and the largest in Europe. Research suggests that the pollution produced by bright white lighting can be three times more disruptive to wildlife than softer yellow or amber light. So Schréder’s FlexiWhite system switches between amber to white light to protect fauna and flora while ensuring human safety and comfort. The solution is entirely managed by Schréder EXEDRA, which also enables lighting points to turn on and off in line with curfew and planning requirements. "It gives us great control,” concludes Shaughnessy.

A Bespoke Proposal

“There were a couple of key elements Galway were trying to deliver,” says Clare Thomas, Head of Applications & Solutions at Urbis Schréder, including improving accessibility and safety, making the space inclusive for everyone, and protecting the visual amenity of this public space. Thorough research of the landscape, existing lighting, and spacemaking potential is at the heart of her approach: “it’s about having a conversation with the customer, and holding a mirror up to what they want but they might not have the language for.”

As Thomas notes, Galway boasts the longest prom in Ireland, with protected sea views south across Galway Bay, and needed to respect the local environments. So, “you don’t want a forest of bollards.” Together, we developed a 1.5m high PHAROS bollard, which lit the path without interrupting the views. We also developed a specially-shaped bowl for the FLEXIA luminaire, which was such a hit it became part of our standard range; FLEXIA QUERCUS

FLEXIA QUERCUS controlled by Schréder EXEDRA delivers smart lighting to reduce costs and pollution for Galway city centre

"Because it's a highly residential area, with a lot of houses that look onto the bay, if we were to stick a six-metre column up in the sky with the light shining down, it wouldn’t be well received,” says Shaughnessy. The smaller bollards “are not affecting anyone’s views, they’re not in your face.” Every luminaire is connected to Schréder’s EXEDRA lighting platform.

An Ambitious Installation

Galway City is using Schréder’s EXEDRA as the foundations for a whole connected lighting network.

Real sustainability isn’t about saving 10 lumps of carbon this year by changing the light. It’s about thinking about how that space is used today, and building the infrastructure to make it useable and adaptable for the longer term.

Clare Thomas - Head of Applications & Solutions - Urbis Schréder
Clare Thomas
Head of Applications & Solutions - Urbis Schréder

The ambition of the project, the disruption caused by the pandemic and global supply chain issues meant that installation was extremely challenging. Schréder puts constant communication with customers at the heart of everything they do, and this project was no exception. “There was a learning curve there,” says Thomas, and with a strong internal culture of problem-solving, the installation was up and running in time for the tourist season. “Colm got how lighting can enable other things to happen,” recalls Thomas. “What’s really cool is that people are using the promenade more than ever before.”

One of the features that’s made the installation so attractive to asset owners and local wildlife alike is that the light levels can be varied. With high spring tides, the area is prone to flooding, and if there is an incident, more light is always useful. “We’ve got a big virtual red button so if the emergency services need to attend because of flooding, or whatever, all the luminaires can be turned up to maximum,” explains Urbis Schréder’s Neville Brown, who also worked on the project.

As for the process, Brown adds, although there were some tense moments during the delivery - including dramatic storms during the review process - everyone is happy with the result.

The project just sort of evolved into what we have now. The public loved it, which is great.

Neville Brown - Schréder Agent Ireland
Neville Brown
Urbis Schréder Agent - Ireland

A Happy Ending

Local resident Lorraine Deacy has been enjoying 6am walks “up the other” end of the prom, even when the sun hasn’t yet risen. The lighting “gently illuminates the walkway without being too bright” she adds, noting that the amount of walkers and bikers has certainly increased. Deacy's son, who is disabled, “loves this new area,”  in particular the lights “which are at his level, which is lovely.”

The new extension of the prom has been a great asset to Galway and to me personally. 

Lorraine Deacy - Galway resident
Lorraine Deacy
Resident - Galway
FLEXIA luminaires create a warm nocturnal ambiance, reducing energy and limit spill in Galway

And the new installation has also been impressing peers across Ireland.

Even to this day, we’re getting compliments. Other councils from across the country have been on to us, asking ‘where did you get those lights?’

Colm Shaughnessy
Engineer - Galway City Council