Data InsightsThe price of lighting has dropped over 99.9% since 1700
June 12, 2024Esteban Ortiz-Ospina

The price of lighting has dropped over 99.9% since 1700

Line graph titled 'The price for lighting in the United Kingdom'. The graph displays the dramatic decrease in the price of lighting, measured in million lumen-hours in British Pounds, from 1301 to 2006. The y-axis ranges from £0 to £40,000 and the x-axis spans from the year 1301 to 2006. The line peaks early around 1301 at approximately £40,000 and shows a sharp decline towards 2006, where it reaches around £3. The data is a 5-year moving average and adjusted for inflation to year 2000 prices. The source is Fouquet and Pearson (2012).

In the last two centuries, the price of lighting has decreased drastically.

You can see this in the chart, which plots historical data from Roger Fouquet and Peter Pearson. To allow for comparisons over time, the data is adjusted for inflation and expressed in prices for the year 2000.

In the 1300s, one million lumen-hours — a standard lighting measure — would have cost around £40,800 in 2000 prices. By 2006, this had fallen to £2.90, a 14,000-fold decline.

Innovations in lighting appliances, fuels, infrastructures, and institutions during the 19th and 20th centuries made this progress possible.

To put this in perspective, consider that a standard 100-watt incandescent light bulb today can emit about 1,700 lumens. Therefore, running one such bulb for 24 hours would produce about 50,000 lumen-hours. That means that 1 million lumen-hours today would require continuously keeping a standard 100-watt incandescent bulb on for about 25 days. Achieving the same amount of light with candles would require burning more than 100 candles every day for that period.

Most people today take the ability to switch on a light at night for granted. But those who live or have lived without artificial light can appreciate how important it is.

Read more on our page on light at night