Light emission in the UV and visible range generated by a planar semiconductor gas discharge system and the possibility of locally increasing the gas discharge light emission (GDLE) in a wide pressure range (2-700 Torr) has been studied. The use of gas discharge gap with microcapillary multichannels spacer (MCS) and an IR light to excite the GaAs photocathode of the system leads to an increase in the GDLE intensity. Electrons entering the multichannels of the discharge gap are multiplied in the electric field by the avalanche mechanism, so that current increases in the discharge gap with microcapillary MCS. In this system the local intensity of GDLE exceeds the intensity of uniform GDLE in the gas discharge system by the same factor as the working area of the photocathode exceeds the total active area of the MCS. Due to the very small electrode gap width we can describe the behaviour of the charged particles in the electric field of our system with the dc Townsend breakdown theory, depending on the pressure range. © 2007 IOP Publishing Ltd.