LED Street Lights- Time to Shine is Now
As Federal Government stimulus funds continue to roll in, many cities across the United States are tearing down their old street lighting and taking advantage of LED technology. These new lights are not only brighter than conventional fixtures, but are smart enough to know when the sun rises and sets enabling better energy conservation.
The city of San Jose has already installed over 250 LED street light fixtures and is looking to do a complete conversion of the roughly 65,000 street lights in the city by 2022. According to city officials, $2.3 million in stimulus funds have been used thus far to get the ball rolling and the project is expected to cost $50 million in total. While the price tag to install these new fixtures is huge, the $3.9 million in electric bills that the city pays to keep their streets bright at night is a cause for concern. This is where the city believes installing an LED street lighting system pays off, to the tune of an 80 percent energy usage reduction every year.
These new lighting systems have other advantages says Jim Helmer, San Jose Department of Transportation Director. The lights are enabled with GPS so that they know where they are located and program themselves to know when the sun rises and sets. Contrasted from conventional lights, the newer models would enable lights to operate at 50% power during the sunnier portions of dusk and sunrise while switching to 100% brightness when artificial light is a necessity.
The lights can also be controlled through power lines if need be, carrying a signal to engineers so that they can be manually controlled.
Helmer claims that in this day and age LED lights fixtures have advanced to the point where paying to install them has become financially worthwhile. The newer fixtures last roughly 12 to 13 years, as opposed to the typical 3 year life span of the current amber lights.
“Today (LED lights) burn one-tenth the energy they did ten years ago,” Helmer told the San Jose Mercury News. “So we’ve been saving 90 percent of the power that we used to use. It is possible in streetlights to continue to reduce our power consumption and get longer lamp life.”
The average LED street lamp fixture, depending on application, can cost anywhere from $300 each all the way up to $3,500. This could push the cost in material alone for a conversion in a city like San Jose significantly higher than $50 million they predict. Most companies that produce LED fixtures claim that their lamps can save anywhere from 40 to 70 percent on energy usage over standard high-pressure sodium street lamps and improved visibility.
San Jose isn’t the only city taking advantage of the energy saving light fixtures.
In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) granted $630,000 in 2008 to install over 1000 LED street light fixtures. At the time, the city estimated that the lights would save more than $100,000 per year in energy usage costs by replacing 250 watt street lights with 50 to 80 watt LED lights.
Some city officials are not convinced of the total cost savings that came with upgrading to LED light fixtures. During a city council meeting earlier this month, DDA member Sandi Smith called attention to the city’s proposal to dim “overlit” areas in order to reduce lighting costs as part of the streetlight assessment district (SAD) plan, according to the Ann Arbor Chronicle.
Smith said the whole purpose of the DDA funding for LED lights was to avoid the SAD plan and criticized the city for not being able to come up with a total energy savings capability for the LED fixtures. The only concrete evidence in cost savings for the city so far is the amount of money saved by replacing LED fixtures every seven to eight years as opposed to every three years.
Norman, Oklahoma’s city council voted this year to have a 1.75 mile stretch along their main street converted to LED lighting. The Norman City Council speculates the project will cost $525,000. The installation would include 45 poles, 70 LED light fixtures and the city predicts that the conversion will save the city $25,000 annually in energy costs. Norman believes that if everything works out as planned, it will only take two years of energy saving to pay off the share that they have in converting the lights. The city will have to pay for $50,000 for the design process and state government funds will cover the rest.
Norman Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said that the initial installation would be a test pilot for future LED projects.
“If you look at the potential energy savings, the new lights would pay for themselves in two years,” O’Leary told the Norman Transcript. “A lot of other cities are starting to look at it, but again, we are the first in Oklahoma to get them in place.”