Roughly 70 million U.S. street and roadway lighting fixtures—estimated to be a $200–300 million market—represent big business for electrical contractors, especially as this application increasingly converts to light-emitting diode (LED) technology. Several industry experts discuss the range of benefits LED sources bring to the roadway-lighting segment and how contractors can participate in this lucrative and rapidly expanding upgrade opportunity.
Out with the old
Most often populated by conventional light sources today, “both fluorescent and HID still play a significant role in the roadway lighting market because both technologies are efficient, inexpensive and offer long-life alternatives,” said Marie Caron, product marketing manager at Osram Sylvania in Danvers, Mass.
Based on the range of benefits LEDs provide this statement may not be true for long, especially with the ongoing quest for optimal illumination.
“Good roadway lighting is durable, provides excellent visibility for drivers and pedestrians, and reduces glare and sky glow,” said Ross Barna, CEO of Northvale, N.J.-based RAB Lighting.
“Quality roadway-lighting systems meet recommended levels of illuminance, luminance, uniformity and veiling luminance and support existing and projected levels of population density and pedestrian conflict while providing a spectrum found to be symbiotic to the natural environment,” said Christopher Bailey, director of Hubbell Lighting’s Lighting Solutions Center in Greenville, S.C.
Lighting consultant Jim Benya, principal of Benya Burnett Consultancy in Davis, Calif., agreed.
“I feel that responsible lighting design must be based on the principles of balancing the need for light at night with human health, environmental health and preservation of nature, including the night sky,” Benya said. “Elements of responsible lighting design include saving energy and reducing greenhouse gases, employing properly shielded luminaires and using only the amount of light needed in order to control light pollution, mitigating or eliminating glare, choosing the proper color temperature and spectrum of light, dimming or shutting off lights when not in use, and producing an attractive outcome including day and night viewing experiences.”
According to Rob Freitag, vice president of marketing for EYE Lighting International in Mentor, Ohio, the key for designing great roadway lighting systems is the distribution of light, i.e., where it goes.
“The control of glare, uplight and light pollution are critical to optimal lighting solutions,” Freitag said.
[SB]For all of those reasons, these experts agree that LED is the technology to beat.
“When LEDs of proper color and shielding are employed, LED lighting is superior in almost all aspects, permitting lower energy use, tuning and dimming capabilities, better optical control, less environmental impact, longer life, and, above all, the opportunity for us to re-evaluate how much light we use and whether we even need it,” Benya said. “As a lighting designer, I’m especially excited about the ability of LED technology to tune the light spectrum to address environmental concerns and to have better lighting to preserve the night sky.”
As a result, Benya predicted that a significant portion of U.S. roadway lighting will be largely converted to LED by 2020, driven by its low maintenance costs and long-life potential.
“The real economics of properly engineered LED streetlighting, which are well beyond just energy cost savings, make the upgrade a no-brainer,” Benya said.
Barna said that LED technology stands as the clear winner in terms of total cost of ownership and performance, and market behavior is proving it.
“According to industry research, LED technology accounted for about 20 percent of roadway-lighting projects five years ago, but has grown to 70 percent in 2014,” he said. “Within the next decade, we expect 100 percent of roadway lighting projects to involve LED.”
“HID has served the industry well, but LEDs are transitioning into the light source of choice for outdoor area and roadway applications,” Bailey said.
Freitag added that LEDs are ideal for all roadway applications.
“From residential streets to superhighways, the industry has developed LED luminaires with lumen output that covers all applications of roadway lighting,” he said.
Seizing the opportunity
Like most experts, Bailey is bullish on the business opportunities that LEDs offer contractors serving the roadway segment.
“The large majority of roadway lighting in use today is not LED, and this balance is expected to shift,” he said. “But, at the same time, given the vast number of roadway luminaires, the conversion process is expected to last a very long time.”
He confirmed that the opportunity may last through the next one or two decades.
“In many cases, roadway-lighting products are managed by utility companies or related municipal departments who may have limited resources and need to rely on contractors to render the necessary services, so contractors who demonstrate expertise in roadway infrastructure lighting are likely to be highly regarded in this competitive field,” he said.
Benya also said that an opportunity remains for financially astute ECs to deliver street and roadway LED fixture upgrades.
“There’s a nationwide transition occurring now, in which communities are seeking to break free from their ties to utility companies and antiquated tariffs and to take charge of their lighting to save money and energy,” he said. “ESCOs have paved the way for bond-free financing, but smartly managed communities realize that there’s a lot of money to be made if they can manage a program using utility incentives and low-cost capital to achieve a significant long-term benefit to the community’s bottom line. The best contractors to do the work are those in the community, but they need to learn how to work with the community to put together financing options that are attractive to council members.”
“Contractors have additional opportunities with control systems for LED roadway lighting,” Freitag said. “LEDs are highly compatible with lighting control systems, and municipalities (and utilities) are saving operating and maintenance costs by employing dimming when full light isn’t needed for both roadways and pedestrian sidewalks. Municipalities are also saving money by improved asset management gained from LED lighting control systems and improved management of emergency services and maintenance operations are also impacted with information gained from system monitoring.”