When LED streetlights initially came on the market, the country’s bigger cities were the first to adopt the technology, while smaller towns held off due to cost.
However, the market has since changed considerably, and more municipalities of all sizes are switching to LEDs.
Babylon, N.Y., installed 13,000 LED streetlights last year, but the idea of switching “had been around for a while,” said Tom Stay, the city’s public works commissioner.
However, as more manufacturers entered the market, LED pricing became more competitive, and, by 2018, “they were very competitive—less than double the 2012 price—if not triple,” he said. “That’s when we decided we could pull the trigger on this now.”
Babylon switched to LEDs for public safety and energy savings because the lights are whiter and brighter and they shine directly on the street, which improves public safety, Stay said. They also use less energy. The town has cut its annual electric bill by 60%, from $1.2 million to a little over $500,000 each year.
“We definitely got our bang for our buck doing this, as it will pay for itself within four to five years,” he said.
The town only added smart lighting technologies to the LEDs on their sports fields as “they were a little bit pricey,” Stay said, but it has the option to add them later.
Smaller cities’ business case for switching to LED
Worldwide, there are roughly 308 million streetlights. Of these, 27% are LEDs and 5% connected, according to a report by Northeast Group LLC, Washington, D.C. The marketing intelligence firm predicts in the coming three years, the number of streetlights will increase to 321 million, with the proportion of LEDs growing to 43% and connected lighting to 11%.
Percentages such as these illustrate the vast growth potential of LED streetlighting, said Roger Karner, president of Signify U.S., Somerset, N.J.
“Bigger cities started to adopt LED lighting first because they have more funds available, whereas smaller cities typically have had to choose between priorities, like buying new streetlighting or building a new school—they couldn’t do both,” Karner said. “But now, smaller cities can make a business case for switching to LED streetlighting, which can cut their energy bill by half. If cities add controls to the lights, their cost savings could be as high as 80%.”
Signify offers financing models in which cities can pay back the initial investment based on their energy savings.
The company also has life-cycle services and remote monitoring, “so smaller cities do not have to spend a lot of time and resources on operations and management,” he said.
Signify offers connected-lighting products for cities wanting to improve public safety, such as sensors mounted on light poles that detect pedestrians and automatically brighten the lights and have the lights follow them as they walk. The company also provides the infrastructure to deliver Wi-Fi, 4G and 5G as well as internet of things and smart-city applications.
“LED lighting also enables cities to be more sustainable; it allows them to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, preserve night skies, which is also better for animal life, and have a future-proof, easily upgradeable infrastructure,” Karner said.
LED lights and accompanying drivers are more reliable than before, and, in many cases, they can last 20 years or more, which reduces maintenance costs, said Neil Peterson, vice president, LED technology at MyLEDLightingGuide/DRK Enterprises, Nashua, N.H.
Moreover, light output has greatly increased from 70 lumens per watt to more than 130. More light with fewer watts adds to the business case for switching with reduced payback times, Peterson said.
“The lights are also better now as there’s not as wide range. Shining just on the street and not in people’s houses can be done with optics,” he said. “LEDs are directional lights, and, with optics, lights can light up the intended location. Most small cities are opting for Type III.”
Color temperature has also improved. Before, residents didn’t like the blue hue, but now cities can get a range from 2,700K that looks like a mercury vapor to 5,000K that looks like daylight. Most small cities are opting for 3,000K to 4,000K for streetlighting in residential areas.
“LED streetlights improve driver safety, reduces light pollution and operating costs,” he said. “This combination provides a win-win for any city or town looking to convert their streetlights to LED.”
Another deterrent preventing smaller cities from switching during the early days of LED streetlighting was the expense of Cat 5 coaxial cable to connect to the energy source, said Frank Abbott, CFO of LED Light & Power, Las Vegas. Since then there have been improvements in power line communication (PLC) technology to connect, which makes the switch more economical.
Opelika, Ala., switched to LED streetlighting because costs have decreased, warranties are better with 10-year terms and more options are available for LED lighting, said Derek Lee, director of the city’s power services.
Lee’s advice to cities considering the switch: evaluate the cost of current lighting replacement beyond bulb and photocell.
“You will have less return trips with LED lights than HPS and metal halide,” he said. “Look for 10-year warranties, not five-year, and develop a system to track. We have had very few failures, bu,t when we have, the manufacturer has honored the warranty.”
Small cities can get financial support
More small municipalities are now able to switch to LED streetlighting because of the increased availability of grants, loans and other financial support from states, utilities, nonprofits, energy management firms and companies such as Signify.
Benton City, Wash., switched to LEDs in phases—the first entailed new streetlights as part of a cost-saving test pilot administered and paid for by the state’s transportation improvement board, said Kyle Kurth, the city’s maintenance foreman.
The second phase entailed switching the lights at all city facilities, which was completed last year with an upfront loan from Apollo Solutions Group, Kennewick, Wash., that provided the LED lights, Kurth said. The city paid back from the energy cost savings it incurred from the switch.
“Apollo made a presentation to the city asking if they could conduct a feasibility study that included a site survey and power bills for all of our facilities to determine whether it was a good opportunity—and it was,” he said. “LED lights not only save us on our energy bills, but also on our maintenance costs because they last much longer.”
Apollo also helped the city install energy-saving solar panels. To offset the cost for both projects, the company was able to help the city secure an energy grant from the Department of Commerce.
Likewise, Bend, Ore., was also able to afford switching to LED streetlighting in a number of ways, said Janet Hruby, principal traffic engineer.
“Most of our streetlights are owned by the power company, Pacific Power, so a piece of it was being able to negotiate a lower rate with them for power plus maintenance and by getting them to recognize the benefits of switching to LED,” she said. “It is now well-documented that LEDs saves money and resources, which convinced the power company to adopt a lower rate schedule for LEDs not just our city, but for all of Oregon.”
The city also received a $120,000 cash incentive from the Energy Trust of Oregon for the $1.5 million project, paying the balance from capital reserves, she said. The rate savings from Pacific Power gives the city a 14-year payback period for 2,300 streetlights.
“What also enabled the city to pay upfront for the new lights was the guarantee offered by energy management company Ameresco,” Hruby said. “If the energy savings is less than predicted, Ameresco will provide the difference to enable us to completely pay back the capital reserves for the project’s expenses.”
Fritz Feiten, Ameresco’s national director of roadway lighting and smart city solutions, said the increasing use of energy service companies and other turnkey service providers to manage the entire LED conversion process—including design, procurement, installation and warranty service—which “has greatly simplified the process of getting these projects done in a manner that ensures community support.”
In the future, Bend will consider dimmable lights, as its LED fixtures allow for upgrades for smart controls, Hruby said.
“Right now, the power company doesn’t allow that option because the technology is so new that we’re all catching up trying to evaluate how to manage and implement it,” she said.
Smaller governmental entities considering switching to LED streetlighting can also receive support from ratepayer-funded programs such as the Southern California Regional Energy Network (SoCalREN), said Lujuana Medina, manager, environmental initiatives at the Los Angeles County’s ISD, energy and environmental services, which administers the network.
The SoCalREN public agency programs’ partner with PFM financial advisors to deliver financial advisory services to agencies, including assistance with funding sources that include SoCalREN’s revolving loan fund, energy lease financing, bill financing through the IOUs and the California Energy Commission’s low-interest loan program and local self-funded financing opportunities.
“Our programs take a comprehensive, customized approach to help public agencies to save energy and money by offering objective, third-party energy efficiency resources at no cost,” Medina said.
Moreover, SoCalREN identifies energy- saving measures, helps remove barriers to achieve energy savings and works side-by-side with agency staff to accomplish projects.
“SoCalREN’s public agency programs believe in the power of public agencies to lead their communities towards a safe, secure, resilient, affordable and sustainable clean-energy future,” she said.