Columbia Glows With LEDs

While many businesses and households have embraced light-emitting diodes (LEDs), Columbia, Mo., is on a mission to “light the city” with LEDs.


Interest in LEDs grew as a result of the city’s lighting incentive programs for commercial, industrial and residential customers. Over time, the city saw the benefits its customers reaped from LED lights over incandescents, mercury-vapor, halogens and metal halides, not only in terms of energy savings but also in terms of on-off control and placement flexibility (leading to more even light distribution).


As the city introduced LED lights in public areas to reduce energy costs, other perks emerged, including reduced maintenance costs, and improved public safety and property security.


The city’s first foray into LED lighting was in 2013 when it installed LED lights in four city-owned parking garages.


“We switched out 250-watt metal halide and high-pressure sodium fixtures and replaced them with LEDs of less than half the wattage,” said Frank Cunningham, commercial services supervisor for Columbia Water & Light Administration, the city-owned utility.


The installations led to a 75 percent reduction in energy usage and reduced maintenance costs, resulting in a savings of more than $40,000 per year.


“Since the lights are on 24/7, we saw a payback of under two years,” he said.


In addition, public safety in the garages improved.


“The clarity of the videos from the security cameras is a lot better with the LED lights,” Cunningham said.


Since that time, not only has LED technology improved, but prices have continued to decrease. As a result, in 2015, the city expanded its LED installation efforts to include a number of alleys in the downtown area. The next targets are various facilities managed by the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, including parks.


“When the LEDs are installed, they will include motion sensors on the fixtures. The instant-on features of LEDs give us that option,” Cunningham said.


In one park, lights will dim down 50 percent after closure. If anyone enters after that time, the lights will go to full brightness, which will alert police officers or anyone else in the area to potential intruders.


Over time, more fixtures in the city will be changed out, but economics will determine where and when.


“In some situations, with the current prices, payback may be five to 10 years,” Cunningham said. “Right now, though, we look pretty hard at anything with a payback of five years or less.”


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