LEDs Hit the Streets

Cities everywhere are jumping on the LED street light bandwagon and trading in their outdated fixtures for new & improved models. We’ve known for years that LEDs have many advantages over their incandescent counterparts, so why the sudden push to make the switch?

LED street lights compared to conventional street lights in Sacramento County
This image from Sacramento County’s recent lighting upgrade reveals the vast difference in color temperatures between LED and Conventional street lights. (Photo credit: saccounty.net)

Why are Cities Getting Rid of Conventional Street Lights?

Take a look at some of the benefits LEDs offer over conventional High Pressure Sodium (HPS) street lights:

  • LEDs are 10x more energy-efficient
  • LEDs last 25x longer (less maintenance, reduced lamp toxins in landfills)
  • LEDs offer advanced lighting controls (dim or power off when not in use)
  • LEDs offer better visibility (less glare for drivers, better images for security cameras)
  • LEDs reduce light pollution by not diffusing light in all directions

The Numbers Don’t Lie

A study released in 2013 by the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), determined that the potential energy savings of switching from HPS street lights to LEDs is about 75%, as shown in the graph below.

Graph showing cost savings of LED street lights over conventional street lights
Source: SERDP

With this new research, city leaders were equipped with hard data to support the upgrade. But there was still an issue – cost.

Then a few things happened…

Prices Fell for LEDs

The cost of LEDs dropped dramatically over the past several years, making the initial investment to upgrade street lights easier for municipalities to swallow. Instead of taking decades to recoup the high upfront cost, cities are now seeing real savings in just a matter of years.

The White House Sweetened the Pot

December 2014 – The US Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) awarded $10 million towards furthering energy-efficient lighting research and development.

January 2015  – President Obama and the Department of Energy administered a “Presidential Challenge for Outdoor Lighting,” encouraging Mayors around the country to aim for 1.5 million street light upgrades by May 2016.

With hard data showing the benefits of LED technology, lower prices, and encouragement coming from the top, options for funding large scale lighting upgrades became more accessible in the form of low interest loans, utility grants and rebates. In other words, the LED bandwagon started to look more like a cruise ship.

Some Reluctant to Change

Not everyone is thrilled with the change, however. One neighborhood in New York even likened the bright white light of the LEDs to “a strip mall in outer space.” (Source: The Times) Others argue that the color temperature of the LED light wreaks havoc on their internal body clock (You can read more about blue light and how it affects circadian rhythm here).

Looking Ahead

Lighting technology is expanding rapidly and who knows what advances will emerge from this push for ongoing research and development. What we do know is that lower costs and greater financing options for LED street lights is positioning more cities and towns to install these upgraded lighting systems — not only for all of the advantages listed above, but in preparation for the technology that is yet to be developed.

Renee Carlson

Renee specializes in digital marketing & content development for Pegasus Lighting. When she's not blogging about all-things-light, you’ll find her nestled in the ‘burbs of Raleigh with her husband & three active boys, getting lost in her Kindle, tackling a long list of home improvement projects, or cheering on the Carolina Panthers.