As climate change continues to have a more severe impact on the world’s safety and the health of our economies, energy efficiency continues to grow as a priority for municipalities and governments. This priority exists alongside the constant struggling of budgeting and saving money where possible.
With the advents of new technologies, these two priorities have more and more become one and the same: energy efficiency plans that also provide financial savings.
One area with immense promise is that of public street lighting. Recent research by Northeast Group, LLC estimates that by 2026 the world is projected to have 359 million street lights (up from 315 million today). With such focus on the question of how to improve street lighting efficiency, it is no wonder that LED street lighting and smart solar street lighting is expected to grow into an almost $70 billion market.
This isn’t just improvement in energy efficiency and costs, however. The same study referenced a survey performed in 100 US cities taking part in light replacement pilots in 2012:
“The response was overwhelmingly positive from these early adopters - residents complimented the better light, law enforcement officials praised safety improvement, and cities overall showed significant cost savings.”
The intent of this article is two-fold: (1) to provide local decision-making bodies with better clarity and understanding on the benefits of updating their municipal street lighting from traditional street lighting; (2) to help them assess their options when weighing between options like LED street lighting, solar street lighting, smart street lighting and smart solar street lighting.
Options for Street Lighting Efficiency Upgrade:
1. Clean Power Sources for City Grid
2. LED Street Lighting
3. Solar Street Lighting
4. Smart Street Lighting
5. Smart Solar Street Lighting
Option 1: Clean Power Sources for City Grid
One option that many local governments consider in their journey to improve energy efficiency and financial costs is to switch the electricity of their whole grid to more renewable resources. For example, installing large solar systems or wind farms that are then tied into the power network. While everyone should be doing this regardless, it still leaves a lot on the table in terms of lighting efficiency improvements.
• Provides clean energy to the whole grid
• Provides cost savings
• May not have backup batteries for longer periods without sunlight/wind
• May not have access to power during blackouts
• Still requires expensive installation including long runs of trenched wiring
Option 2: LED Street Lighting
LED street lighting provides immense benefits. LED lighting has a much longer lifespan than traditional street lighting. Instead of malfunctioning, they simply lose brightness and are considered at their end of life when they reach less than 30% of initial brightness. They also provide more quality visible light at a lower wattage, meaning they can run on less electricity (which is as much as 75% more efficient than traditional lights). A 2010 study by the US Department of Energy, projecting the effects of a theoretical transition over a 20 year period, estimated that a widespread adoption of LED street lighting in the period under consideration could save as much as $250 billion from energy savings alone. And this doesn’t even consider the substantial improvement in the quality of light, making cities safer and more welcoming at night.
• Huge efficiency improvement over traditional street lighting, meaning lower costs and reduced impact on environment
• Better quality of light
• Reduced maintenance costs due to increased lifespan and decreased malfunctioning
• Without intelligent control, the lighting cannot be controlled remotely - Switching On & Off/Dimming/Remote Maintenance
• Subject to turn off during power outages
• Still relies on fossil fuels unless the town is providing power from renewable sources to the grid
• You still get to pay for electricity consumed compared with off-grid solar solutions
Option 3: Solar Street Lighting
Another option being considered is providing traditional street lighting with solar panels and small battery backups. This is a convenient way to create self-sufficient light (most of the time).
• Reduces or eliminates energy produced from fossil fuel sources
• No electricity bills to be paid
• Subject to failure if there is no sunlight for longer periods - lack of autonomy (can sustain max. 5 days without sun)
• Batteries still need to be replenished every 3-5 years increasing the life time maintenance cost
Option 4: Smart Street Lighting
This is a very cool option. Usually, this is done in conjunction with LED lighting upgrades because another benefit of this technology is the ability to immediately regulate brightness, unlike traditional street lights that take awhile to warm up and cool down. This lighting system provides some intelligence to the street lamps (when to go on or off, or how bright to shine). LED lights can be regulated by time, the brightness of their surroundings and whether cars or people pass near by. They can be also monitored remotely. By cutting down on the amount of light when it is not actually needed, the bulbs last longer and the consumption of electricity from the grid is greatly reduced.
• All the benefits of switching to LED technology, plus…
• Even more efficiency gains from turning off lights when they aren’t needed, or dimming intensity to save on energy
• Reduced light pollution impact on the environment
• Reduced maintenance and operational costs due to: (1) increased lifespan of bulb and (2) remote monitoring reducing the number of truck-rolls
• Still pulls electricity from the grid, which is likely powered by fossil fuels
• Still subject to power outages
Option 5: Smart Solar Street Lighting
It will quickly become clear why this option is the leading choice for improving public and municipal street lighting efficiency, quality and performance. Along with all the upgrades of the lighting system by switching to LED technology and having a smart monitoring software for complete management of each street light unit (including intelligent dimming), smart solar street lights now add solar technology and battery systems to provide their own clean energy power source. The smart technology component here can also function in a very unique way: by providing intelligent control of the battery power, including weather predictions for energy generation based on large data sets which are analyzed by smart algorithms, the risk of traditional solar battery-based lighting systems (i.e. going out if there is no sun for too long) is virtually eliminated.
• All environmental, financial and light quality benefits of LED street lighting, plus…
• All environmental, financial and light quality benefits of smart street lighting, plus…
• Power source contained within itself, meaning the consumption of energy from fossil fuel sources is eliminated
• Smart technology improves battery life over double, reducing the operational costs of traditional solar plus battery lighting systems
• Independent from the grid. Light is available through blackouts without reverting to generators
• The same as with any improvement project, it requires a sufficient initial investment. But with the immense costs savings generated by smart solar lighting, the return on investment is much quicker than with other lighting systems
It is clear that we have a problem with how we spend money for public lighting and what we are doing to our planet with the current obsolete infrastructures and fossil fuel driven economies. There is a huge opportunity to improve all these essential matters by upgrading/modernizing our public lighting systems. There are many ways to initiate this shift towards efficiency and renewable energy. The obvious choice is to explore smart solar street lighting as one of the core solutions to such problems.
In the end, doing anything is better than doing nothing. As the decision-making body for your municipality or town, it is up to you to decide how to contribute to the future of your public/municipal lighting system and services to citizens. Analyze all the options available to you, figure out what is in your community's best interest in the long run and take assertive action!