Outdoor Lighting: LED traffic lights, street lights continue to gain traction (updated)

Aug. 17, 2010
Municipalities in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Nebraska all receive new funding for LED traffic light and street light upgrades.

The momentum behind LED-based solid-state-lighting (SSL) technology continues to build in municipalities around the globe. Moreover grant money in the US helps cities such as Indianapolis, Scranton, Evansville, and Scribner move to energy-saving SSL products despite the high upfront costs.

Indianapolis, Indiana hopes to leverage LEDs to shave $250,000 in annual electrical cost from the $604,666 it now spends to power traffic signals. The City's Office of Sustainability received just over $8 million in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBGs) from the US Department of Energy (DOE), and will spend $1 million of those funds to upgrade traffic signals at more than 500 intersections.

"The installation of brighter, energy-efficient traffic signals allows us to become a more sustainable city and enhance motorist safety, while cutting costs at the same time," said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. “Enhancing public safety and quality of life in our neighborhoods have always been top priorities.”

The City notes that the LED signals use a tenth of the power of incandescent lights. The upgrade is one of many projects being conducted under the Mayor's SustainIndy initiative. Other projects include solar- and wind-powered street lights.

Scranton gets $353,028 for LED traffic lights

In the Scranton, Pennsylvania area, the State Department of Transportation is using $353,028 in federal funding to install LED traffic lights according to the Scranton Times Tribune. The project will include upgrades at 60 intersections in the Scranton area.

Northeast Signal & Electric is handling the upgrade installing new LED-based signal heads that carry a five year warranty. The LED units will replace incandescent bulbs that typically last 18 months. The city expects to save on both energy and maintenance costs.

The Scranton Times Tribune article did again raise the issue of wintertime visibility of LED traffic signals. Presumably the LED lights don't create heat like incandescent bulbs and therefore don't melt snow that might accumulate in the visor surrounding signal lights.

An LEDs Magazine article from last winter reported on ways to mitigate the problem and concluded that the advantages of LEDs were greater than the risks. Moreover state officials in Pennsylvania report no problems with snow in seven years of experience with LED signals.

Evansville to save 80,000 kW/hrs with LED street lights

The move to LED street lights continues even in smaller communities around the US. Evansville, Wisconsisn, for example, is planning to upgrade 250 mercury-vapor and high-pressure sodium (HPS) street lights to LEDs. The Janesville Gazette reports that the city is looking to cut electricity bills by $8,000 per year and reduce electricity usage by 80,000 kW/hrs.

The city has compared LED lights with HPS lights over the course of the last 18 months. The tests revealed that HPS lights used 700 kW/hrs in 18 months while the LED street lights used only 340 kW/hrs. Moreover an official from the local utility judged that both provided similar light output.

The city is also counting on the long life of LEDs for savings in maintenance cost. But the Janesville Gazette article listed expectations that may not be realistic. The articles states that the Energy Center of Wisconsin estimates that LED lamps will last 25 years and the City believes they may even last longer.

Today you certainly can't find any vendors willing to provide warranties that backup such long life expectations. In a recent interview, the head of the San Diego Street Light Working Group noted that vendors would not provide warranties beyond 5 years on LED street lights.

Scribner gets $281,486 EECBG

Also in street light news, the city of Scribner, Nebraska has received a DOE grant for new LED street lights according to the New Streetlights web site. The city is counting on a 50% reduction in electricity costs.