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California Cities Lead Nation in Reducing Emissions from Streetlights

9:30 AM EDT on October 16, 2009

pg_and_e.jpgPG&E workers installing an LED streetlight. Photo: PG&E

are an enormous part of any city's energy consumption and cities that
wish to cut down on their emissions and their energy bills are getting
in line to convert their older street lamps to LED technology.
According to Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) and Department of Energy
(DOE) data, street lighting costs
are one of the biggest components of a city’s utility bill, accounting
for 10 percent to 38 percent of the total. With nearly 35 million
street lights in the United States, about 1 percent of all electricity
is used by street lighting systems.

Like other cities in
the Bay Area experimenting with LED streetlights, including San
Francisco and Oakland, San Jose has embraced the nascent technology as
part of a sustainability platform called Green Vision, which sets ambitious targets for reducing energy
consumption and emissions, including an expected 50 percent or more energy and cost savings from the street lamp conversions.

goal has always been to move to a more energy efficient light," said
Laura Stuchinksy, Transportation Sustainability Officer at the San Jose Department of Transportation.

said San Jose intends to replace all 62,000 streetlights throughout the
city before the Green Vision target date of 2022. The city implemented
a pilot streetlighting project in Hillview North in 2008 that replaced
118 low-pressure sodium streetlights with LEDs and a recent American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus fund grant of $2.2 million
will offset implementation costs for the next wave of conversions
expected later this year.  Further, the city intends to backfill with
new renewable energy generated locally and possible purchases through
PG&E. San Jose currently spends $4 million annually on street
lights, which consumes over 35 million kilowatt hours of electricity,
according to Stuchinsky.

In addition to the benefits to the city, the public seems to like the new lights. The Hillview North project, contracted to Echelon Corporation and funded with part of a $200,000 Community Development Block Grant
(CDBG) from HUD, had received positive reviews from the community. Even
though the new streetlights use less energy, the LEDS give off a
broader spectrum of white light than the current yellow hue of the
low-pressure sodium lamps, which gives neighbors a greater sense of
safety, according to Stuchinsky.

PG_E_pic.pngLED lights side-by-side with sodium lights. Photo: PG&E

Astronomers at Lick Observatory, 14 miles east of San Jose, are concerned about any increase
in city lights, especially LEDS, said Stuchinksy, as they are unable to
filter the white light in the same way they do with yellow from sodium
lights.  In order to convert more lights and remain Dark-Sky
compliant, San Jose has been working with manufactures to develop
solutions for dimming lights at night or for motion-sensors that would
help reduce overall light when it is not needed. While the technology
is not yet perfect, Stuchinsky believes that the possibility of
contracting with a large municipality like San Jose is leading vendors
to be more innovative.

Another obstacle to expansion of LED
streetlights is the rate schedule at large utilities such as PG&E,
which until recently didn't break LEDs into a separate category so
savings could be quantified. Municipalities like San Jose pay monthly
block rates, regardless of how much energy is actually used. With
PG&E's recent classification change,
the utility has set a national example and will make conversion more
bankable for other municipalities who have the incentive to move to a
lower billing rate.

PG&E spokesperson Joseph Molica said the utility was very excited to assist cities throughout the state with LED conversions.
"There are two types of incentives for city customers: a lower rate
schedule and they are eligible for energy efficiency rebates," he said.

He hoped Bay Area cities would embrace the new technology
as thoroughly as Los Angeles, where the city has committed to replace
140,000 existing
street lamps with LEDs over the next five years, the largest conversion
anywhere in the country. Molica added that ARRA stimulus funds had
enabled smaller municipalities like Danville and El Cerrito to initiate
trials and that the DOE grants are "coming in almost daily."

Molica said PG&E pilot programs in San Francisco and Oakland over the past two years were
excellent test cases for the utility, which realized energy savings from
different vendors between 50 to 70 percent [for more analysis: Oakland
, San Francisco PDF]. Molica also stressed that the LEDs last many
years longer than current sodium lighting, so savings over the long run
add up significantly. PG&E has also partnered with the CCI to reach
out to more cities across the state to make conversions.

Molica echoed Stuchinsky's assertion that customers approve of the new
lights, saying that PG&E conducted outreach before trials in San
Francisco's Outer Richmond neighborhood and has sought continuous
feedback subsequently. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom earlier this year
touted a new pilot near City Hall that incorporates remote dimming
technology. At the press conference, Newsom turned the lights up
and down with his cell phone (Molica said Newsom used an encrypted code
for accessing the system controls, but it does lead one to wonder if the savvy kids at Black Hat might try hacking the city's lights).

those who were still skeptical of the new lights, Molica urged
patience. "When the public first hears about them, they are not
convinced," though over time, he said, they will seem as customary as
the yellow sodium lights that were installed decades ago.

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