Energy Adviser: LED streetlamps lighting the way

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The high up-front cost of light-emitting diodes bulbs can make it hard to justify using them to replace less expensive incandescent or compact-florescent ones. For outside commercial lighting, it's a different story. The initial expense is starting to make sense, because it's easier to show a return on investment.

During 2011, commercial and institutional buildings and street and highway lighting consumed about 275 billion kilowatt hours for lighting or 21 percent of commercial electricity consumed, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Changing out older streetlights for LED lamps can reduce this energy use.

Outside, LED lamps have an advantage. They use less energy and also handle outdoor temperature changes and moisture better. This makes them attractive for use as outside security lights and for commercial streetlights. LEDs are more environmentally friendly than fluorescent bulbs because they contain even smaller amounts of mercury. Used outdoors, they also light the ground better and reduce light pollution because LEDs can be more easily focused on specific areas.

When light shines into the night sky, it's a problem for astronomy centers, ecologically sensitive habitats and wildlife. It also wastes energy. Properly designed LED lamps direct the light downward, illuminating the ground more uniformly than high-pressure sodium lamps, which diffuse some of their light upward, causing light pollution.

The ability to direct and focus light is a big advantage. "Well-designed LED lamps shine light where you want it and not in bedroom windows or other places you don't," said David Yang, a commercial lighting account representative for McKaig-Evergreen Inc.

In outdoor security areas, the white light from LEDs can tend to shift the colors of images captured on video, a problem shared by other outdoor lighting technologies. LEDs can be coated to provide better security images, however. "Although color-coated LEDs lose about 15 percent efficiency, new coatings approximating sunlight keep the colors truer," Yang said.

Currently available commercial LED streetlights offer high-quality light, durability and electricity savings in the 50 to 70 percent range. "LED streetlights can quickly show a return on investment by offsetting the high up-front expense with lower energy costs, longer life and reduced maintenance," said Yang.

Not only does the longer life of LED technology reduce maintenance, it reduces the need for special equipment, especially for commercial and industrial buildings. "Replacing older bulb technology with LEDs in high indoor fixtures can stretch out the rental of special lifts and equipment by years," said DuWayne Dunham, Clark Public Utilities energy counselor.

The savings can be sweetened by utility incentives. "We offer incentives for commercial projects using more efficient LED lighting through our CLIP program, which stands for Commercial, Industrial Lighting Incentive Program and is a great resource for local businesses looking to cut energy waste resulting from inefficient lighting," Dunham said.

Cities pilot LED lights

Several Clark County cities are looking closely at LED streetlights and are running pilots to provide neighborhoods with better ground visibility and less light pollution than the existing high-pressure sodium lamps. Vancouver, Battle Ground, Camas and Washougal have installed pilot LED streetlights and will be evaluating the costs and benefits.

In Vancouver, one series of LED lights runs along Fruit Valley Road from Laframbois Road to the Frito-Lay plant and a second project is around the city's operation building on General Andersen Avenue.

Battle Ground areas lit by LEDs include Rasmussen Boulevard, east and west of South Parkway Avenue, and the pedestrian crossing at Battle Ground Lake. Camas and Washougal also have areas illuminated by LED streetlights.

By the end of this year, Ridgefield residents may find their way lit by LEDs as well. The Transportation Improvement Bureau lighting project has chosen the city as a project site.Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.