LED street lights: The fuel of the future?

In less than 150 years, cars have transformed from clunky gas-guzzlers into sleek energy-efficient machines.

Gas GuzzlerTesla

According to new information from the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research, the global market for electric vehicles (EVs) is expanding at a growth rate of 76 percent, reaching 740,000 units earlier this year.

In consideration of this rapid increase of Teslas and other pure-battery powered vehicles on the road, debates are emerging over the best way to implement charging stations.

A team at Mini proposes the solution lies within existing urban landscape infrastructure.

During Low Carbon Oxford Week 2015, the British automotive brand demonstrated its “Light and Charge system”, a new technology that would allow EV drivers to charge their vehicles from LED street lights.


Given street lights run along the sides of most roads and are already connected to main sources of electricity, Mini’s approach has the potential to make more charging points available to drivers than there are fuel pumps currently available. The Light and Charge points could be set up at any location where there is a street light and safe parking is available.

The Light and Charge units would employ amodular LED design, proving the global widespread conversion to LED street lights could have even greater benefits for cities than just energy savings. Presuming street lights along busy main streets would be accessed most frequently, Mini says they would likely require four LED modules while street lights along quieter residential streets would suffice with only one or two.

Ease of use may be the best benefit of the Light and Charge points, however. EV drivers need only connect their vehicle using a standard charging cable then swipe a credit card to begin charging.

As the number of EVs on the road continues to grow, Mini’s showcase piece could very well become reality. Although the Light and Charge system has yet to be adopted widely, this technological breakthrough shows LED street lights could play a role in ushering in a future filled with electric vehicles.

Sapphire Industry Watch – January 9

  • The World Rings in 2015 – Net News Ledger: Proving again to be one of the world’s most extravagant New Year’s Eve spectacles, the Downtown Dubai New Year’s Eve Gala featured the “World’s Largest LED-illuminated Façade” along with a firework display and laser light show. The record-breaking display featured over 70,000 LED bulbs that took nearly 200 skilled professionals to set up.
  • 2015: The Year of the LED – Eco Tech Daily: Though LEDs have been around for decades, they are likely to trend in 2015 due to the huge reduction in manufacturing costs in recent years and enhancements to their lighting output. If adoption trends continue, LEDs are likely to see increased use in commercial and household lighting, street lighting car lighting and as a compliment to architecture in 2015.
  • San Jose begins installing LED street lights – San Jose Mercury News: As part of an effort to save money and make streets safer, the San Jose Public Works Department began installing LED street lights to some city streets during December. Each new lamp offers wireless control from a central location and can be dimmed. The costs of the LED lamps will be offset by a combination of energy savings and rebates from PG&E.
  • LED lighting improves strawberry quality and yield, say Wageningen researchers –Horticulture Week:  According to Dutch researchers, strawberries grown with supplemental LED lighting were found to be sweeter, more aromatic and “fruiter” while vitamin C content increased. In addition, researchers found that production increased by around 15 percent.

Sapphire Industry Watch – December 19

  • Rubicon’s interim president & CEO made permanent; VP – financial operations becomes CFO – Semiconductor Today: Rubicon Technology announced that its Board of Directors has appointed William Weissman to the permanent position of President and CEO. Weisman has been Interim CEO and President since September 17, 2014 and Chief Financial Officer since 2007. He has also been appointed a member of the Board of Directors.
  • Why LEDs Are Conquering Lighting – Popular Science: As the cost of LEDs continues to plummet and stricter efficiency standards are enforced, we are reaching a tipping point when it comes to LED conversion. LEDs are quickly becoming the preferred lighting source for a variety of applications, from home lighting to street lights.  Because they’re so efficient and highly programmable, LED adoption will continue to rise in the foreseeable future.
  • Christmas Lights Can Be Seen From Space By NASA Satellites– Huffington Post: The effect of holiday lights in cities and suburbs around the world is so powerful that the difference from normal lighting conditions can be detected from space. NASA satellite images show certain cities shine between 20 and 30 percent brighter during the holiday season and in the near future, satellites may even be able to differentiate between traditional lights and LEDs.
  • Virginia Beach switching to LED lights for roadways – PilotOnline.com: Virginia Beach will begin installing LED lighting technology to all new roads moving forward, with 180 LED street lights being installed on the newly expanded Princess Anne Road in January. Unlike the old-style lamps which glowed yellowish-orange, the new flat fixtures will illuminate the street with white light. The city expects to save hundreds of thousands of dollars by switching to LED lights.

Hollywood Streets Get LED Makeover

The recent project to replace Los Angeles street lights with LEDs has come with some unintended consequences. Making movies at night on the streets of LA may never be the same.  In the past, directors liked the look that LA’s high-pressure sodium street lights gave to their movies.  The old street-lighting would lend a gritty, dark, film-noir feel to movies filmed on the streets of LA.

Here’s an image of an LA street before LEDs and after:

Hollywood Street Lights, Before and After LEDs (Source, Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting)

Hollywood Street Lights, Before and After LEDs (Source, Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting)

According to Dave Kendricken in No Film School, filmmakers like Michael Mann specifically chose Los Angeles as the location for the movie Collateral (2004, starring Tom Cruise) because of the antique aura the street lights brought the film.  Collateral’s plot took place completely at night, so the feeling that the lighting gave the film was a prime concern for the director.

The project is important to the city for saving money and energy.  LA’s 140,000 new street lights, a combination of Cree, Hadco and Leotek lights, are projected to save LA about $7 million in electricity savings.  According to a press release, LA funded the project through a $40 million loan from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and a combination of rebate funds also from the LADWP a Street Lighting Maintenance Assessment Fund.

The city said the loan paid back through savings in energy and maintenance costs by over the next seven years. After the loan is repaid, LA will begin to save $10 million/year. The project in LA isn’t complete yet. And you can see a map of the project’s progress here.

But, what can filmmakers do to mimic the look of the old street lights in LA?  They can choose a new city, select a different part of LA that hasn’t been converted yet, or use digital techniques and/or lighting filters to change the look. LED street lights present a challenge for filmmakers, but they’re worthwhile for the planet.

For Further Reading

No Film School, Why Hollywood Will Never Look the Same Again on Film: LEDs Hit the Streets of LA & NY, http://nofilmschool.com/2014/02/why-hollywood-will-never-look-the-same-again-on-film-leds-in-la-ny/

Daily Mail, Say goodbye to moody Collateral-style movie shots: How LED street lights mean films set at night in LA and across the world will now be bathed in gray, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2551923/Why-Hollywood-never-look-film-LEDs-cast-new-glow-streets-LA-New-York-City.html?ico=ushome%5Eeditors_choice_six_of_the_best

Gizmodo, How LED Streetlights Will Change Cinema (And Make Cities Look Awesome), http://gizmodo.com/led-streetlights-will-change-hollywood-and-make-every-c-1514840416




Study Finds LED Street Lights Generate 85% Energy Savings

Energy savings is one of the major arguments in favor of using LEDs for lighting applications including street lights. The people connected with LightSavers conducted a study based on a rather impressive two-and-a-half-year global pilot of LED street lamps in 15 separate trials across 12 cities around the globe including New York, London, Kolkata, India and Sydney, Australia. The study concluded that LED street lighting can generate energy savings as high as 85%. That’s a fairly impressive number.

The LightSaver trial concluded that LEDs are now mature enough for scale-up in most outdoor applications as well as bring the economical and social benefits to the masses. The report explored the global market status and potential for LED technology and provides guidelines for policymakers and city light managers who want to scale-up and finance large LED retrofits.

Some specific study findings directly relating to lighting include:

• Surveys in Kolkata, London, Sydney and Toronto indicated that citizens prefer LED lighting, with 68% to 90% of respondents endorsing city-wide rollout of the technology.

• LED lighting was found to be a durable technology with the need for minimal repairs; the failure rate of LED products over 6,000 hours is around 1%, compared, for example, to around 10% for conventional lighting over a similar time period.

You can see a video about the Kolkata trial  here:

The findings of LightSavers are presented for the first time in the new report, Lighting the Clean Revolution: The Rise of LED Street Lighting and What it Means for Cities: www.TheCleanRevolution.org. The results of the study were distributed via press release from Royal Philips Electronics. The report was produced by The Climate Group in partnership with Philips in support of the campaign’s argument that major energy savings can be achieved virtually overnight at relatively little cost.

Additional Facts:

• Lighting is responsible for 19% of global electricity use and around 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions1.

• Doubling lighting efficiency globally would have a climate impact equivalent to eliminating half the emissions of all electricity and heat production in the EU2.

• In the United States alone, cutting the energy used by lighting by 40% would save US$53 billion in annual energy costs, and reduce energy demand equivalent to 198 mid-size power stations3.


1 IEA (2006) Light’s Labour’s Lost, OECD/IEA

2 ‘Homes’ includes CO2 emissions from residential use of gas and electricity. Figures from: IEA, 2011, CO2 emissions from fuel combustion: Highlights.

3 Power stations at 2 TWh of generation each year. Data from Philips Market Intelligence and IEA: Philips (2011) ‘The LED lighting revolution: A summary of the global energy savings potential’, based on IEA analysis.

Bringing down the costs of LED street lights

With municipal budgets reeling due to the recession, there has been a lot of activity recently from companies in the LED street light segment about reducing the price of replacement LED street lights.  It appears that LED lighting companies Cree and Bridgelux are working on cutting the price of street lighting in half. A recent Wall Street Journal article by Kate Linebaugh focused on how Cree has cut the price of their LED street lights in half.  Cree’s LED street lights now cost under $200 when bought in volume according to the article.  These put the price of LED street lights on par with the costs of traditional high-pressure sodium vacuum technology when you account for maintenance and energy costs.  How did Cree do it?  They are able to produce a more efficient LED chip so that they can use fewer LEDs in each street light unit.

At the same time, Bridgelux, an LED lighting start up,  is partnering with Chevron Energy Solutions, an energy services arm of Chevron that serves municipalities in the US, to build and install LED modules that can be retrofitted into street lights.  According to a story in Greentechenterprise.com, the two companies hope to bring a solution that’s 30 percent to 50 percent cheaper than today’s options.  Bridgelux’s new modules are designed to be installed in the familiar “cobra head” streetlight fixtures that make up about 65 percent of the country’s 35 million or so streetlights.

The hurdle to municipalities going green with LED street lights is the high initial cost of the LED replacement bulb according to the Wall Street Journal article.  Yet, it is the maintenance cost that hits later for the traditional sodium vacuum street lights. While traditional street lights have a replacement cost of $10, it costs far more to replace one when you take personnel and a truck roll into consideration.  It takes two workers and a bucket truck to replace one street light light bulb at a cost of roughly $200.  My neighbor was awakened to a utility worker loudly replacing a street light bulb at 2:30 am last week.  Although, a single man in a bucket truck made the light bulb switch (traditional kind, not LED).  LED street lights would also mean less frequent disruption for my neighbor in the middle of the night.

For Further Reading:

Wall Street Journal, LED Streetlight’s Price Cut in Half, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304587704577333942881985170.html

Greentechmedia.com, Bridgelux Goes Big In LED Streetlights http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/bridgelux-goes-big-into-led-streetlights/

DOE Municipal Solid-State Street Lighting Consortium, http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/consortium.html

Seattle Puts Street Lights to the Test

Street lights in Seattle

Which kind of street light do you like better — traditional yellow street lights or new LED street lights? Recent articles in The New York Times and LEDs Magazine covered how a group of power companies, consultants, the Department of Energy, Seattle Dept. of Transportation and Seattle City Light paid 400 people about $40 each to test which they prefer.  The test wasn’t really just for looks.  Utilities and municipalities have serious questions about what works better for saving energy and replacement costs versus safety and the area’s look and feel.

The test seemed to be well thought out, testing street lighting from both a vehicle and pedestrian point of view.  A 15-block stretch of 15th Avenue in the Ballard section of Seattle was closed to traffic so that test SUVs could drive up and down at 35 miles per hour with survey participants. The SUVs were fitted with light sensors, cameras, and a GPS system linked to a customized control system.  The participants were asked to push a button when they spotted small 7×7-in objects placed beside the road. GPS allowed the system to capture the exact location for each detected object for analysis.  The test was followed by a qualitative survey that asked participants to walk the test area under the lights. The written survey asked about the quality of the light, glare, feeling of safety, and other issues.

What about the weather and other variables?  Over the course of the night, lights were dimmed to test how low the lights could safely go before it impacted visibility.  Because of the frequently rainy Seattle weather, the organizers tested variations with the lights to mimic wet conditions.  Unfortunately, the weather was spectacular that particular night, so the organizers had to wet down the streets to get the typically wet Seattle effect.

What were the results?  Neither article had the results, but the organizers have also tested in Anchorage, San Diego and San Jose.  We’ll keep our eyes out for results or if you know where they are, feel free to comment.

Fun Facts:

  • Seattle has already installed 20,000 LED lights, second in the US only to Los Angeles, California, and the short-term goal is to install 41,000 LED lights.
  • There are 26.5 million street lights across the US that use $2 billion worth of energy each year.

For Further Reading:

The New York Times, Seattle Gets the Street View on the Quality of Its Lights, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/us/seattle-gets-the-peoples-view-on-led-streetlights.html?_r=2

LEDs Magazine, Seattle LED street-light tests focus on visibility and efficiency (Updated), http://www.ledsmagazine.com/news/9/3/4