Indeed, lower electric bills are chief among the reasons why cash-strapped towns and cities across America are installing or looking at light-emitting diode or LED street lamps. But lower maintenance costs and environmental impact are just as motivating (check out the video of a novel LED street lamp driven by wind and solar, below!).
"Savings in maintenance will at least equal the electricity savings or be better," says Damon Lambert, a transportation planner with the City of Cherokee, N.C. Lifetime expectancy is 70,000 hours for each LED lamp versus 20,000-30,000 for traditional metal halide units. Cherokee chose the LifeLED lighting system from Philips Lumec.
Cherokee, a native American tourist and casino city of 14,500 on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is just one of hundreds of communities considering or with LED street lamp replacement programs. Assuming upfront funds are available, converting to LED street lamps is a no-brainer. For general household purposes, LEDs remain prohibitively expensive.
Los Angeles is looking at retrofitting 140,000 street lamps with LEDs. Pittsburgh, Knoxille, Ann Arbor, Anchorage and San Jose are also in various stages of LED street lamp replacement. According to USA Today, 30 communities have requested $104 million in Stimulus funds for LED street lamp conversion.
The Cherokee plan calls for replacing 200 40-year-old street lamps with 300 LEDs at a cost of $800 per lamp, according to Lambert. That works out to a total cost of $720,000. Annual savings in electricity is estimated to be $23,000 and if maintenance costs recoup just as much, payback should be in about 15 years or within the life of the LEDs. They draw 82 watts or a third as much as metal halide, Lambert adds.
"This started as a beautification project and LEDs did not even come up on our radar screen, but it quickly became the preferred option. We were going to use metal halide, but we've been using a sample LED fixture for 6-8 months," he says. "You can't even tell a LED is in there."
Other factors sold Lambert on LEDs. One is more even distribution of light and the ability to lower poles from 30 feet to 22, creating more light overall. Environmental considerations played a role, too. Metal halide lamps contain mercury and other gases, requiring careful recycling.
"Historically, native Americans depend on the land. We’re trying to get back to that. Our chief issued an environmental proclamation and it’s just something [we want to do]," Lambert says. A kinder impact on the environment and more favorable economics have other communities thinking exactly the same way.