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City of Vancouver making the transition to LED streetlights

Before and after differences of the installation of LED streetlights
Old streetlights (left) are being replaced with newer, more efficient LEDS in Vancouver (right).

You may have noticed recently that some of the streetlights in Vancouver cast a different sort of light.

That's because the old, yellow lights are being replaced with LEDs, which, according to Rhys Williams, are brighter and clearer than the old streetlight bulbs.

Williams manages the streets and electrical design for the City of Vancouver, and his department has been monitoring the price of LED technology for years. It's gone hand-in-hand with their testing of different lighting technologies.

"We're now comfortable enough with the technology to start adopting it for day-to-day replacements of streetlights,"he said in a phone conversation.

Vancouver is taking a two-pronged approach, said Williams. Lights are now being replaced on an as-needed basis while a report on a large-scale replacement plan for the entire city is prepared for council.

Benefits of LED streetlights

Quality of the light aside, LED lights are, Williams said, 40 per cent more efficient. The City also expects the new LEDs to last much longer.

LED lights also allow for the use of what's called "adaptive technology", said Williams.

"That allows us to dim lights or program them for specific use. It also lets our operation staff know when they're out."

Right now, the City relies on citizens and night work crews to locate streetlights that aren't functioning.

The light that comes from LEDs is also more directional, which reduces the amount of light pollution created by the streetlights. Williams said that reducing light pollution — which refers to excessive and unnecessary light — is a bonus of the switch to LED.

LED streetlights part of Vancouver's action plan

The City of Vancouver's action plan considers social impact, the environment, and cost when making decisions about changes to infrastructure. That means taking into account the value of a tonne of greenhouse gas emissions, said Williams, as well as the value to pedestrian safety of a clearer light.

And just as the price of 1 GB of hard drive storage cost $300,000 in 1981 and only $0.10 today, so too has the cost of other technologies like LED lighting. "They're just reaching the point at which they are becoming affordable," said Williams.

Lisa Coltart runs BC Hydro's Power Smart program. She said that a typical North American municipality spends up to a third of its electrical bill on street lighting.

"By switching to LEDs they can achieve annual energy savings of anywhere from 25 to 50 per cent," she added, "and substantial maintenance savings as well."

Province-wide initiative with BC Hydro

In conjunction with BC Hydro, the City of Vancouver and other municipalities will be having a province-wide workshop on the use of LED technology. If many districts in the province can agree to and adopt a similar standard, cities and municipalities will be able to take advantage of bulk purchasing discounts.

"There are about 300,000 streetlights in B.C.," said Coltart. If all of those were replaced with LEDs, she explained, the annual energy savings would amount to, conservatively, 50 gigawatt hours.

Lights off for Earth Hour 2013

This year's Earth Hour initiative is an opportunity for your business to demonstrate that it cares about the environment by turning off the lights at 8:30 p.m. local time on Saturday, March 23.

Additional information and tips on how organizations and corporations can participate in Earth Hour are available at the website.