Free Tool Helps Cities Assess Impact of Switching to LED Street Lighting

March 12, 2012

by Sandi Burtseva



Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Municipal Solid-State Street Lighting Consortium released an economic cost-benefit analysis tool to help cities, as well as utilities and other organizations, estimate the costs and impacts associated with switching to light-emitting diode (LED) street lighting. The consortium will also be hosting several workshops and webinars on LED lighting and the new tool between now and August.

The new Microsoft Excel-based Retrofit Financial Analysis Tool, developed in collaboration with the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), is available for download at www.ssl.energy.gov/financial-tool.html. To use the tool, city leaders and other stakeholders can input the variables of their particular situations - such as the street-lighting technology they are currently working with, necessary quantities, projected phase-in period, local electricity and labor costs, local taxes, installation cost, loan interest rate and rebates - to generate a detailed analysis that lays out annual energy-cost savings, maintenance savings, greenhouse gas reductions and simple payback. To facilitate its use, the tool is accompanied by an instructional video and a sample analysis.

This information is useful in planning and budgeting, applying for financing and courting community support for the upgrade. The tool is helpful for municipalities and utilities alike, whether they purchase and install their own streetlights or use outside resources through a bid-item contract.

The consortium is presenting the following events:

  • March 15‐16: LED Street Lighting Workshop in Dallas, Texas
  • April 3: Webinar on the Retrofit Financial Analysis Tool
  • April 19‐20: LED Street Lighting Workshop in Los Angeles, Calif.
  • August 2012: LED Street Lighting Workshop in Boston, Mass. (final date TBA)
Updates on these events and registration details can be found on the consortium events page at www.ssl.energy.gov/consortium_events.html.

Switching to LED Lighting

On all night, every night, streetlights are one of the biggest fixed costs for cities, and they carry a major environmental impact. The estimated 26.5 million streetlights in the U.S. annually consume as much electricity as 1.9 million households, and generate greenhouse gas emissions equal to those produced by 2.6 million cars. Furthermore, with an average age of more than 25 years, the energy and maintenance costs are continually rising at a time when cities are facing drastic reductions in general fund revenue.

LED street lighting has the potential to provide energy savings as high as 50 to 60 percent (compared to existing street lighting sources), while also reducing maintenance costs, improving visibility and reducing "uplight," which causes light pollution. Additionally, the cost of LED street lighting has dropped by more than 25 percent in the past year alone.

"Converting our nation's streetlights to LED technology not only could reduce our energy consumption significantly, but also improve the quality of illumination," said Consortium Director Edward Smalley of Seattle City Light. "The Retrofit Financial Analysis Tool will make it easier for cities, utilities and others to analyze the cost benefit of LED street lighting, by providing specific key information on costs and return on investment."

While the new tool helps assess the site-dependent costs and benefits of making the switch to LED streetlights, several cities have already seen dramatic results. Los Angeles started its LED program in February 2009 and has currently converted 64,500 of 140,000 total streetlights. At 61.2 percent energy savings, the city has already exceeded its original 40 percent goal. The program is ultimately expected to cost $57 million, the bulk of which is coming from a $40 million utility energy efficiency loan that is being repaid with savings from the city's street lighting budget - $17 million per year. The program is expected to reach simple payback at seven years.

The new tool is based on an earlier model that CCI developed for analyzing cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Mumbai and Beijing. The original tool was complex and required someone from CCI to run it. The consortium teamed with CCI to develop the user-friendly version that cities can use independently. To facilitate its use, the tool is accompanied by an instructional video and a sample analysis.

The consortium was created in 2010 to educate and provide consistency around the energy-efficient lighting many cities were already pursuing, particularly LED streetlight products. Municipal efforts are often tied to block grants and energy mandates, and the consortium provides an easy way for cities to navigate multiple sources of information at once. The new financial tool complements the Model Specification for LED Roadway Luminaires that was published by the consortium in October.

Details: To register for a workshop or webinar, visitwww.ssl.energy.gov/consortium_events.html. To download the financial tool or view an instructional video, see www.ssl.energy.gov/financial-tool.html. To learn more about the consortium, visit www.ssl.energy.gov/consortium.html.