The dawn of LED: pulling the plug on discharge street lights

Barry Hale, Business Director for Street Lighting
08 January 2018
Image of a street in the dark, light by street lighting,
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It’s no exaggeration to say that we are in the midst of a revolution. What I am referring to is how we light our streets: with recent, rapid advancements in technological lighting solutions, the plug is being pulled on conventional, discharge street lights as we enter the age of LED.

We are proud to have played an instrumental role in this LED revolution. And Amey remains at the forefront of rolling the technology out. In 2010, we were the first organisation to adopt large scale LED street lighting on the Birmingham Highways Management and Maintenance PFI Contract, installing around 50,000 LED lights.

Building on our Birmingham experience and expertise, we have now installed around 200,000 LEDs in conjunction with our council clients including Sheffield City Council, Norfolk County Council, Trafford Borough Council and Liverpool City Council. We have commissions to install a further 150,000 in Manchester, Birmingham, Norfolk, Wakefield and Scotland.   

Initially, it is true that there were barriers to adopting LED. These included access to capital funding, health-related concerns and truly evidencing the benefits that were promised. But these have all now been addressed. The LED investment model is now mature and the benefits proven and demonstrable.

Conventional discharge lamps require regular maintenance and replacement. Given their finite life this involves regular lamp replacement in order to maintain light outputs and performance (which diminishes over time), as well as responding to faults or failures. LED requires significantly reduced maintenance interventions. However, the major driving force behind LED adoption, use and technological development has been energy consumption reduction and cost savings.

Many councils across the country have already embarked upon largescale LED retrofits to replace their old street lights, recognising the compelling capital investment business case. When they cast their eyes over the predicted savings, the return on investment from LED technology can be astounding and the benefits of switching very compelling indeed over the long term.

Typically, LED technology uses over 50% less energy, compared with conventional discharge lighting. This translates to major reductions in greenhouse gases, which helps councils meet their carbon reduction targets.

But LEDs offer a much better quality of light as well. You can see colours much more clearly with them. And because they are less likely to be offering a poor light output or be faulty, this supports the night time economy, enabling people to feel safer on the streets and able to venture out during the period of darkness.  

The benefits of LED are now well established. But what has been less well broadcast is how the use of LED technology in conjunction with a new, improved infrastructure management system can offer significant opportunities to make the vision of a smart and connected city a reality.

Street lighting can be the ideal platform to support so called ‘connected assets’ in a world of digital citizens and the internet of things. This is particularly relevant where LED lighting is linked with a central management system (CMS) to vary light levels in response to a range of situations and conditions.

For instance, light levels can be changed on traffic routes to suit variable traffic flows or can be increased after a major sporting event or when pubs and clubs have large numbers of people exiting premises, a proven method of helping disperse crowds.

But this is also about future-proofing cities. Modern lighting management systems equip councils with the flexibility to manage and control street lighting and respond to unforeseen situation that may present themselves in the future – what if we experience short-term energy availability? What if there are high pricing periods for electricity? Lighting can now be selectively managed, turned down or off to respond to such situations. Prior to this, councils would have had no control over this.

It is predicted that more than 60% of the world’s population will want to live in ever larger, more complex and technology-driven city environments by 2030. As the population increasingly lives in urban settings, street lighting can play a role as key infrastructure in the smart city vision of the future.

The frequency of lighting columns across a city, their regular placement - typically 30m to 50m apart - and their potential use as local power sources make them an ideal platform for connecting a city infrastructure with a range of applications.

The opportunities are exciting and extensive. Possible uses include: WiFi; linking traffic signals to enhance traffic management and control; highways winter management using sensors and temperature alerts to optimise winter services (such as gritting); air pollution monitoring and real time messaging to help divert traffic away in high pollution periods or congested areas; parking management including reservations and payments, charge point and electric vehicle management.  

The potential options for using this new generation of street lights beyond lighting itself are almost dizzying. There are, however, dangers that the holistic connected city concept may hamper progress if ambitions become too grand, too soon. Progress and development is more likely to happen by the incremental deployment of connected assets and infrastructure.

Strong city leadership is required here. We need councils with the right vision to promote and enhance co-ordination across their departments, while ensuring there is effective collaboration between the public and private sectors, so that services are shaped and managed in the right way.

I firmly believe that connected street lighting has an important role in this big future city vision. As a leading UK provider of public sector infrastructure management and services delivery with responsibility for 1 million lit assets on behalf of our public sector clients we are excited to be leading the LED street lighting evolution and supporting councils to embrace the investment opportunities and benefits it brings.

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