Is “Change your lightbulbs” really a useful answer to the energy and climate challenges we face? While it sounds almost trite today from an...

Is “Change your lightbulbs” really a useful answer to the energy and climate challenges we face?

While it sounds almost trite today from an individual perspective, switching to more efficient lighting technologies really can make a big difference in energy, money and carbon savings when done on a large scale. And, increasingly, that switch is being made on a large scale.

A growing number of big cities across the globe are replacing their inefficient street-lighting systems with far more efficient LEDs (light-emitting diodes). Los Angeles, for example, is working on what it says is “the largest LED green street light program ever undertaken by a city.” Once completed, the green street light program, which aims to replace 140,000 street lights with LEDs, is expected to cut the city’s energy bills by 40 percent and reduce carbon emissions by 40,500 tons a year. Right behind Los Angeles is Seattle, which has so far installed 20,000 LED lights across the city and expects to add another 21,000 lights in the near term.

Other large-scale rollouts of LED street lights are taking place in Guangzhou, Dongguan and Tianjin, China; and Anchorage, Alaska. Many other cities are pursuing trials: New York City; Mumbai, India; London; Kolkata, India; Toronto, Ontario; and Haldia, India.

And now Sydney is on track to become the first city in Australia to install LED street and park lights across its entire central area.

Part of a three-year, $7-million joint venture with GE and UGL Limited, new LED lights are now being installed around Sydney’s Town Hall.

“Replacing 6,450 conventional lights will save nearly $800,000 a year in electricity bills and maintenance costs,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

Sydney is one of the largest users of street lighting in New South Wales, with 22,000 lights total — 13,5000 maintained by the utility Ausgrid and 8,500 operated by the city. Public lighting accounts for a full third of the city’s annual electricity use and 30 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions.

The transition is one more step toward Sydney’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2030. It has already become the first carbon-neutral government in Australia.

The increasing adoption of LEDs for street lighting is also a clear indication that the efficient lighting technology — still considered cutting-edge and unaffordable just a few years ago — has reached a tipping point. As Caroline Bayliss, The Climate Group’s Australian director, noted, “LED technology is ready.”


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