Navigant Research Blog

LEDs Light Capital’s Streets

— April 13, 2015

There’s a certain glow to Washington, D.C. these days. It isn’t the cherry blossoms emerging after a dismal winter, or even the recent visit by Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla. It’s the street lights. In 2013, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced plans to upgrade 71,000 street lights to light-emitting diode (LED) lighting. The installations finally started in March.

Each LED lamp consumes about 350 kWh less annually than the high-pressure sodium lamps they are replacing. In addition to lower energy, LEDs have a longer lamp life, which translates to lower maintenance costs. The quality of the light is also better. LEDs provide white light as opposed to the yellow light of high-pressure sodium. According to the DDOT, the white light provided by LEDs lets security cameras more accurately record color. As a result, the color of cars, clothing, or people involved in crimes caught on camera can now be better identified. Moreover, LED lighting enables more systematic and dynamic control of street lighting, as networked control systems can be added to street lights that can bring additional energy savings.

Free Lunch, Almost

Indeed, the numerous benefits of LED street lighting, coupled with the falling price of LEDs, is driving a global transition from older lamp technologies. Many cities around the world have announced similar programs to deploy LED street lights, including Los Angeles, Acapulco, and Guangdong. According to Navigant Research’s report, Smart Street Lighting, LED luminaires are expected to rapidly surpass high-pressure sodium luminaires as the leading technology sold.

So what should Washington, D.C. do with all of these savings? The city council has a long history of finding innovative new ways of spending surplus money (or not). Annual energy savings of about $40 per light for roughly 70,000 lights translates to $2.8 million — not bad for a city of 658,893. That’s enough to buy every resident a rush-hour trip on the metro from RFK Stadium to Friendship Heights. Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough for a chili dog at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Alternatively, spending the entire $2.8 million on a single item sounds fun. The Pagani Zonda Revolucion comes to mind.


Indoor Farms Glow With LEDs

— March 4, 2015

Have you noticed that old factory on the edge of town glowing with new life? Perhaps there isn’t one near you yet, but early results from the new science of light-emitting diode (LED) farming are so promising that you may see one soon. Unlike traditional lights used for indoor agriculture (usually high-pressure sodium), LEDs emit very little heat. This allows the lights to be placed much closer to the plants, multiplying the capacity of an indoor facility. The lights also use less energy, and perhaps more importantly, they can be tuned to provide just the right wavelengths of light to maximize growth for individual plant species and further reduce electrical waste. The overall increase in efficiency and production is helping fuel what some believe will be a new boom in indoor agriculture.

The whole concept is quite appealing. In a world with rising water shortages, indoor agriculture can be much more water efficient. In a polluted world, this type of farming creates no runoff of fertilizers and pesticides into our rivers and oceans. And in a world with an ever-thickening greenhouse blanket, indoor farming (although it uses artificial light, rather than the free light provided by the sun) also eliminates thousands of miles of refrigerated transportation.

Pot to Plate

Thanks to the efficiency of the LEDs providing that artificial light, the overall energy consumption from pot to plate can be reduced. Navigant Research will be researching and publishing a report on the growing use of LEDs for this type of farming in second quarter of this year.

It is, at this point, commonly known that LEDs are a more efficient light source. Examples like this, however, show that efficiency isn’t the only difference. Low heat emission and the ability to tune wavelengths are enabling this boom in indoor agriculture. That same color tuning ability is also starting to be used for the light we shine on ourselves in offices and other buildings, providing the right qualities for the right times of day and improving productivity and health. The long lifespan of LEDs is doing away with the concept of separate lamps and luminaires. The ability to arrange LEDs into thin and flexible panels is allowing for fixture designs that were never before possible, and just might revolutionize the way we supply light to our built environment. All this from a still newly affordable light source. What other changes might LEDs bring as bright minds take advantage of all the unique properties of a light source that requires neither a filament nor a tube of gas?


Playing Under the (LED) Lights

— February 9, 2015

As my colleague Paige Leuschner has noted, the 2015 Super Bowl was arguably the most energy efficient major sporting event ever.  In particular, it was the first Super Bowl to be played under LED lights.  The fact that LEDs have penetrated all the way to this pinnacle of sporting events proves more than a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) test or a third-party certification ever could that this type of lighting has overcome all of the initial concerns over quality and has firmly earned its position in the mainstream.  A stadium that hosts the Super Bowl cannot afford to experiment with a lighting technology that might not be bright enough, might provide an inconsistent color quality, or might flicker in even the slightest way that could be picked up by the high-speed cameras that record every moment of the big game.  Other lighting technologies have met those strict demands for decades, so the choice to switch to LEDs demonstrates a confidence that this comparatively new technology would not fail.


Indeed, the LEDs at the University of Phoenix stadium performed flawlessly.  Each new fixture is significantly brighter than the metal halide fixtures they replaced, allowing the stadium to reduce the total number of fixtures by more than half.  Color quality was also improved through the upgrade, according to Mike Watson, vice president of Product Strategy at Cree, the company that manufactured the LEDs.  As for the ability of high-speed cameras to capture critical moments without disruption by flicker, viewers who may have watched and rewatched every frame of Jermaine Kearse’s miraculous catch as the ball bounced off his left leg, right knee, and then his hands multiple times can attest that the lighting stayed consistent through every single frame.


So, without risk of jeopardizing the quality of lighting, the Super Bowl stadium was able reap the advantages of LED lighting.  The new system uses only 310 kW of electricity, compared to 1.24 MW from the previous system, almost 4 times as much.  Beyond the resulting energy and cost savings, the stadium management could also rest easier knowing that the new lighting would be able to recover almost instantly in the event of a brief power failure, rather than being forced to wait for the significant warm-up time of metal halide lighting (such as in the 2013 Super Bowl).

The clear success of LED lighting within sporting facilities also reduces the potential of a rival lighting technology, light-emitting plasma (LEP).  Although LEP cannot match the efficiency or cost of LED lighting, it was once expected to compete well in spaces that require very high intensity light and where high-speed photography demands the absolute absence of any flicker.  However, given that LEDs have demonstrated their ability to meet those demands in one of the world’s most watched sporting events, it is unlikely that LEP will ever be able to claim the sporting facility niche.  Since LEDs are taking up the lion’s share of R&D dollars spent by lighting companies, as discussed in the Navigant Research report Energy Efficient Lighting for Commercial Markets, it will be hard for LEP or any other lighting technology to catch up in the near term.  The bright lights at the Super Bowl reinforced the growing dominance of LED lighting across an increasing number of end uses for years to come.


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