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Lane Burt’s Blog

New Standards for Street Lights More Than Just a Bright Idea

Lane Burt

Posted November 3, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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The Natural Resources Defense Council, along with our fellow efficiency advocates, announced the results of successful negotiations with the lighting industry on standards for street lights and parking lot lights.

Standards on outdoor lights are such a no-brainer because these lights stay on through the entire night. Daylight Saving Time brings an early end to the day and an early start to burning electricity for streetlights. More efficient technologies pay off quickly in this high use application and the savings rack up.

Thanks to this standard, you will save money everywhere you drive or park your car. The lights along streets, highways, and in parking lots will be covered. Basically all the bright lights on poles (or walls) are going to stop wasting so much energy. These lights are currently not subject to any efficiency requirements and therefore the performance is all over the map. With new super efficient technologies, like light emitting diodes (LEDs) and ceramic metal halide (CMH) lamps, the potential savings are gigantic.

You may recall that I blogged early this year about a last second amendment to the House Climate bill (the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009) that severely and arbitrarily limited the excellent standard on street lights, and this agreement is the next step in the fight for more efficient outdoor lighting. The agreement isn't as good as the original language, but it does have a lot going for it and will still save a tremendous amount of energy and money

ACEEE crunched the numbers, and the standard will save 25 to 42 Terawatt hours (billion kWh) per year by 2030. This is the same amount produced by 6 to 10 dirty coal-fired power plants, or enough to power between 2.5 and 4.5 million homes for a year. This shakes out to carbon savings of up to nearly 8 million metric tons a year (the same as about 5 and a half million cars off the road), and is worth $2.8 billion to $5.1 billion annually saved on energy costs in 2030.

The standard is structured so that,

  • The least efficient products will be removed from the market beginning around the end of 2012, so fully mature technologies that are more efficient will be the norm, like advanced halogens, high pressure sodium, and on up to LED and CMH. The standard levels vary depending on the type of fixture and how they are designed, so lights that direct light only where it is supposed to go aren't penalized.
  • The standard will also require controls and sensors so you won't see anymore of those street lights on in the middle of the day. That is always a very depressing sight, because we all pay for that energy eventually.
  • A few months after this becomes law, the new Department of Energy will begin a rulemaking for outdoor light standards and they will issue a new, better standard by the beginning of 2013. This standard will be set to maximize energy efficiency at the level that is "technically feasible and economically justified" as defined by statute. This rule should continue to push the more efficient technologies and save consumers billions more.

We need to stop wasting money and pumping carbon into the atmosphere with inefficient lights. And don't forget, we all pay to run these lights eventually, whether through the utility, city, or county. It's time stop throwing that money away.

 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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