Las Vegas Converts 42,000 Streetlights to LED

Crescent Electric Wins Bid to Install GE Evolve Lamps

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Niel Rohleder is assistant traffic manager for the city of Las Vegas, Nev.

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Posted: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 12:16 pm

After further review, the city of Las Vegas has concluded LED streetlights aren’t just for parking lots anymore. In fact, after testing 6,600 units throughout the city since 2011, Las Vegas recently decided to move forward with converting a total of 42,000 streetlights to the long-lasting, low-maintenance, energy-conserving fixtures.

The savings in energy and maintenance is expected to be $2 million per year, with a return on investment in seven or eight years, city officials said.

When the city first started looking at LED lights as far back as 2006, they were skeptical, according to assistant traffic manager Niel Rohleder, who was the project manager in charge of the retrofit.

“We were being approached by numerous vendors,” Rohleder said, “and to be quite frank, we did not believe the industry had evolved to the level it really needed to be at to support a full-scale deployment of a solid-state lighting solution for roadway lighting. And, in fact, history kind of proved us right,” he said.

But, three or four years later, Rohleder said, significant advances in high-powered LED output were beginning to take shape.

“About that time – 2009 or 2010 – we were feeling a lot more comfortable, but we still weren’t totally sold on it,” he said.

That’s when Las Vegas officials decided to put out a request for proposals to see how close the industry could get to the city’s specifications for performance, longevity, energy conservation and cost effectiveness.

Meeting existing roadway lighting standards was critical, Rohleder said.

“From a risk management perspective, as long as we adhered to the regional and national standards we felt we would not be exposing ourselves to any sort of tort liability issues down the road,” Rohleder said.

Of the 12 proposals submitted – some suggesting conventional technologies and some proposing LEDs – the city chose five for testing in field trials. “We did field lighting measurements, where we actually validated the model data,” he said. “We tore the things apart, literally. We actually took apart the heads to see how easy they were going to be to service if we ever needed to.”

“Interestingly enough, the bids proposed everything from induction lighting to metal-halide lighting, to plasma lighting, and on to LED lighting. The top two bids were very, very close,” Rohleder said, “but in the end we wound up selecting – for arterials and residential both – the GE Evolve LED light fixture” to replace the city’s existing high pressure sodium (HPS) streetlights.

“Again, the difference wasn’t huge, but LEDs did (and pardon the pun) shine brightly in the evaluation process,” Rohleder said. “It looked like they had finally made the big time.”

But, the selection process wasn’t over yet. The city accepted the bid of Crescent Electric Supply Company, initially for the installation of only 6,600 units to serve as a live test. Some of the lights were installed in each political district of the city.

“We put these first 6,600 in so that each of the elected officials would have some within their respective areas, so they could get a feel from their constituency,” Rohleder said. “Overall the reaction to these first 6,600 was very positive.”

Rohleder said the only negative feedback the city received was from some members of the public who complained that the streetlights no longer lit up their private properties. He explained that conventional high-intensity discharge (HID) lights tend to reflect light in all directions, while LED technology is more directional. That’s part of what makes them more efficient.

“It’s the difference between a lantern in your campsite and a flashlight that you carry with you. One’s a beam and one’s a big blob of light,” Rohleder said. Over the years, he said, his department had received “literally thousands” of complaints from people who did not want streetlights shining on their property or through their windows. The new LED streetlights solved that problem.

“What LED allowed us to do was direct the light onto the roadway and sidewalk, which is what they’re supposed to do. The challenge with this is there is a segment of the population that actually enjoys that light trespass; that spillover.”

If he had it to do over again, Rohleder said he would do more public outreach in advance to prepare citizens for this change. In some cases, private property owners might need to install their own security lights after a conversion to LED streetlights.

“We could have done a better job of getting that message out,” he said.

Rohleder’s advice to other municipalities considering a switch to LED: Involve the public early and give them time to adjust to the change.

“What we found was that initially after the change was made we’d get some concerns, but then three months later the exact same person might call and say, ‘Well, you know, I’ve really grown to like this.’”

He said the change from a yellow glow to a whiter, brighter light takes some getting used to, but most people consider it an improvement. The LED lights also reduce the orange glow that can obscure the night sky in urban areas.

Based on the positive results of the test installations, the city decided to continue with the second phase of the project and install all 42,000 LED streetlight heads. The installation was just completed in March.

Tom Perrigo, chief sustainability officer for the city of Las Vegas, said the street lighting retrofit has exceeded expectations.

“What I’m seeing so far is that we’re actually exceeding our projected savings,” he said. “Streetlights are roughly a third of our total energy spend, and we expect to cut that in half with this project.”

The project was paid for with an $18 million general obligation bond, which Rohleder said will be paid back with the money saved on energy and maintenance, some $2 million per year, for the next 10 years.

“The ultimate, overall, aggregated ROI is somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 to 8 years,” he said.

Dave Graff of Crescent Electric Supply Co. said there were a few unique aspects to the Crescent bid. First, they included installation costs in the quoted price (using TransCore as a subcontractor); and they included credits earned for recycling the materials from the old streetlight heads.

Graff said the project replaced HPS lights that ranged from 100 to 150 watts with LED lights that were as low as 43 watts. Each of the five finalists were required to provide 15 sample units at each proposed wattage for Las Vegas officials to study and test.

Graff said the bidding process was extensive.

“You had to submit five binders that couldn’t be more than 100 pages long,” Graff said. “We probably delivered 75 pounds of bid proposals to them, because we submitted prices from three manufacturers on the opening bid. They, along with their outside engineer went through them and analyzed all that data and then made their selection as to which fixtures they wanted to put up in the air and do further testing on.”

Las Vegas still has another 10,000 streetlights that were not retrofitted in the project. Many of those are the decorative variety, Graff said, and GE is currently working on some new designs to propose.

He said homeowners associations in the Las Vegas area have also expressed interest after seeing how much money the city is saving on LED streetlights. “We’re about to start a full-blown campaign going to all the HOAs in Clark County, and believe me, there must be a thousand of them,” he said.

While the LED lights save money by consuming less energy, maintenance is also a big part of the equation. Graff said LED lights can last more than 70,000 hours, while conventional streetlights typically last about 20,000 hours.

As a result, Rohleder said he expects the new lights, which come with an eight-year warranty, to last a minimum of 10 years, and hopefully for 12 to 13 years, even in the hot, dusty environment of Las Vegas. Light degradation is a bigger concern than light failure, he said.

“Heat is not a friend to LED technology, and we get some pretty hot nights around here,” Rohleder said. “So, our question is: Will the light get to the point, eight or nine years from now, where it degrades? We feel pretty comfortable that the design will dissipate the heat pretty well, and so far based on our early results, it’s done a pretty good job,” he said.

The desert sands are also poorly grounded in lightening storms, which can be rough on solid-state electronics, Rohleder said. But so far they’ve lost only about 30 lights in the past two years.

“To us, that’s really not that bad,” he said. “They’re relatively easy to repair and replace.”

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