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Brighter Cities One Bulb at a Time

The United States is in the middle of an energy revolution. Manufacturers have been steadily improving energy efficient lighting and appliances while dropping costs. Utility companies continue to invest in alternative energy sources such as solar and wind. At one end of the spectrum, individual consumers are taking their hard-earned money and renovating their homes. At the other end, cities are leveraging limited budget dollars to upgrade their facilities and save taxpayer money.

Twenty years ago, every building in America was lit up with inefficient light fixtures. Now, consumers and cities can choose from a wide selection of compact & linear fluorescent and LED bulbs that slash energy consumption without sacrificing light quality or brightness.

Detractors often point out that LED and CFL bulbs cost more than incandescent bulbs, but they gloss over the fact that energy efficient bulbs typically use about 75% less electricity. Most municipal and city facilities leave their lights on between dusk and dawn, which means many light fixtures are left on for 4,000 to 4,500 hours each year.

Think about all of the lights used in a single office building — ceiling lights provide illumination at all hours, exit signs must be left on 24/7, and exterior lights must be bright enough to provide safety at night. That office building can use thousands of individual light fixtures, which cost thousands of dollars each month. For every 1,000 50-watt LED bulbs replaced by 10-watt LED equivalents, a city will save up to 200,000 kWh of electricity a year. At a low rate of 10 cents per kWh, that’s $20,000 in annual savings.

If you want to know how much you can reap in energy savings, we have a tool for calculating retrofit savings for a commercial building or facility. A typical 20,000 square foot office building that receives electricity at the generous rate of 10 cents per kWh would save about $7,500 per year. By comparison, the Empire State Building has about 2.75 million square feet of floor space. So it’s no wonder why after implementing a major retrofit in 2009, they have continued to exceed projected energy savings, with $4.7 million in actual savings over the last two years.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has also provided a free tool that allows cities and municipalities to calculate the financial costs and returns of a street and parking facility lighting fixtures upgrade.

Eco-conscious cities also inspire their residents to upgrade their own homes. Whether you’d like to call it peer pressure or a positive influence, residents of greener cities are surrounded by energy efficient lighting all of the time. Even if they don’t upgrade right away, they’re more likely to think about lighting upgrades and weigh the potential costs and benefits.

Upgrading an Entire City

Even though they stand to save taxpayers plenty of money, many cash-strapped cities simply can’t come up with the upfront costs necessary for lighting retrofits in the first place. If they’re struggling for money, they can start with one building or block at a time. They’ll begin to notice utility savings in just a few short months, and they can invest those savings in additional upgrades. Such a program would have a snowball effect, and although retrofits would be slow in the first six months, they would quickly build momentum after a few years.

Other cost savings can be achieved by using a retrofit kit instead of installing brand new lighting fixtures. Retrofit kits decrease energy consumption by converting standard magnetic ballast systems into energy efficient fluorescent systems.

Many cities have already figured this out. London’s City Hall retrofitted Tower Bridge for the 2012 Olympics and helped cut energy consumption by up to 45 percent on one of London’s most recognizable landmarks. The new lights provide better illumination at night, which improves safety while drawing attention to the Tower Bridge’s beauty.

On our side of the pond, Albany International Airport expects to save about $1.2 million over the next 20 years simply by replacing 1,969 light fixtures with LEDs. Conservative estimates show the program will pay for itself within five years.

Recently, Los Angeles announced they are planning to spend $57 million to retrofit 140,000 streetlights with LED bulbs. According to estimates by the Clinton Climate Initiative, once the upgrade is complete, L.A. will save a minimum of 40 percent on street lighting electricity and reduce carbon emissions by approximately 40,500 tons a year, saving the city $48 million.

These are just a few examples of cities taking charge and saving their taxpayers money. Consumers, municipalities, and corporations alike are realizing that energy efficient upgrades can protect the environment while actually saving money.

Danielle Stewart is a media consultant for [P2] Precision Paragon. The above retrofit used [P2] fixtures provided by the Facility Solutions Group, FSG.

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