A Bright Idea

On December 8 the first of 2,260 new street lights for our town were installed in Sparkill by All Bright Electric. The $2.3 million dollar investment will save the town an estimated $400,000 a year in utility costs. The new fixtures should end up saving our town millions of dollars over their estimated 20 year lifespan.

Additional to the utility cost savings, a $91,000 energy rebate was available from Orange & Rockland that will be used to offset the purchase of the fixtures. The installation is estimated to take four months and the work is being divided into seven sectors with Palisades included in the first phase of the project. The new LED fixtures are not only maintenance free but are estimated to offset the CO2 emissions of 130 cars a year, assuming the electricity is generated from a fossil fuel source.

Residents might have noticed the fixtures, which appear brighter and give off a much different color light than their predecessors. The original electric street lamps were arc lamps which gave off the same lighting quality as the flash from an arc welder. Although the lighting was harsh, it was bright and simple with early models using an ingenious method of using the current of power consumed by the arc to regulate the distance between the electrodes. Even with the harsh light and dangers of UV exposure, over 130,000 of these lights were in operation in towns across America in the late 1800’s, often installed as “Moonlight Towers” in town squares.

The introduction of reliable and long lasting incandescent lamps in the late 1800s led to the feasibility of large scale implementation. The first electric lighting installed on individual streets was incandescent with bulbs often operated in high-voltage series circuits since more light per watt is produced in this manner. The light was soft, almost identical in color to the gas mantle lights they often replaced. The arrival of the 20th century brought the new technology of high intensity discharge lamps, the sodium vapor and metal halide being the two most popular. The sodium vapor lamp is most famous as the orange light many of us grew up with. Although the lighting quality was terrible, a sodium vapor lamp gives off up to 150 lumens/watt compared to 16 lumens/ watt for an incandescent equivalent. Metal halide lighting was introduced later in the century and is still common today as the white color light we are familiar with in stadiums and parking lots.

While LED technology has been around for many decades, it only recently became powerful and financially practical enough to be used in outdoor lighting applications. Able to achieve over 200 lumens of light per watt of power used, LED lamps are over 12 times more efficient than a standard incandescent bulb. And now that manufacturers are able to produce the same soft color light as an incandescent lamp (2700k) for a cost as little at $8 for a pack of six bulbs at Lowe’s, there is no reason we should not be investing in this lighting for our own homes.