Hurricane Harvey brought record rainfall and flooding to the Houston-Galveston region. The impacts of the storm and ensuing flooding included loss of lives, homes and livelihoods. In response, researchers from the region with expertise in hydrology, climate science, engineering, coastal resiliency, energy, community development and urban planning came together to strategize on solutions.
Written by HARC Research Scientist, Gavin Dillingham, Clean Energy Policy.
On May 30th, 2014, the City of Houston announced that during the next five years over 165,000 city streetlights will be retrofitted with high efficiency light emitting diode (LED) street lamps. This is the most recent project HARC and the City have partnered on as the two work together to enhance the sustainability of Houston. Previous projects included renewable energy installations on city facilities, engineering review of the City’s $60 million energy performance contracting program, development of the successful b-cycle program, the management of its affordable housing 5STAR program and its commercial energy efficiency incentive program.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the city to determine the electricity and emissions savings of the project. The City began working on developing this project during the previous administration and it is great to see it finally coming together.
In 2009, the City of Houston and the Clinton Climate Initiative began working with CenterPoint Energy, the City’s transmission and distribution utility, to implement a pilot neighborhood lighting retrofit program. The pilot was initiated to determine both potential energy savings, as well as how lighting quality and visibility may change with the transition from high pressure sodium to LED streetlights. Fifteen companies participated in the six month pilot. At the end of the pilot, it was concluded that additional research must be conducted before undergoing a large retrofit investment. Since then, the technology has improved greatly and with the final push provided by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the time has come to implement the largest street light retrofit program in the nation.
The greatest benefit will come from energy costs savings. LED street lights typically reduce energy consumption by 50% to 60% compared to traditional streetlights. I calculated that at the end of the five year retrofit period the City will see a reduction of energy consumption by 54.6 million kWh, a 52% reduction of the City’s streetlight bill. With the reduction of energy consumption, comes a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The City will reduce greenhouse gases by 4% or 355,000 tons over the 12 year life of the project. Further, upon full project implementation, the City will save approximately $2.7 million per year and will see a total project savings over the life of the project of $28.3 million. Finally, LED street lights have a much longer life span than traditional streetlights which significantly reduces operation and maintenance costs and LEDs are found to have better lighting quality and improve street level visibility over standard street lighting.
Houston is not the first city to take such a large step with streetlight retrofits, although it is the largest. Other cities throughout the country have implemented or are in the process of retrofitting their street lights. The City of Los Angeles replaced over 140,000 of its 209,000 streetlights in 2009 and realized a savings of $10 million per year at the end of the five year rollout. In Texas, the cities of Austin, San Antonio and El Paso have all undertaken LED streetlight retrofits.
Working with a city the size of Houston, that is innovative and forward thinking, results in significant environmental and sustainability improvements for the community. I look forward to continuing to work on additional projects with City of Houston. Two current projects that I will be writing about in the near future will include the City Energy Project, which will help the City develop effective building audits, building operator training, energy benchmarking, and disclosure policies, as well as the City’s Sustainability Action Plan.
1The Clinton Climate Initiative has joined the C40 and now work under that name.