Thursday, February 26, 2009

Progressive Energy

We cribbed portions of this Bill Peduto missive care of Maria at 2PJ's:

On Wednesday, Pittsburgh City Council will vote on a plan to create an aggressive program of replacing all of our street lights with energy-saving LED lights

Councilman Peduto introduced his vision in December to make Pittsburgh a global leader in 21st century urban lighting. He has solicited and earned the support of The Clinton Foundation's Climate Initiative and Carnegie Mellon University's Remaking Cities Institute.

Councilman Peduto also earned the support of Mayor Steelershizzle. Whether he solicited it or not is a matter of interpretation.

It is important for Council to take action on Wednesday. Savings from LED lights have been as high as 85% and the life of the light is expected to be ten times that of an incandescent bulb. Pittsburgh can be a world leader in smart, sustainable, and cost-efficient government. Pittsburgh can be a world leader in smart, sustainable, and cost-efficient government. Click here and tell Council you want them to support the LED bill on Wednesday.

So did the bill pass? Looks like not yet. Darlene Harris introduced another amendment, and the bill is being held in committee until next week. When we find out what that's about, we'll update the post, but my feeling is this is a slam dunk waiting to happen.

One thing, though. As I understand it, pursuant to consultations and a prior amendment by the Mayor's office, the City will first solicit bids from research firms to conduct a study of which kind of 21-st century lighting technology we ought to use: LED lighting, magnetic induction, or fairydust.

(I forget the other two technologies).

I suppose this is a good thing, because randomly selecting one technology over others is uncomfortably analogous to awarding no-bid contracts. We should be clear on why we are choosing this over that -- it's a big investment and we want to make the superior choice.

It will be entertaining to see if Peduto's proffered technology -- LED lighting -- turns out to give the biggest bang for the buck. One would think that there are human beings in America that have already studied this very question, but who knows?

The real concern I have however is that it would be a shame if the study-doing process harshly stalled or somehow halted the doing-it process. These studies tend to add several steps through several bureaucratic layers, during which time the work can get placed on any number shelves. If the wrong shelves pile high enough at the wrong time, things can get very unfortunate. I suppose this is one reason why no-bid contracts are tempting in some circumstances. Some people get anxious about spending money; I get anxious about saving it.

Fortunately, this initiative seems too big and exciting to fail. Pittsburgh can be a world leader in smart, sustainable, and cost-efficient government.


  1. Bram, I share your enthusiasm with which you write about saving money and moving forward quickly. There is no reason cities should still be using such antiquated technology that looks bad, waists energy and is a maintenance and financial burden. I do however disagree that the LED route is a slam dunk. Quite to the contrary, I know from personal experience and research that Electromagnetic Induction is the superior technology as of today. It provides better lumens per watt, with higher CRI and a much lower price point. In other words it costs less, uses less energy and lasts twice as long. The biggest selling point is that it is the only technology that is field tested and proved to work as advertised over a long period of time. Here in San Diego the streets and lights division replaced 890 HPS lamps 16 years ago with Induction lamps cutting the consumption in half and eliminating the maintenance completely. Not one lamp has needed to be replaced since the retrofit. Induction just works, plain and simple. LED....Good Luck! In my opinion LED is not quite ready for prime time.

  2. Adam - Thanks. For the record, by "slam dunk" I was referring to a street light upgrade of some kind, not necessarily LED technology.

    What is the waste/emissions, "carbon footprint" story on electromagnetic induction as compared to our alternatives? I am stoked about saving money, but I am kind of psyched about saving the planet as well.

  3. Well as far as the carbon footprint to use the two products, Induction is far less because it produces more lumens per watt than LED. Less energy for more light output means less electricity produced by coal plants (50% of our supply). Induction lasts twice as long meaning less gas powered service trucks driving around to replace or repair lighting systems. As far as the production of the two systems the Induction is much less involved. One glass lamp, two magnets, some simple wiring and a simple solid state driver. No mercury to speak of, no PCB's and all recyclable after the lamp burns out. LED's.....OMG. Have you ever seen a video of the production of LED panels for large industrial applications. Very intense. You want to talk about a nasty footprint, look at all of the CFL and Linier fluorescent lamps being pushed by the environmentalists. We are discarding 600,000 mercury laden fluorescent tubes into our landfills every year. One broken tube in our water supply contaminates 6,000 gallons of water. I hear the argument that they will be disposed of properly. Oh really? How many of our friends and families call a hazmat disposal company when their compact fluorescents burn out? None. That means the millions of CFL's the GVT is asking us to buy will all eventually end up in our landfills, seeping mercury into our water tables. Ouch! This is a real problem. Back to LED's. The LED industry is being promoted by the DOE CALiPER program which is funded by a couple of dozen LED manufacturing companies. It is all a marketing program for the LED industry. Lobbyists push the DOE to set up tests thru CAPiPER to show the effectiveness of the technology but if you actually read the reports they pretty much back up what I am saying. The last report entitled "round 7" shows the efficacy of LED street lights to be all over the board. They are producing anywhere from 9 lumens per watt to 71 lumens per watt. Induction produces 75 lumens per watt. You can check this by pulling up a spec sheet on the Philips QL Induction lamp. The funny thing is that the Induction lamp tested in the CALiPER report supposedly only produced 55 lumens per watt. Still at the upper end of the products but well below the 75 I know Induction will produce. I find it suspect that CALiPER did not use a quality Induction lamp for their test. You know Philips does not overstate their spec numbers. The really amazing thing is that the QL Lamp has been around for at least 20 years. Since then the technology has improved a bit and you can find good Induction systems that will produce 80 LPW. LED doesn’t come close yet and we have to stop waiting for the LED technology to catch up to the need. Especially when we have Induction that we know works perfectly well right now. I applaud your enthusiasm but be careful not to just buy the hype. In my opinion that is exactly what we are being fed when it comes to the current state of the LED industry. Peace.

  4. That certainly reads like high quality information. Thank you, QEC! You just made my blog like eight times better today.

    At the very least, I am convinced that Pittsburgh does need to deliberately determine the facts regarding the technologies available, without prejudice (although now I am prejudiced in favor of induction). That part of Luke's intervention into Bill's initiative made great sense and may have greatly improved the whole project.

    I still wonder whether we need to issue an RFP to a private firm to do the resarch. How about holding a post-agenda and inviting one genius from the relevant department of each of our universities -- or, ooh ooh, better yet, reps from each of these industries? And of course a someone to represent the mayor's outlook. This strikes me as the kind of question that can be figured out just as well directly by council and the mayor's office over a table, as long as they get to hear all sides. We don't issue RFPs to figure out which pizza toppings we prefer. Then we can issue an RFP for the actual product regime we desire. That way we can move. That's where my thinking is at.