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LED street lighting technology in the spotlight with new specifications and guidelines

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The rapid adoption of LED street lighting technology has underscored the need for new specifications and guidelines, says Andy Collins of Opus International Consultants

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The recent Road Lighting Conference in Auckland included a selection of high-calibre speakers from across Europe and the United States. They outlined the degree to which LED road lighting has been adopted overseas, which raised interesting questions for New Zealand.

The City of Los Angeles, for example, has nearly completed a programme to replace 140,000 predominately 100w, high-pressure sodium lights with LED luminaires. These produce an equivalent light but offer energy savings approaching 60%. New York City is about to start an even bigger programme, with 240,000 luminaires.

During the post-presentation Q&A sessions at the conference, it was implied that New Zealand was "backward", and slow to take up these new technologies. But is this true?

LED lighting is a proven, low-risk alternative to traditional forms of street lighting. It has been widely adopted in both Europe and America, as mentioned above, as well as here in New Zealand, with both Auckland Transport (AT) and Christchurch City Council (CCC) becoming converts. By incorporating the new technology into their respective design standards and specifications these two organisations, collectively representing more than 50% of New Zealand's street lighting infrastructure, have led the way for an ever-growing list of councils to adopt the technology. LED technology benefits

Dramatic reductions in energy costs, combined with the inherently greater reliability of LED technology, mean fewer maintenance visits and fewer costs incurred over the life of an LED installation, compared to a traditional HPS installation. LED lighting also reduces reliance on fossil fuels.

In addition, LED street lighting offers ways to deal with light pollution. Excessive artificial light can disrupt ecosystems and interfere with the circadian rhythm that governs human and animal sleep patterns. LED light is highly directional and can be concentrated where it's needed. This minimises wasted upward light, significantly reducing light pollution. Dimming allows lighting levels to be reduced in areas where traffic volumes drop below a pre-determined level. For instance, dim lighting is ideal on suburban streets at night, without compromising safety and security.

LED and dimming-based solutions dramatically reduce capital and operating costs over the life of a luminaire while delivering real sustainability benefits to New Zealand communities in conformance with legislative requirements.

However, in New Zealand there is currently no means of capitalising on the reduced energy consumption brought about by dimming because of the way energy tariffs are calculated. This needs to be explored further by the electricity authority, to endorse, for example, charging regimes that allow dimming to be taken into account.

Intelligent design

Adoption of LED is not itself the solution to sustainable, cost-effective street lighting. The technology must be coupled with intelligent design to maximise economic and sustainability benefits. Intelligent design is also necessary to address compliance with applicable standards, and to ensure that street lighting investment is driven by a whole-of-life, total cost-of-ownership perspective.

Evaluation procedures

AT and CCC have devised stringent evaluation processes for selection of LED luminaires. This has been made necessary by the high amount of interest in LED road lighting luminaires. Many suppliers see it as a business opportunity, but don't really understand the primary purpose of the luminaire, and how it puts light onto the road – right light, in the right place, at the right time. Luminaires are continually being submitted for consideration.

Both AT and CCC have broadly similar approved luminaire lists, ensuring that New Zealand's roading infrastructure network will utilise the right level of quality and high-performance luminaires equipped with the latest LED technology.Comprehensive review

The current NZ Transport Authority (NZTA) road lighting specifications do not reflect the significant technological advances in street lighting. It takes time for Standards (AS/NZS1158) to catch up with advances in technology, and thanks to the introduction of LED technology over the past five years, this change has been particularly rapid.

With the long-term whole-of-life benefits achieved by the application of this new technology, demonstrated recently by LED street lighting designs undertaken by the Auckland Motorway Alliance (and subsequently approved by NZTA), there is an extremely strong argument for a comprehensive review of the current NZTA road lighting specifications.

NZTA has risen to that challenge. The soon-to-be published NZTA Infrastructure Design Standard IDS M30 – Specification and Guidelines for Road Lighting Design combines the respective work commissioned by both Auckland Transport and Christchurch City Council, and encompasses it in one document. The approved list should form the foundation for councils across New Zealand to adopt with a high degree of confidence that they are utilising the best available technology.

M30 doesn't just consider LED technology, it addresses road lighting design in general and provides guidance in support of AS/NZS1158 set of standards. In effect it is an all-encompassing document that is up to speed with the latest technological developments.

Summary

So, back to the question – is New Zealand backward in terms of LED Road Lighting technology take-up? The answer is an emphatic no. The missing piece of the puzzle is funding. Initial capital cost is the challenge but it is the long-term savings that need to be the focus. Councils across the country are eager to embrace the technology revolution and to push the "Green for Go" button and implement wholesale change to the benefit of communities across New Zealand.

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First published date: 21 August 2014

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Andy Collins, technical principal, lighting design of Opus International, discusses LED street lighting technology, and asks the question is New Zealand keeping up with the pace of change?