What is Clean Energy?

Street lights are changing. Thanks to the latest LED technology, they’re becoming cleaner, cheaper and more reliable. The councils installing them are saving money and reducing their carbon footprint. But how many councils are being left in the dark over the benefits of LEDs?

10:10 Climate Action recently worked with the energy expert Chris Goodall to look into the details of switching. Our findings estimate that if all the UK’s councils switched to LEDs they’d save over £200 million per year combined – enough to provide an extra 12 million hours of social care support for older and disabled people in their own homes. The more efficient lighting would also prevent 600,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year – that’s the equivalent of taking 400,000 new cars off the road.

There are a number of financing options available to councils to fund a switch to LED street lights, including the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB), the Salix Energy Efficiency Loans Scheme (SEELS), the Green Investment Group and commercial lenders.

Liverpool city council converted 21,000 old sodium street lamps to modern LEDs. It has invested £11m from their capital budget since 2014, but is already saving £1.5m every year in maintenance and energy bills.

Conventional lights have to be replaced after four to six years, but LEDs can last for over 20 years. This cuts waste and also saves on maintenance. Councils with LEDs have already seen energy savings of up to 50-70%. This can rise as high as 80% when combined with smart sensors and controlled from a Central Management System. This is only possible because LEDs (unlike old bulbs) can be brought back to full brightness instantly – so they can be dimmed or turned off when not needed.

One of the councils investing in a CMS is Southend on Sea. They switched all of the town’s 14,500 street lights to modern LEDs. The £13.5 million cost was funded through the Green Investment Bank and a grant from the Department for Transport. The CMS, which allows the Council to brighten and dim individual lights, not only maximises the energy savings, but also helps to meet the needs of their residents.

Leicester City Council have converted over 32,500 street lights, saving £1m a year in electricity costs, and the equivalent of 5,350 tonnes of CO2. Leicester Assistant City Mayor for energy and sustainability, Cllr Adam Clarke, said: “It’s a very worthwhile scheme bringing environmental benefits, lower running and repair costs and freeing up money as a result to use elsewhere.”

A note of caution: LED streetlights with too a high proportion of blue light have sometimes proven controversial. Cardiff City Council have modelled best practice here, earning recognition from the International Dark Skies Association for their use of ‘warm white’ <3000 Kelvin LED lanterns, which reduce sky glow and help to tackle light pollution.

Whilst the benefits of LEDs have been known for a while, some councils have been slow to switch. By 2014, only 10% of councils had switched to LED streetlights, with the most recent estimate suggesting this has only increased to 20%.

That’s why 10:10 Climate Action have launched the Lighten Up campaign, asking councils to make the most of the benefits of LEDs and take a pledge to switch their street lights within five years.

Cllr Claudia Webbe, Executive Member for Environment & Transport, who signed the 10:10 pledge on behalf of Islington Council, said, “By investing to save, Islington Council will have more resources available to protect frontline services, and will reduce the impact our borough has on the environment. That’s why we are proud to be delivering this project and proud to be signing up to 10:10’s ‘Lighten Up’ campaign.”

Both councils at the beginning of their switch to LED and those who are already upgrading are welcome to sign the pledge to showcase their work, and encourage others to act. For more info, please contact Neil Jones, projects manager at 10:10 Climate Action, neil.jones@1010uk.org

Neil Jones – Project Manager at 10:10

About the Author