What it takes to change all the lights in New York City

Replacing all the streetlights in New York City is, undoubtedly, no small job. When the idea of using LED lights citywide came up, however, the city was up to the task. After completing thorough testing in 2009, a project to replace all of the city's streetlights started to become a reality and NYC became a model for other cities to study and follow.

By 2019, when the project is completed, the city expects to see a 35 percent reduction in energy consumption for streetlights. We spoke with Margaret Newman, chief of staff for the NYC Department of Transportation, about the city's streetlight replacement project and what benefits it is expecting to see in the coming years. Newman will be a presenter at VERGE Boston, May 14, 2013.

Cindy Cesca: Can you tell me a little about where you are in the streetlamp replacement project and some of the details involved?

Margaret Newman: The Central Park installation was completed at the end of last year, which was about 1,500 fixtures on all of the pedestrian walkways. Those are important because they're historic fixtures. Basically, the fixtures were done so we could meet the city-mandated reproductions with the LEDs in them, so those were pretty tricky. On FDR Drive they are called cobra head lighting, or basic shoe lighting, which are out of the box and designed to do a specific task. We can order them from the manufacturer without modifying them.

CC: Did you have complications with the custom lighting in Central Park?

MN: Not at all. It was incredibly smooth. We had an 18-month pilot prior to putting these in, so we worked out a lot of the kinks during that time period. Montreal is looking to do a larger installation of LEDs and they don't really have any now. They were advised that extended testing isn't really necessary anymore because technology has caught up to a point where it's pretty reliable and predictable.

You can ask for a specification for a product and expect to get what you've asked for. We tested five different products in Central Park that had a range of energy savings from maybe 40 to 80 percent. It was very wide ranging and so now I think the range is somewhat narrower.

CC: What was the wattage used before the LED replacement and what is it now?

MN: We had 175-watt metal halide (lights) in Central Park and we went down to 90 watts. For FDR (Drive), they were 150-watt high-pressure sodium and those went down to 108 watts.

CC: In total dollars, what energy savings are you predicting?

MN: For Central Park, we're looking at about $250,000 per year of energy savings and about 700,000 kilowatts per year in savings.

The big savings that we're seeing is on the FDR Drive, which is an arterial roadway. There is substantial maintenance savings there because if anything breaks, you typically go in at night with a couple of trucks and shut down a couple of lanes of traffic and you have three guys in a truck, so it's substantial maintenance.

CC: What is the lifetime of the bulbs?

MN: They're warrantied for seven years and so we know they're going to last that long. They're projected to be as long as 50,000 hours, which depends on how long they burn. Typically they're on 24 hours a day, and the warranty is good for only 7 years, but we think they'll last 10-12 years. They haven't been in place that long, so it's just a projection at this point. We're not sure what multiple winters and temperature changes will do. They seem stable, but no one can actually tell at this point.

CC: So when you launched these pilot programs, how difficult was it to get this project off the ground?

MN: I think it was medium difficulty. The engineers who do our street lighting tend to be very cautious and when you have a program as large as ours, where there's 300,000 light fixtures out there, you obviously don't want to put anything out there that doesn't work, and so they were cautious on a number of fronts. One was they weren't sure that the claims that were being made on the fixtures were real. When we started this, there weren't a lot of fixtures that delivered enough light.