City lights: LED could be a bright spot in Pittsburgh's future

Written by Susan Mannella on .

How much time does it take to change Pittsburgh's lightbulbs? More than you think.

But it's just as well. The city's network of 40,000 street lights is an expensive proposition, $4.2 million a year in electricity and maintenance. So any comprehensive plan to overhaul the network must be done right.

The results of a new University of Pittsburgh study will provide a key part of the information used to revamp how the city lights its streets -- for visibility, security and energy efficiency. The report by Pitt's Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation said Pittsburgh could save $1 million a year in energy and $700,000 in maintenance by switching to light-emitting-diode -- or LED -- lighting.

While the 72-page study said that induction lighting (essentially a fluorescent light without electrodes or filaments) has a slight edge over LED in environmental issues, costs and other factors, the anticipated increases in LED efficiency over time accrue to its overall favor.

That's a thought worth keeping as other parts of the analysis of city lighting move forward. Among those efforts is one by the Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Architecture to develop a better streetlight network. Another is by Michael A. Cherock, founder of Powerhouse Design Architects and Engineers Ltd. of Pittsburgh, to produce a Pittsburgh Lighting Code. City Council, with Councilman Bill Peduto a key player, created six subcommittees to head a Pittsburgh Streetlight Conversion Task Force to assess these issues and advise government officials.

In the end, it could cost Pittsburgh $25 million to replace its conventional bulbs with LED lamps, but if the new lights last an estimated 15 to 20 years -- up to 10 times longer than the old -- the massive upgrade will have been worth it.

Getting the lights right for a city of 300,000 is a big task. When the rest of the analysis is completed, city officials will have all the information they need to act wisely. Now there's a bright idea.


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