Comment: The promise of LED lighting

3 June 2009

LED lighting can help us achieve deep emissions reductions, writesThe Climate Group's Cities and Technologies Programme Director Phil Jessup. But it is up to city, state, and provincial governments to ensure their policies and regulations are able to take advantage of it.

A recent New York Times article identifies LED technology as one of the "stopgap measures that could limit global warming." The article shows how city governments are leading the way in switching to LED lighting, with cities in China, the US, Europe and Canada all exploring - and in some cases, already using - the technology for outdoor spaces and indoor parking garages.

There is a huge opportunity to use LEDs in these applications to achieve the deep emissions reductions cities and corporations need. If we could cut electricity use for outdoor lighting globally by 1/3 we would free up enough electrons to charge roughly 25 million electric vehicles without adding any new power plants to the grid.

However, for significant scale up to occur in municipal outdoor applications, state and provincial regulations governing luminance levels will need to be changed to allow the light wavelengths that LEDs produce to be better recognized in our statutes.

Roadway and parking area lighting, which specifically account for 93% of outdoor lighting, serve as example. At present, roadway lighting standards are based on how the eye sees during the day, rather than at night. Updating the standards alone will realize additional energy savings of 25-35% because objects illuminated with LEDs at night actually appear brighter than when they are lit with conventional lamps, energy consumption being equal.

With the policies, LED lighting can help cities and corporations cut emissions greatly. If all of the world's light bulbs were replaced with energy-efficient LEDs for a period of 10 years, researchers say it would reduce global oil consumption by 962 million barrels, reduce the need for 280 global power plants, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10.68 gigatons, and ultimately result in financial savings of $1.83 trillion.

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