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Turning the Lights Back on in Detroit

Motor City, America gets back on its feet with help from PNNL during street light infrastructure restoration

October 2015
Turning the Lights Back on in Detroit
One of the problems Detroit faced was a shortage of staff. An absence of staff to control lighting meant street lights were frequently energized during the day.
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In July 2013, Detroit filed for bankruptcy. The city was dark—and not just in spirit; the lights were out. Less than 50 percent of Detroit's 88,000 street lights were operating due to staff shortages, theft, and a deteriorating infrastructure. In a state of emergency, Michigan’s governor appointed a manager to shepherd the city toward recovery.

With expert assistance from PNNL researchers through DOE's Municipal Solid-State Street Lighting Consortium (MSSLC) Detroit's neighborhood streets are now lit by energy efficient LED lights almost a year ahead of schedule. Major thoroughfares are next.

Upon completion of the restoration, estimated savings are $2.94 million annually in electricity costs, and 45.6 million kilowatt-hours in energy. An estimated 41 tons of nitrogen oxide will be reduced, along with 40,418 tons of carbon dioxide, and 1.5 pounds of mercury.

Public Lighting Authority Partners with PNNL

Prior to the restoration, Detroit was in a state of emergency and found a resource within the MSSLC for help—PNNL. At the same time, the city Detroit established a new agency, the Public Lighting Authority (PLA), which led the evaluation of the lighting infrastructure and budget.

Appliance & Commercial Equipment Standards (ACES) Program

In support of the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, PNNL’s ACES Program works with consumers, industry, and environmental groups in developing appliance standards and test procedures that increase energy savings while minimizing manufacturer impact and preserving consumer product choice.

The goal of the program is to set minimum energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment used in residential, commercial, and industrial applications, as required by law. Such appliances and equipment represent nearly 90 percent of residential energy use, 60 percent of commercial energy use, and 29 percent of industrial energy use.

Initially, PLA intended to replace their system with 50,000 high-pressure sodium lights. PNNL presented the case for cost-effective and energy efficient LEDs with supporting technical information and analysis. Detroit's Mayor realized the energy and maintenance saving potential, which would offset the higher cost of lighting, and elected to switch to LEDs.

As Detroit crafted their request for proposals to contractors interested in overhauling the lighting infrastructure, PNNL created a specification template to ensure that Detroit received high-quality lighting–not cheap, faulty LEDs manufactured overseas. PNNL also served as a resource for questions throughout the proposal evaluation process.

When the request for proposals was issued, the planned budget for the system replacement was $160 million; this would have resulted in a system of roughly 50,000 street lights. PLA, working with the Michigan Finance Authority, was able to sell their bonds at a better interest rate than planned, which increased the budget to $185 million, bringing the final number of street lights to 65,000.

Progress within the city is evident in the crime rate – crimes such as burglaries, larcenies, and vehicle thefts are down 18 percent from the same time last year. And the new infrastructure prevents multiple lights from going down together, in Christmas tree-like fashion, which happened when scrappers stole copper distribution wiring.

The successful restoration effort in Detroit, captured in a recent PNNL Report, sets a precedent for other communities with aging infrastructures and illustrates the benefits that the MSSLC can deliver to large scale lighting projects. This highly successful program, designed and supported by PNNL on behalf of DOE, has now shifted to providing technical information, field data, and best practice lessons learned to the President's Outdoor Lighting Accelerator.

PNNL Research Team: Bruce Kinzey, Jason Tuenge, and Marc Ledbetter


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