San Jose flips switch on LED streetlights

San Jose has started what officials said today is the largest streetlight conversion project in the country, retrofitting 18,000 lights using 1970s technology with LED lights that will cut energy costs by more than half.

Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilmen Ash Kalra and Johnny Khamis were among the speakers at a brief ceremony today in South San Jose where one of the so-called “Smart Streetlights” was turned on at Copco Lane and Lean Avenue across from Minor Park.

Liccardo said:

“We are celebrating a greener, brighter, smarter San Jose.”

Hans Larson, director of the city Department of Transportation, said city employees tested different LED light tones, ranging from yellow to blue, with people in Kalra’s District 2 in the Edenvale section of San Jose to find out what the standard for the city should be:

“What was selected – I love this – it matched the glow of the moon, and that’s what we have in San Jose. …┬áSo not only do we have the smartest lights in the world but perhaps the most romantic ones, too.”

The light-emitting diode bulbs are brighter, can be dimmed and monitored remotely and will use to up 60 percent less electricity than the low-pressure and high-pressure sodium lights they will replace, according to transportation department spokesman Steven Brewster.

Approximately 18,000 of the city’s 63,000 street lights will be converted to LED by June, the first phase in a plan to retrofit more than 23,000 of the lamps by 2016, Brewster said. So far, 6,000 of the sodium lamps throughout the city have already been converted to LED, he said.

The lights will save the city millions in future energy costs, reduce carbon emissions and have life spans of 50,000 hours, compared to 20,000 hours for sodium-based lamps, Brewster said. Liccardo spokeswoman Michelle McGurk said the city’s low- and high-sodium lights are based on technology from the 1970s.

Walter Lin, energy manager for the city’s Department of Public Works, said the conversion will be the largest in the county and San Jose will be the first U.S. city to have LED lights with dimmers controlled from a central office, the city’s transportation department downtown.

The first phase of the conversion of the lights, 18,100 to be exact, will cost about $10.5 million and after they are in place, the public utility PG&E will give the city about $900,000 in rebates from state funds allocated to encourage energy efficiency, Lin said.

Dave Baldwin, director of the energy management for San Francisco-based OpTerra Energy Services, which is installing the new lights, said the yellow-colored sodium lights still in use are on “full blast” all the time all night and cannot be adjusted.

Lin said that LED lights are smaller than the sodium lights but emit light at a higher intensity while using less energy, using even less power when dimmed.

Raja Guhathakurta, an astronomer with the 127-year-old Lick Observatory, located on Mount Hamilton outside San Jose and operated at the University Of California, Santa Cruz, praised the city’s conversion to LED lights, which focus downward and will make it easier for the observatory to view the night sky to conduct research.

The city consulted with observatory researchers about the tones set for the new streetlights, Brewster said. The effort to put in the LED lights began with the city’s Green Vision in 2007 plan that set 10 goals for reducing greenhouse gases and creating jobs, he said.