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In cities and towns all across America, it costs money to make sure that citizens have clean water, that their trash gets picked up, and hauled away, that when they walk down the street at night, there is light illuminating their path.

Of course, these services, as well as myriad others, cost money. But what if you’re a city manager faced with the dilemma of trying to keep the lights on while being handed a significant budget cut? Well, all it takes is some out-of-the-box thinking, as well as the NECA/IBEW team, to do the work.

There are 68,000,000 street lights in America, and 6,600 of them are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and powered by taxpayer dollars.

Andrew Brix, Acting Manager, City of Ann Arbor Energy Program
“Everything that we are talking about here are taxpayer dollars, and the 1.4 million dollars that we spend on streetlights every year is a big chunk of change.”

That chunk accounts for about a third of the City of Ann Arbor’s operational budget, and when that budget got chopped by a very larger percentage, a majority of the city faced the possibility of going dark, literally.

Mike Bergren, Assistant Operations Manager, Ann Arbor, Michigan
“About four years ago, I was faced with a 60 percent budget cut of my energy bill, and it’s something I have no control over. I have to pay the energy bill, and it’s $1.4 million. It’s a huge section of our energy bill for our entire city of Ann Arbor. So I was forced to think outside of the box. I approached several lighting suppliers, and they said there was nothing they could do, and there was not much on the market.”

There was not much on the commercial market, that is. Light-emitting diodes might seem like a potential solution, but LEDs have a silent killer – heat.

Bob Hahn, Relume Technologies
“LEDs, actually, the biggest enemy is heat. The reason why heat is such an issue with LEDs is that if, for some reason, you do not extract the heat away from the LED, the heat will then go back into the diode area and actually raise its temperature inside there, which does two things. It diminishes the luminous output of the Led and also shortens its lifespan.”

LEDs are much, much smaller than the bulb in the traditional halide bulbs used today, and because of their size you have to add more of them to get enough output to light up a sidewalk or a street corner. But the problem is, a lot of LEDs in a confined space means a lot of heat. When it can’t dissipate, the lights short out – or at least they used to, until Relume Technologies came along with a solution.

Bob Hahn, Relume Technologies
“We actually take the heat sink itself and turn it into a circuit board. By doing that, we take whatever shape we can mount it out of, and we then apply a thin layer of a kynar solution that we created because you have to insulate against shorting out the product. Then we silk screen on the circuitry, as you can see here, and then we mount the LEDs using a 95.5 pure silver ink to do the circuitry, and a thermally conductive epoxy to mount the LEDs. What that does is allow the maximum heat to be dissipated from the back of the LED.”

Now that they knew LED technology could work, the issue became how to make them work on a larger scale.

Chuck Fojtik, Field Operations Manager, City of Ann Arbor
“Retrofit kits for the downtown ones work the best for there. We could ship them some globes, they could put the LEDs in it, we would get them back, and pretty much take all of the ballast and everything for the high-pressure sodium or mercury vapor or whatever it might be, take that out and put the LEDs in.”

One of the new globe lights has four of the LED panels on the inside. On each panel, there are 12 additional LED lights, adding up to 48 lights in all. Now, with an operational LED light, they could compare savings between them and the old metal halide bulb. So they changed 1,000 of the city’s 6,600 lights and measured the results.

Andrew Brix, Acting Manager, City of Ann Arbor Energy Program
“We’re looking at cutting our overall bill in half when everything is said and done. On the energy side, we are going from about 120 watts per fixture to 56. So about a 50 percent savings.”

What’s more, the new lights will last 10 years, where the old light bulbs lasted just two years.

Mike Bergren, Assistant Operations Manager, Ann Arbor, Michigan
“These metal halide bulbs have a two year life. Every two years we were changing that bulb. And that’s a huge expense to us.”

With such aggressive energy savings, Ann Arbor is significantly reducing its carbon footprint.

Mike Bergren, Assistant Operations Manager, Ann Arbor, Michigan
“For every three fixtures we put up, it takes a car off the road for a year in carbon reduction. That’s huge for a green city.”

With the R and D behind them, the challenge for Ann Arbor now is to change the remaining 5,600 street lamps to LED. That’s a lot of work – work they need experiences contractors and craftsmen to perform. They are turning to the NECA-IBEW team to do it.

Mike Bergren, Assistant Operations Manager, Ann Arbor, Michigan
“The work that this requires, the actual changing of the wiring system, this is not something that unlicensed staff should be attempting. We have 5,600 lights that are owned by Detroit Edison, and we are working as a partner with Detroit Edison to pilot their programs so that their cobra heads are going to be part of the program too. Our intention is, truthfully, to change the entire city over. What we are looking at is for them to start installing the LEDs on their poles, which will be through journeymen electricians, to put 5,000 units out on those poles. There’s a huge market here for it, and a lot of work.”

Rob Colgan, Executive Director of Marketing, NECA
“At NECA, we have the need, the responsibility to make sure that we stay out ahead of the curve when there are new energy-saving applications that are on the market. We have to keep an eye on the market as it develops and the new products as they develop so that when something really becomes commercially available, our contractors will know how to install it, know that it’s available, and understand what applications are available for it.”

Kevin Shaffer, Business Manager/Financial Secretary, IBEW Local 17
“We heard about this project so we took the initiative as a local to get all the information, make sure that we had people skilled, trained, and ready to go. So when this project took place, they would be up and running.”

Ann Arbor was the first city in America to successfully implement new LED streetlights and realize the savings. Converting the 1,000 lights in this pilot program has less than a four-year return on investment. The Ann Arbor experience represents a huge opportunity to green-minded communities from coast to coast. The technology is here, and America, you’ve got a trained, professional workforce in the NECA-IBEW team, who can save you money and help you go green now.