Energy efficiency

Smarter cities, greener cities cost less to run

28 Jan 2014

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This article by Gregor Paterson-Jones, Managing Director - Energy Efficiency at the Green Investment Bank, first appeared in Scottish Policy Now in January 2014.

In a world of seven billion people, the global rural-urban balance of populations tipped in favour of cities for the first time in 2011.

In the UK, some 80 per cent of the population now lives in urban areas and this proportion is continuing to grow, putting more strain on existing public physical infrastructure.

At the same time, these challenging economic times apply sustained pressure to civic budgets and the relentless march of technology empowers people to demand more and better public services.

This combination of factors creates a significant challenge to local authorities to make better and smarter use of existing infrastructure in order to continue offering an attractive urban environment and create a competitive edge for their cities.

Creating a smarter city requires civic leaders to take a more integrated and far-sighted approach to sustainability and economic development, and the well-being of their citizens. It also requires leadership and bold decision making.

Take for example the issue of street lighting. Modernising the way a city lights its roads and public spaces can significantly improve public and community safety, for obvious reasons. The quality of the light provided by LED enhances visibility, and the lights can be controlled remotely, reducing operating costs and improving reliability.

In the not too distant future, LED streetlights coupled with remote sensors and intelligent software will allow street lighting to quickly adapt to surrounding circumstances and register faults remotely. Data communications through WIFI, or in years to come optical wireless LIFI, and city IT communications hubs and clouds will be possible.

Central Control Management Systems are available now and will increasingly be utilised to manage essential services such as traffic monitoring, traffic lights, and facilitate public event and crime data collection.

Using this data intelligently to vary outdoor lighting levels allows for a safer environment, and a more dynamic experience of city life. Even night-event management can benefit from colouring changes to enhance the setting and pedestrian flow control through better controlled outdoor lighting.

Importantly, this energy efficient technology will also create substantial cost savings, and can be paid for entirely with the money saved in energy and maintenance costs, leaving city leaders with money that can be invested directly into existing or new public services.

It is what some people might describe as a no brainer, and we at the UK Green Investment Bank are pioneering a package of financial support that will allow British local authorities to replace their lighting stock and reap the benefits in short order.

Consider some of the facts that underpin the powerful social and economic case for a wholesale replacement of street lighting stock, and then look at today's picture.

Street lighting can account for as much as 40 per cent of a local authority's energy consumption and costs; we estimate that councils could then save between 50 and 70 per cent of those costs by moving to low energy lighting (LEDs); a traditional street light will be used to provide light for up to c.25,000 hours (dependant on lamp type); an LED replacement will work for anything up to 100,000 hours. These numbers speak for themselves.

Where views have been solicited, it is the case that communities prefer LED lighting; it provides brighter, cleaner light in which people simply feel safer. Street crime is expected to fall, as is the fear of such crime. The school run, particularly during the winter months, is made safer and more people are likely to use public transport in the hours of darkness.

At the same time, the benefit to the environment can be measured in the reduction of carbon emissions that comes with a more efficient system. The energy required to power UK street lighting results in 1.3 million tonnes of CO2; the equivalent of more than 0.5 million cars.

Frustratingly, less than one million of the UK's seven million streetlights are LEDs today. It is by any measure an old and inefficient stock. More than two million of the lighting columns are older than 30 years, and over one million are now more than 40 years old, leaving some 185,000 columns to be replaced every year. Whilst it would make sense to upgrade the lamps at the same time, this column replacement is not happening at sufficient speed.

Maintaining anything this old is a costly business and the cost of the energy required by this ageing system is estimated at over £500m a year and rising. That is before we consider maintenance.

Put more simply, local authorities borrow money from the Green Investment Bank, but repay the loan entirely through the money they save by changing their lighting.

This all serves to starkly illustrate the scale of the challenge this country's civic leaders face and lends more weight to our forthcoming campaign to promote the role of the Green Investment Bank in this important job of modernising and transforming city lighting.

A number of UK local authorities and international cities have been early adopters to LED street lighting, but we want to pick up the pace.

New York's former Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently committed to transform the city's current streetlight bulbs to LED as part of a comprehensive, long-term sustainability programme that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in that city by 30% by 2017.

Bloomberg believes that the installation of 250,000 LED lights will save $14m in taxpayer dollars, $6m of which represents energy costs, with $8m for maintenance.

Closer to home, Birmingham City Council worked with facilities management company Amey on the £70 million rollout of 90,000 LEDs across the city — Europe's largest LED street light scale-up project to date - which is expected to deliver energy savings of 50% compared to conventional technologies and an annual cost saving of £2million.

In Scotland, we are engaged constructively with Glasgow City Council, which has committed to replacing its street lighting estate by 2017.

We hope that more local authorities will take up what we have simply called the Green Loan. It has been designed to offer local authorities a more flexible alternative to the traditional Public Works Loan Board.

The Green Loan is essentially a corporate loan facility that covers the set-up, capital investment and installation costs of lighting upgrades to LED, with repayments being made from within forecast savings.

That feels like a good deal for taxpayers, and is a progressive step to building smarter, more sustainable and safer cities, up and down the country.