When it comes to the light we make it is the gleam from LED, or Light Emitting Diode, technology that perhaps represents the most advanced stage in the evolution of lighting. 

History's timeline has flickered and flared with various degrees of luminescence on the highlights; firelight, primitive oil light, candlelight, gas light, kerosene light, and the more recent light of the electrical kind - incandescent, fluorescent, arc, laser, and plasma.

For eons we have been seeking a cheaper, more efficient means of lighting the way.  Now, compare the traditional lighting used to brighten homes, businesses and streets with the rapidly advancing LED technology and it's obvious that there's a brighter and more economical future in store. 

Simply put, LED lighting is efficient; it uses less energy, it generates less heat, and it is based on technology that ushers the way for smarts like wireless communications. But like all new things it is a bit pricey at the moment, however the costs are coming down.

LED's challenge in scale and cost is why a wide-ranging partnership, with Ergon Energy at the forefront, looks to push the LED street lighting envelope in regional Queensland. 

Talking Energy asked Technology Innovation Engineer Jenny Gannon - pictured - a few questions about Ergon's LED pilot program and what it means for customers.

Getting LED technology onto our streets appears like an exciting development. Have you been involved in anything like this before?

Jenny GannonI have been working with new technologies for several years now.  I was the project manager for the trial of hydrogen fuel cell technology and was the project engineer for the Doomadgee Solar Farm.  My expertise is in developing deployable solutions for alternate technologies. I enjoy using my engineering skills to identify and remove barriers to using new technologies in a way that allows for the best economic and ultimately sustainable solution being applied. My work to remove perceived technical barriers and develop a sustainable solution for Doomadgee Solar Farm was recognised by the Clean Energy Council last year with the Innovation Award.

What is your role in all of this?  

As an innovation engineer I'm representing Ergon Energy by bringing the Project Management expertise to the program.

So what is happening in the LED space?

Well, quite a lot. We are off and running with a LED streetlight trial that in time I expect will usher in more widespread adoption throughout the state.

What's the driver behind this?

A couple of things, Ergon Energy's strategy is to seek opportunities where it can reduce costs and improve service delivery to our street lighting customers. Broadly, we know that LED streetlights emit a stronger light and reduce the 'sky glow' effect in urban areas. But more significantly, we know that energy and maintenance savings can be achieved with the right approach.

Where does the customer come into the equation?

Today's customers are also more aware of the potential cost savings and technological benefits that LED street lighting brings. You can Google 'LED street lighting' and read about the LA replacement program as well as other case studies which show how various municipalities here and overseas have taken the LED step. 

There's a growing expectation for local councils to reduce their energy bills and so the involvement by utilities in any movement toward a LED replacement program is inevitable.  But with all the pros there are some cons  -  and the big one is money. So this is something that can't be rushed.

We are taking a strategic approach that sets a clear path to a future where LED street lights will deliver real efficiencies to customers, and at the right cost now and well into the future.

How do we achieve success in the longer term?

Success will come by getting involved early in the process. By partnering in a wide-ranging pilot program involving key partners such as local authorities, manufacturers, and industry groups. We know that LED is here and it is time to step up and get involved.

That's why we are taking a lead role and playing a key part in working with various parties to learn more about LED performance, develop standards and remove barriers to support LED streetlight deployment.

This is new territory and some of it is untested in our network area, so having a collaboration that draws on shared knowledge is vital to achieve this. So with a considered and step approach we should achieve some great results in time.

Replacing a street light shouldn't be too hard. What else is involved?

Quite a lot and it's in the important background detail. LED technology has seen rapid advancement in the last 10 years and LED street lights are only just becoming commercial alternatives.  There are standards to be developed and adopted, structural challenges with increased weight of the lights, maintenance regimes to be developed, regulatory impacts, and cost considerations when determining a suitable solution.

At Ergon we are implementing new tools and systems that will make street light management easier and more effective for customers. There's a customer 'LightMap' portal for example.

From a longevity perspective what are some of the challenges with adopting LED street lights?

Standardisation in the face of a very fast rate of product development. LED technology is new and the product is evolving at a rapid pace with new entrants and designs coming to market. In order for us to achieve our goals over the long term it's important that standardisation of LED component connections for street lighting evolves, especially for lamps and control system fixtures.

We want to make sure that when it comes time to replace a lighting unit we do not have to replace a system or find out that something has become obsolete. That would defeat our purpose to reduce costs.  It's a bit like what we face now when we replace a bulb at home - the only decision we have to make is whether it's a bayonet or screw connection; imagine buying an electrical appliance and having to upgrade the power socket to get it to work?

Who else is involved in the program?

The current LED streetlighting trial is being run by Ergon Energy on behalf of the Guided Innovation Alliance which also includes Queensland University of Technology and Smart Grid Partners. The collaboration also includes our streetlights hosts Townsville City Council, Ipswich City Council and Brisbane Airport Corporation.  The project was supported by the Australian Government.

Inside Ergon Energy this project supports the significant work undertaken by our specialist streetlight team who are driving improvements in managing existing assets and customer service through developments like 'LightMap' and developing sustainable strategies to LED streetlight deployment.

So you are not planning replacing all the street lights overnight?

No, definitely not. There are around 155,000 street lights spread out across 70 local government and main roads areas so the cost would be prohibitive. As I mentioned earlier, any initial LED streetlight installation is going to involve expense even though the initial outlay can be recouped in time.

The best approach therefore, is to introduce standardisation where practical, use proven products that will endure over time and begin installing LED street lights in specific areas such as new builds and in specific light replacement programs which are in synch with customers' expectations and budgets.  

How many streetlights are in your sights?

This project involves a total of 215 lights total; 104 lights in Brisbane Airport; 48 lights in Queens Park in Ipswich; as well as 63 lights total in Townsville located in Stoke Street, the Civic Theatre Car Park and at RSL Stadium.

The Ergon LED Transition Program is also seeking funding from the regulator to expand the trial.

As part of the trial currently under way we have lights already installed in Townsville, Brisbane and Ipswich.

Have you chosen a specific streetlight technology yet?

LED streetlightThe project is trialing products manufactured by the Canadian company LED Roadway Lighting (LRL) which is a major manufacturer of LED-based street lighting - pictured - and control systems. The units we are using have a node which enables control and monitoring capabilities that allow them to be dimmed and brightened remotely. LRL sees Australia as an important market and started to manufacture their light drivers in Australia.

So just recapping, what is Ergon's approach to getting more LED street lights in place?

We know we have to take a prudent and smart approach to sustainable lighting solutions for the future. As mentioned before, this involves consideration of regulations and standards as well as the technology itself.

Our streetlight strategy is about getting proactive with streetlight management, engaging with customers, getting a better understanding of the various issues, having a LED assessment methodology, getting pilot programs up and running, and finally enabling the deployment of LED street lights.

A glimpse to the future

Townsville CBD 

View a bigger version of The Colour of Change infographic (JPG 812.5 kb)

For more information about LRL visit http://www.ledroadwaylighting.com/

We welcome your feedback. If you would like to comment on this story please contact talkingenergy@ergon.com.au