City of Palo Alto Utilities tests smart streetlights along El Camino Real

City seeking feedback on solar project

This fully integrated smart solar streetlight, one of nine along El Camino Real in Palo Alto, California, produces energy equivalent to power two streetlights. The city is asking residents to give their opinions on the streetlights in an online survey.

This fully integrated smart solar streetlight, one of nine along El Camino Real in Palo Alto, California, produces energy equivalent to power two streetlights. The city is asking residents to give their opinions on the project in an online survey.

El Camino Real, a historic road that runs nearly the full length of California’s coastline, is making history again for its role in a six-month pilot project being conducted by the City of Palo Alto Utilities You are leaving (CPAU). In partnership with energy technology provider Petra SystemsYou are leaving CPAU recently installed a string of nine smart solar streetlights along “The Royal Road.”

The installation is testing the potential to generate renewable energy on streetlight poles. Solar photovoltaic, or PV, modules placed high on the poles capture the sun’s energy and send it to the city’s electric grid. The technology could help transform ordinary streetlights into a network of distributed solar power generating assets.

Taking community’s pulse
The PV-fitted streetlights are located along a well-trafficked mile of El Camino Real. Interpretive signs in the area educate passers-by about the technology. “The pilot project area runs right by Stanford University, as well as soccer fields and parks, so residents will see what we are doing and be able to form an opinion about it,” noted CPAU Communications Manager Catherine Elvert. “We are encouraging community members to provide feedback through an online survey.”

The survey asks questions about residents’ support for CPAU increasing the use of solar power, and allows them to express concerns about aesthetics, light quality and other issues. “The customer response to these modules can help us gauge how aggressively to pursue this type of local generation,” Elvert added.

CPAU is engaged in several local solar initiatives as part of its ongoing commitment to invest in clean energy resources.

Innovating through partnership
Through its Program for Emerging Technologies, the municipal utility is able to “test drive” systems that may improve operations, create jobs and boost the sustainability of CPAU’s generation portfolio. Launched in 2012, the program seeks out and nurtures creative products and services that manage and better use electricity, gas, water and fiber optic services.

Partnering with high-tech companies keeps the cost of innovation down. The El Camino Solar Test project will increase Palo Alto’s renewable energy production at no cost to the city. Petra Systems offered CPAU the solar modules to evaluate their performance over the six-month pilot duration. The nine units are estimated to have a total nameplate capacity of about 2.25 kilowatts, with each solar module expected to produce 374 kilowatt-hours per year. That electricity is enough to power the equivalent of two streetlights, making the LED, or light-emitting diode, streetlights net producers of electricity.

Improving service, lowering costs
Project Manager Lindsay Joye pointed out that generation is just a small part of smart solar technology performance. “The technology goes well beyond self-powering to give the city greater control of its streetlight assets,” she said.

The modules are equipped with an LED light controller that allows the city to remotely turn streetlights on or off. The brightness of individual lights or groups of lights can be adjusted to accommodate the traffic levels in different neighborhoods, as well. On a citywide scale, the dimming function can provide even deeper energy savings from the already-efficient LED lamps, Joye noted.

The system offers additional features that can streamline maintenance and enhance public safety. The controller can flicker specific lights to help direct emergency response personnel when needed, and can notify the city immediately of a malfunctioning light, including the failure type and exact location. Elvert said, “If the city decides to expand the project, high-traffic roads and expressways would be good candidates for installations. With the smart-grid and remote control capabilities, there would be less need to put our crews in harm’s way.”

New LED streetlights light up Palo Alto

The City of Palo Alto Utilities Redirecting to a non-government site (CPAU) is in the process of installing LED streetlights throughout Palo Alto. This is no short-term project, but a long-term commitment to upgrading the city’s public lighting. Rather than singling out a particular neighborhood, the utility is pursuing installation in phases.

Not all streetlights are being replaced either—the old-fashioned “Washington” and “tear drop” style lightposts will remain. LED streetlights are only being installed where previously there were “cobra-head” style streetlights.

To determine public interest in LED streetlighting, the city ran a pilot program where they installed the energy-efficient lighting technology in various areas around town and invited the public to comment on them. The feedback from those who responded was generally positive, and so the first phase of the project went forward with the aid of a federal grant.

The benefits to the city and its residents are many:

  • 40 percent less electricity use than older high-pressure sodium [HPS] lamps
  • Longer lamp lifespan, meaning fewer replacements
  • Smaller carbon footprint
  • Increased visibility from bright, direct light

The city has found that most residents are very happy with the better illumination of these new streetlights. However, if neighbors agree that the light level is a problem, they can contact CPAU for an evaluation of the location.

New tool analyzes costs, benefits of converting to LED streetlights

A new tool is available to help municipalities evaluate the costs and benefits of converting to LED street and roadway lighting. The DOE Municipal Solid-State Street Lighting Consortium has released the Retrofit Financial Analysis Tool for immediate download. This Excel-based tool was developed in collaboration with the Clinton Climate Initiative.

Converting the nation’s streetlights to LED technology could not only reduce energy consumption significantly, but also improve the quality of illumination. The Retrofit Financial Analysis Tool will make it easier for cities, utilities and others to analyze the cost benefit of LED street lighting by giving them specific key information on costs and return on investment.

Users plug in data on variables relevant to their particular project to get a detailed analysis that includes annualized energy-cost savings, maintenance savings, greenhouse gas reductions and simple payback. Decision makers can use this information when putting together construction and conservation grant applications, as well as preparing budgets and comparing the incumbent costs to new.

Users who are purchasing and installing their own streetlights or those requesting bids from outside vendors can use the tool to make sure the lighting meets their goals and needs. The tool accepts data based on three common project models:

  • Per unit cost for fixtures, hourly rate for installation (owner purchases fixtures and uses internal (or external) labor resources to install units at an hourly rate)
  • Per unit cost for fixtures, per unit cost for installation (owner purchases fixtures and uses external labor resources to install fixtures at fixed per unit cost)
  • Single Lump Sum cost for labor and material (owner hires external resources to purchase and install fixtures at a fixed lump sum per-unit cost for labor and material)

For each of these scenarios, pre-construction, construction engineering (inspection) and project management costs may be entered in the Project Overhead and Implementation section to capture all project costs. 

Imbedded notes within the tool provide at-a-glance guidance and can be quickly identified in cells with red tags in the upper right corners. MSSLC has created an instructional video, an example analysis and  tips to help users get the most from its Retrofit Financial Analysis Tool.  (Source: Municipal Solid State Lighting Consortium via American Public Power Association)