The light has gone off in Richmond Hill. This GTA town north of Toronto is converting most of its 17,000 street, park and parking lot lights to LED as part of a contract it has just signed with Ameresco, which will supply and install the new lights. But this is more than just about high-efficiency lighting. The town will be getting a “smart lighting control system” that allows staff to remotely monitor and turn off/on the lights.
Is it worth it? Hell, ya. LEDs consume up to 60 per cent less power than “high pressure sodium” lamps currently used in most infrastructure. The town is expected to spend around $8 million to convert 15,000 lights and in return will enjoy $1.5 million in energy and maintenance savings each year. We’re talking payback in about six years on lights that are warrantied to last for 20 years.
And keep in mind, the price of LED lights have plunged by about 90 per cent since 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. At the same time, efficiency and operating life continue to climb. Like solar and energy storage, the deal just keeps getting better and better.
The smart controls, which communicate with the lights through a wireless narrowband network, will also allow staff to more accurately monitor electricity consumption, dim the lights, and be notified when a bulb isn’t working properly.
“With this wireless network in place, Richmond Hill is one of the few Canadian municipalities to lay the foundation for high-tech systems management and is establishing the foundation for future ‘smart cities’ applications such as smart traffic lights, water and gas metering,” according to a town release.
Toronto Hydro has been testing the waters for LED street lighting, but the city has yet to dive in. Right now, about 150 LED street lights are being tested “in advance of a full citywide rollout,” but there’s no word on when that rollout is going to happen. Consider Toronto has 170,000 streetlights alone. Add in park and parking lot lights and it has a lot of work to do.
Aurora is taking the step, along with Markham, Newmarket and another 125 municipalities. The trend is taking hold, but seriously, there’s no compelling reason why this shouldn’t be a priority for every municipality in Canada. The financing models exist to ease the upfront capital costs. Municipalities just need to commit and do it.
And keep in mind, this is more than just about streetlights. Parking lots represent a massive opportunity. A December study from the Canadian Urban Institute estimated there are at least 42 million parking stalls in Canada. “Parking lots were estimated to have an average of one light per 20 stalls, and garages an average of one light per three stalls,” according to the report.
“Although there are more parking lighting fixtures in Canada than streetlighting fixtures, parking lighting only accounts for 5 per cent of LED sales,” it says. “This is likely because the sales process is more difficult with the more distributed ownership of the parking lighting, but this does not diminish the significant potential for improved safety energy and cost savings, GHG reduction across Canada.”
Last fall, I interviewed John Mitchell, an associate research fellow with Chatham House and a guy who knows his stuff when it comes to energy transitions. One quote I used from him — in an article I wrote for Corporate Knights— really stood out for me: “For oil, the Kodak moment will be when somebody produces a low-cost battery, as that will change the transport market profoundly.”
Mitchell didn’t mention a specific price-point, but a number I’ve heard tossed around as the likely tipping point is $100 per kilowatt-hour. At that price it’s believed electric cars can easily outcompete gas-fuelled vehicles by pretty much every measure. Tesla’s chief technology officer JB Straubel said last year that he expected that $100 target to be hit by the end of this decade.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance says it expects battery cell packs for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) to average less than $120 kWh by 2030. Colin Mckerracher, BNEF’s head of advanced transportation, had a post on Twitter last week featuring an interesting slide from a Ford investor presentation. Ford, according to the slide, thinks its battery cells for BEVs can hit $120 kWh in 2020 and projects costs hitting $95 by 2025 and $85 by 2030. BNEF will be updating its price survey next quarter, Mckerracher tells me.*
Finally, we can’t let the week go by without pointing to the soon-to-be-launched GM Chevy Bolt, which we learned will have a range of 238 miles (383 kilometres) between charges. It has been reported that the batteries used in the Bolt come in at $145 kWh. The car will still be priced in the high $30,000 range, but the fact a mainstream carmaker like GM is hitting this range at this price point in 2016 is nothing short of phenomenal, and in my opinion should silence all the EV haters who have dismissed the technology and its potential. Did they really believe that EV tech as reported in 2010 would never change, never get better, never get more affordable?
And let’s not obsess over just cars. Buses and big trucks, previously considered off limits to battery technology, are now being eyed as potential markets. Elon Musk, in Part Deux of his Master Plan, cited plans in July for a “Tesla Semi” unveiling next year and a desire to get into “high passenger-density urban transport” — i.e. buses. A Michigan-based company called Nikola Motor Co. is coming out with its own electric drive semi-trucks fuelled by hydrogen, while Proterra has a bus that can go 350 miles (564 km) on a single charge.
No wonder Exxon Mobil has beefed up its anti-EV lobbying. The company is getting worried. It sees the trend line, and it knows what this means for its core business. The only stalling tactic it has at this point is to continue feeding the public an increasingly tired line: EVs and their batteries need further development and cost-reductions to be competitively viable on a large scale.
It’s hogwash, of course. At some point within the next decade, Exxon executives are going to have to turn to the camera and smile for their Kodak moment.
*Paragraph has been updated from earlier version.