The Institute of Public Works Engineering says a nationwide switch to LED street lighting and smart controls could have made a big difference to stress on the electricity network during the recent heatwave.

“A lot of our energy consumption at present is needlessly wasteful and street lighting is a leading example,” IPWEA chief executive Robert Fuller said.

The association’s nine-month research project, the Street Lighting and Smart Controls Roadmap, also found that nearly 50 per cent of Australian 2.3 million streetlights are mercury vapour, and only about 9.5 per cent are LED. Other less efficient technologies currently in use include halogens.

Mr Fuller said that smart controls on street lights and other types of smart city infrastructure could be used during peak demand times to intelligently reduce consumption.

“This would give us a buffer to ensure that essential electricity supply remains stable and available through a crisis. Such measures would help us keep airconditioning on, businesses open and avoid rolling blackouts.”

Consulting firm Ironbark Sustainability has been working with local governments across four states on LED lighting upgrade projects. Managing director Paul Brown said there has been a “patchwork” of outcomes to date.

In Victoria, 91 per cent of councils have swapped to LED street lighting. In Tasmania, around 20 per cent have changed, and Launceston and other councils in the area are planning for another 15 to 20 per cent transition.

In South Australia, City of Marion is poised to become the first in the state to go LED, with budget set aside for the project.

“Once they have pushed through the barriers, then it will become easier for other councils,” Mr Brown said.

“Councils want to do this everywhere around Australia. The question is how?”

The main barrier is “time and persistence”.

Some lighting is owned by the energy distributors could this be a disincentive to save power?

The proposal is complicated by the fact the vast majority of street lights are owned and maintained by the energy distribution networks. Councils pay the lighting bill, but only own a very small number of the lights.

Main roads authorities also own a small fraction of around 10 per cent of street lighting nationally.

To make a changeover happen, the council is effectively asking the distribution company to accelerate the replacement of an existing asset, with a write-down value determined by the Australian Energy Regulator factored into the costings.

Councils gain the financial benefit, with around 80 per cent lower energy costs for street lighting.

Mr Brown said there are benefits for the distribution companies of making the switch, but they are not straightforward financial ones.

There are savings on maintenance: LEDs have a 20-year lifespan whereas older types of lights last three to four years. The distribution company is generally responsible for maintenance, so there is a labour cost saving and an ongoing saving in replacement globes.

There are also customer service benefits.

The big benefit, however, is the role of street lighting in smart cities.

“Two infrastructure items are the backbone of smart cities – smart meters and street lights,” Mr Brown said.

Engaging in an LED upgrade program is also an opportunity to roll out a smart city system.

There are a number of reasons street lights are key. They are located where there are people, and generally spaced at every 80 metres in these areas. They are also high on a pole, which is ideal for the purposes of communication, and they already have a power supply in place.

The City of Greater Geelong recently completed a smart cities project that combined the installation of LED street lights with WiFi and smart phone applications for a commercial area in Ocean Grove.

William Tieppo, general manager city services said, “saving power and lowering CO2 by installing LED lights is a logical step, and by optimising this and including smart city networks at the same time, lowers costs, which will be of great benefit.”

Mr Brown said most of the LED projects the consultancy is working on with councils are smart control enabled, so these can be added later.

“You need information on how you are going to use smart controls.”

There is also the question of who needs to be party to any agreement to install them, for example main roads, the distribution company, and also local stakeholders and council.

One of the other challenges councils face is the finance issue.

Currently there is very little money around from state or federal governments for councils to undertake any kind of sustainability program, whether that involves lighting, building energy use, water efficiency or other projects.

The NSW Energy Savings Scheme puts a small amount into street lighting, however the funding is only generally five to 10 per cent of the total cost, Mr Brown said. The rest of the money comes from councils operating expenses.

There is also some finance available through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, however the project needs to be of sufficient scale.

Unlike renewable energy, where there are a number of players offering financing arrangements with no upfront capital expenditure and repayment based on operating savings, Mr Brown said the complex nature of street light ownership precludes this approach.

IPWEA’s SLSC roadmap estimates that the total cost of changing all remaining lights to LED nationwide would cost $1.1 billion, and pay for itself in between 4-6 years.

It would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from lighting energy use by 52 per cent, and achieve cuts of up to 72 per cent if smart controls are rolled out nationally. The total cost of ownership would also fall by around 25 per cent due to reduced maintenance costs.

“The federal and state governments should commit to fund the widespread rollout of LED street lighting with smart control across all councils. Australia would not only dramatically reduce power consumption from measures like this but start to introduce controllable loads to the electricity grid,” Mr Fuller said.

More information about the SLSL program and the roadmap can be found at

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  1. There has been a lot of complaints from local residents wherever the new LED streetlights have been installed. A lot of people have complained they are too white and too bright. At night, it is this brightness that has given the perception of “the Martians have landed” when they are switched on. There are those who feel that this high level of lighting is unnecessary and badly thought out. Most of us are used to the yellow Son streetlights so the intense light of the LEDs has come as a bit of a shock.

    However, city planners in developed and underdeveloped parts of the world see LED as a major improvement over existing streetlights. It’s because LEDs last much longer they attract fewer maintenance costs which have made them very popular. Also, because some LED street lighting is “light sensor dimmable” they have the potential to save even more money. And from a safety point of view, the police and those out walking late at night have praised the new lights.

    There can be no doubt that LED streetlights are more efficient and that will eventually lead to big savings. I think in many cases it’s just a question of getting the right level of light just where it is needed. If we can do that, I think most people will see the real benefits of the LED streetlights as well as the savings.

    Technology cannot be stopped (and nor should it be) but a bit of fine tuning from the planners would help immensely!

  2. Light Pollution is a real problem, and LED’s will not solve it.
    We need to reduce excessive street lighting.
    We have birds chirping away till late at night, because they think it’s daylight. The Perth Observatory has had to twice relocate further East due to light pollution.
    What’s wrong with it being dark at night?
    LED’s are very efficient and economical, but bad planning is a fault in the brains of the senior bureaucrats & engineers in main roads & LA’s.