Wilmington’s installing thousands of new, energy-efficient LED street lights

Wilmington officials say the new LED lighting will make the streets safer, and cut energy consumption by 40% to 50%. (Zöe Read/WHYY)

Wilmington officials say the new LED lighting will make the streets safer, and cut energy consumption by 40% to 50%. (Zöe Read/WHYY)

The streets of Wilmington, Delaware, will be brighter when its street lights are replaced with LED lighting.

The initiative between the city and Delmarva Power aims to convert all 7,050 Wilmington street lights to LEDs by fall 2020.

City officials say the new lights will make the streets safer, and cut energy consumption by 40% to 50%.

“It came from community members asking for better lighting,” said Kelly Williams, the city’s Commissioner of Public Works.

“Over and over, I’d go to these community meetings and they’d say, ‘We want a light here,’ ‘Can you improve the lighting here?’ This was a grassroots request that we’re finally able to fulfill,” she said.

Over the next five weeks, Delmarva will convert 215 Wilmington street lights to LEDs as part of a pilot program known as ConnectWilmington. They will be installed in West Center City, and stretches of Washington Street, Baynard Boulevard, and North Market Street.

To install the remaining LEDs, Wilmington City Council must vote on a bill allowing the city to borrow $2.1 million from the Efficient Energy Investment Fund administered by the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

The city is expected to save at least $150,000 in energy costs annually, which it says will cover the cost.

The city would also receive a $175,000 grant from DNREC.

The first-ever LED pilot in Delaware will help Delmarva learn how it can work with other municipalities to install similar systems.

Over a year period, Delmarva responds to about 2,700 light outages in Wilmington. The new LEDs are expected to reduce responses as they have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years.

Delmarva also will be able to respond quicker, as the LED lights can self-report outages.

Under the current lighting system, a passerby must report the issue, usually to Public Works, which must identify if it’s a city-owned light or one of Delmarva’s, and the department then submits a ticket on the caller’s behalf.

“That’s a lot of people time and a lot of effort to get one light change,” Williams said.

“Sometimes it’s a couple of days, sometimes it’s a couple of weeks, based on Delmarva’s capacity. It’s frustrating from Public Works standpoint because it’s something I can’t control, and wish I could. This new system will be much better and create an opportunity to cut that administrative stuff down.”

LEDs are not brighter than traditional bulbs. However, they produce a higher color temperature, providing improved contrast and visibility for those nearby.

A sensor system will allow data to be transmitted between street lights and a central management system, which can remotely monitor and control the lights and sensors.

In the future, the new technology could provide parking monitoring, traffic management systems, emergency notification systems, firearm detection, and air quality monitoring.

“We’ve made it a cleaner city thanks to Public Works and nonprofits, and now we get an opportunity to make it a brighter city, and it’s a thrill to see this happen,” said Mayor Mike Purzycki. “It’s much more important than anyone could imagine. It will change the way the city looks and feels and will give a sense of the city moving forward.”

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