According to the Clinton Climate Initiative, street lighting accounts for a staggering 159 terawatt hours of electricity use worldwide each year. That's more than the annual output of three dozen 500-megawatt power plants. And although street lighting accounts for less than one percent of all electricity use in the United States (it's about 1.3 percent in the European Union), this comes at a hefty cost for cities. In some areas, street lights command upwards of 60 percent of municipal electricity spending.
So in tough economic times, municipalities have begun to pull the plug on inefficient lamps in favor of long-lasting, highly efficient light-emitting diode (LED) technology. In the United States, many of these projects have been supported by economic stimulus block grants for energy efficiency and conservation projects.
(Related: "On Edison Bulb’s Anniversary, a Lighting Breakthrough.")
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LEDs could help communities save more than $750 million per year in energy costs, while also offering benefits like more uniform light distribution. Around the world, LEDs are lighting streets from Torraca, Italy, to Toronto, Canada, and from Tianjin, China, to Sydney, Australia. Yet, in the big picture, the Clinton Climate Initiative report notes "negligible" adoption of new lighting technologies by cities. When cities do seek to cut energy costs by converting old streetlights—many of which are non-metered and owned by the local utility—they often encounter a rocky road ahead.