Berkeley aims to switch old streetlights to LEDs

The city of Berkeley plans to replace its existing streetlights with a more sustainable technology in 2014. Photo: Jeremy Brooks

The city of Berkeley plans to replace its existing streetlights with a more sustainable technology in 2014. Photo: Jeremy Brooks

Berkeley nights could have a slightly different hue next year if the city is successful in its plans to replace all 8,000 of its streetlights with LED fixtures.

The project would save money, improve lighting quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the city.

LEDs are already being used in Albany, El Cerrito, Hayward, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Los Angeles and other cities around the state. Oakland is in the process of converting all its fixtures to LEDs, the city reported.

Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council voted to allow the city manager to seek a $3.5 million loan from the state Energy Commission to cover the cost of swapping out its old high pressure sodium and metal halide lamps with light emitting diode (LED) fixtures beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

The city expects to save more money than it will spend on loan repayment due to energy savings and PG&E incentives, according to a staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting. Currently, it costs more than $600,000 annually to power the city’s streetlights.

According to the staff report, the lights also generate more than 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, which accounts for 13% of the city’s emissions. An LED conversion could reduce overall municipal emissions by 6.5%, according to the staff report.

The city-wide project must be completed next year for the city to be eligible for PG&E incentives. The city plans to release a call for bids to do the conversion this coming December.

According to the staff report, LEDs are a “proven alternative” to the city’s current streetlights because they are more efficient, last longer and produce better light “that renders truer colors.”

The city has already installed LED streetlights in a pilot program at the Berkeley Marina, and Telegraph Avenue lights are also slated to change. The city set aside $48,000 for those conversions in fiscal year 2012-13, according to a report from the Public Works Commission to the City Council earlier this year.

In late 2012, the city replaced 75 high-pressure sodium streetlights with LEDs at the Berkeley Marina, on University Avenue west of West Frontage Road, and on Marina Boulevard, Spinnaker Way and Seawall Drive, according to the city website. The city expects those lights to require virtually no maintenance for 15-20 years.

Lighting on Telegraph Avenue has been identified as an issue in need of improvement by the city: “Pedestrian lighting is inconsistent in the Southside and, in many locations, sparse. Most lighting in the neighborhood has been designed and placed to illuminate the streets for vehicles, rather than the sidewalks for pedestrians. Along Telegraph Avenue, street lights glare down a harsh, bright yellow light on pedestrians.” The city announced plans to improve lighting on Telegraph as part of its 2013 annual report.

The city began its investigation into the possibility of LED streetlights in 2012 with a council referral to the Public Works and Energy commissions. The City Council ultimately received a report back on those discussions in June 2013.

According to that report, “Savings from an LED streetlight conversion could fund new streetlights in the City.”

Tuesday night’s report, prepared by city Public Works director Andrew Clough, was more circumspect: “While the project may generate savings in excess of the debt service that could be used for other purposes, it is premature to program expenditures until the installation is complete and final cost and savings values are available.”

Read more from PG&E about its LED streetlight conversion program. Learn more on the city of Berkeley website about LED streetlights. Members of the public with comments on LED lighting can email or call Billi Romain at 510-981-7432.

Berkeley greenhouse gas emissions down 8% since 2000 (09.06.13)
Electric bike rental program coming to Berkeley in 2014 (08.26.13)
Streamlined permitting aims to cut solar costs (08.07.13)
‘You’re not with it if you’re not air drying your clothes!’ (07.18.13)
Berkeley to collect more plastics in curbside collections (07.10.13)
Big changes needed to meet 2020 emissions goals (11.13.12)

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  • EricPanzer

    Some day when I’m old and (more) crotchety I’ll be able to bore children with stories of how “back in my day, nighttime was yellah—all ‘dem streelights were yellah!” The kids will then roll their eyes, which will no longer even require you to stop concentrating on Facebook because we’ll all have Google contacts or Apple iEyes.

    I know some people will mourn the slow fade to white from the unearthly yellow glow that we have grown accustomed to seeing on the streets and in the sky; but I’m super excited by this change. Beyond the energy and maintenance savings, and the emissions reductions, LEDs produce more even lighting and are much better for seeing colors, when done right. I’m glad the City is finally getting on the ball with this, and I look forward to seeing a network of white lights when I take in the nighttime view from Indian Rock or Grizzly Peak.

  • Chris Gilbert

    It would be great if the lights weren’t as white as those installed in Albany. Reminds me of fluorescents in office buildings.

  • CJ_Higley

    The comment about existing street lights being designed to illuminate the streets but not the sidewalks is true throughout the City, not just on Telegraph. I would encourage the City to explore the possibility of adding some human scale LED lighting, which would greatly improve my sense of safety when walking after dark.

  • TN

    I’m glad that the City of Berkeley is making the change. But I’m a little disappointed that there was not much thought put into rethinking street lighting as a totality. What we will get is essentially the replacement of one type of “bulb” with another. And I acknowledge tthat this isn’t all bad with benefits in energy conservation, cost and all that.

    The article mentions the need on Telegraph Avenue to redesign the lighting patterns to benefit pedestrians. I think this redesign is needed all over the city. The streetlights are positioned mostly to illuminate the street and not the sidewalks. Pedestrians in our city are put at risk at night both by potential muggers and even more by our very uneven, broken sidewalks. We should be reconsidering where our streetlights are placed, at what spacing, at what heights and the shape of the lenses used on the fixtures to distribute the light.

    I realize that a more complex change would take more time, resources`and thought. But this change in technology from sodium vapor to more efficient lighting sources isn’t being fully exploited unless we reconsider the design of the lighting system as a whole.

  • EBGuy

    As you explain to your kids why they are now bathed in a cool blue light… Don’t worry, they’ll burn out someday — the city got a good deal on them 20 years ago.

  • Albanyan

    And they don’t provide very good illumination – they’re the wrong color/warmth. Riding a bike at night, I’m not sure if that shadow is a pothole or not.

  • serkes

    Was not that long ago I learned how to tweak the white balance on photos – what a difference it made.


  • Chris
  • Road Wolf

    I must say after passing over the new section of the Bay Bridge several times, the LED lighting is very impressive. Go Berkeley.

  • guest

    Berkeley should join the International Dark-Sky Association.

  • Chris J

    Huh. Being a berkeley property owner and justifiably outraged over the extra burden that have been expressed by various civic minded politicians or otherwise, I have ‘revolted’ in the past by voting down these things.

    Ironically, I’ve always thought that there was never enough good lighting on the streets. I remember missing a pothole once and flipping over my handlebars once at night– thanks a lot. Yea, I had a light and a helmet. If I voted against street light improvement, do I have myself to blame? Or should I have used the city over my damages years ago? Naah,

  • Tizzielish

    To avoid falling on broken sidewalks, which I have done just cause iI couldn’t see the holes, I often walk in the street when it is dark. It seems really weird that Berkeley only lights its streets. Walking on the sidewalkk in the dark has caused me to fall a couple times. I’m 60. Fallilng hurts and could cause me lasting harm. So far I’ve been lucky.

  • Agreed. Back when I had to walk to BART at 5am, I would walk in the street, never on the sidewalk. You can’t see where you’re going if you walk on the sidewalk.

  • guest

    Dark-Sky does not seek to eliminate lighting but to cutting light pollution.

  • TN

    The Bay Bridge light show ( is even more illustrative of the potential of the technology. Yes, LEDs can simply be a replacement for a the large sodium vapor light fixture as is the case for some recent retrofit applications. But the flexibility, controllability and scalability of the technology should be utilized to create more useful and economic designs for street lighting systems.The conventional technology is very inflexible and led to very limited lighting schemes.

    It will take some thought and imagination to create new designs. The people of Berkeley are not short of these resources.

  • Charles_Siegel

    … cut light pollution by doing things like focusing light downward. Almost half of all street lighting is now directed upward, where it does nothing but hide the stars. You could redesign these light fixtures to direct the light downward – saving money on electricity and increasing light at the street level, where it is needed.

  • guest

    certainly makes food look better

  • Grant Street

    Ah, so *that’s* why my street was dark when I lived in Berkeley.

  • guest

    but berkeley charged merrily ahead with it’s illegal sewer assesment on the ebmud bill. do you really flush the toilet that much more in summer?

  • John

    Along with “truer colors” comes a lot more light pollution. Limited-spectrum light travels much less distance

  • john

    also, white light causes a lot more light pollution

  • John

    How LEDs can be modified to reduce light pollution (hint– warmer light, minimize the blue)

  • TN

    Editors: Thanks for adding the pic! I wouldn’t have thought to do so. Nor do I know howto.

  • emraguso

    (I think it may have just popped up automatically due to the inclusion of the link, but I’m not sure!)

  • In Albany near Pasttime Hardware, some of the light fixtures have a secondary light which illuminates on the sidewalk side. If I remember right, these sidewalk-side lights were added after Albany converted their streetlights to LEDs. They appear to be modular.

  • Robert Remiker

    Has anyone studied the photometrics on these? Ours were replaced today, and for all the care we, as Architects, take to eliminate/prevent light emission into neighboring properties when designing projects, NO care is taken to shield emission onto and into houses, living spaces, and sleeping rooms with these ultra high output fixtures. I’m all for efficiency, but accompanied by sensitive design, or careful fixture selection. This is a glaringly inappropriate specification and application. -At least on our quiet street.

  • B-Town Pride

    WAY too bright. This is a terrible change and the people of Berkeley should rise up to have the city correct this. Energy efficiency is one thing. Having new lights that are 20x brighter that ruin all nighttime activities is another. Thanks, City of Berkeley.

  • Claudia Koch

    This lighting is really ugly. It gives you the feeling of being in a gas station. It also is SO BRIGHT that you can’t see either the view or the sky. This is LIGHT POLLUTION and I am surprised a city that cares so much about aesthetics would allow such a thing.

  • Michael Saucy

    There is literal SCIENCE that proves this is the worst idea. Solution: Replace all the LED bulbs with LED bulbs tinted for lower Kelvin Value! People are so infatuated with tech that they lose sight of real emotional and health effects.

  • Michael Saucy

    How can this be going on for 2 years now…

  • Michael Saucy

    Information on lighting in snow, rain, and fog.