Millions of people across eight states rely on Xcel Energy to power their homes and businesses. That’s a responsibility the company takes seriously; their motto is even “Responsible by nature.” So, when it came time to reduce the energy usage of thousands of light fixtures across 80 communities in the Twin Cities metro area, Xcel Energy knew it had to be done right.
Xcel Energy takes their commitment to sustainability seriously. The company has a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 60 percent from 2005 to 2030 and projects to use 61 percent carbon-free energy by 2022 across all the states it serves. As part of this energy-reduction plan, Xcel Energy began looking at LED streetlights. When they started this process, around 2010, the cost was too high. But in 2013, Xcel Energy piloted more than 500 LED lights in West St. Paul, Minnesota, to see real cost savings and gauge customer reactions. Initial response was positive—residents liked the new lights, and Xcel Energy measured a 42 percent energy reduction—but the cost of replacing the existing high-pressure sodium (HPS) fixtures at scale was still too great. Change finally became feasible in 2014 when the cost was low enough to justify the implementation, and stakeholders across Xcel Energy and its partners became convinced that LED lights were the future.
Xcel Energy decided to win over customers at this stage as well. The company hosted meetings in their largest cities and sent out information sheets explaining what LED is, how it’s different than HPS, how customers will save money and more. This, combined with solid public utility ratemaking principles, helped Xcel Energy get the new lights approved in every state in which it operates.
But before Xcel Energy could choose a light manufacturer, each of the options had to be put through a series of rigorous tests.
“We went through a very detailed product selection. We developed our technical specifications through our engineering department, and then we sent them out to several manufacturers to get bids and sample fixtures,” said Robert Schommer, LED Program Manager at Xcel Energy. “We also brought our crews in and did some hands-on testing with nine or ten manufacturers.”
That testing phase was key. Xcel Energy was able to observe factors such as the ease of installation and how heavy the lights were, which helped determine how much time and effort would be spent completing the installation and how much disruption the installation would cause. The products also had to meet different technical specifications to satisfy the needs of the municipalities. For example, Xcel Energy needed a product that would minimize light trespass and glare in urban areas where residences are close to the road.
Taking all these aspects into consideration, Xcel Energy chose Current, powered by GE, to provide a large portion of the new LED streetlights. Working with the Current team to decide the right light for each area, Xcel Energy ordered approximately 15,000 fixtures, which ranged from 4,000 to 15,000 lumens. A strong relationship between the teams helped them be nimble enough to change gears during the process: Xcel Energy switched from products with a color temperature of 4000K to fixtures that measured at 3000K to reduce light pollution and be Dark Sky-compliant.
The installation process went smoothly. Xcel Energy and the contractors doing the installation chose to stage supplies close to the work areas, sometimes even leasing space in the short term, to limit the disruption to the surrounding communities. Their efficient process resulted in the installation of over 1,000 lights per week. And to further Xcel Energy’s commitment to sustainability, all the old fixtures were recycled to the fullest extent, so minimal materials ended up in landfills.
Today, Current and Xcel Energy have retrofitted 42,000 roadway fixtures in the greater Minneapolis−St. Paul area with energy-efficient LEDs, and Xcel Energy has experienced a 50- to 55-percent reduction in energy usage compared to the HPS fixtures. There is also significant carbon reduction in each community thanks to the more energy-efficient lights.v (INSERT JPG: With 42,000 fixtures retrofitted, Xcel Energy has realized an energy reduction of up to 55%)
Customers are pleased with the new streetlights as well. Not only do many prefer the brighter light emitted from LEDs, but streetlight energy bills have gone down anywhere from 4 percent to 7 percent because of the installation—which was done at no cost to customers.
“In almost every community, we have had very, very positive feedback on our LED conversion, both on how quick and efficient we did the work, as well as their cost savings and energy savings. And in most cases, the residents and businesses like the light much better,” Schommer added. Specifically, customers appreciate that there’s no glare and no light trespass into yards and windows. The whiter light emitted from LED streetlights also improves visibility at night, increasing safety for drivers and pedestrians alike.
There’s no sign of slowing down for Xcel Energy: The company has plans to replace up to 25,000 more streetlights in the Twin Cities in 2018. Current will continue to work with Xcel Energy in this conversion project, with the two companies building on the great success and business relationship developed over the past several years.
“We’re grateful to be able to work with Xcel Energy, and we’re excited to work on future opportunities with them,” said Matt Webster, Roadway/Utilities Sales Manager at Current.
The move to energy-efficient lights in the Minneapolis−St. Paul area brings advantages to utilities, residents and businesses. With reduced energy consumption, lower streetlight bills and increased safety, LED streetlights are proving to be a smart investment for Xcel Energy.
“LED lights have been just a fantastic transition from a very old and outdated light source to something that’s efficient and clean, quite frankly looks better, and provides a lot more public security and safety than high pressure sodium did,” Schommer said. “Going forward with smart controls and smart cities, it’s an exciting time to be in the streetlighting business.”