Exclusive Features

Maximizing the Momentum of LED Upgrades

Maximizing the Momentum of LED Upgrades

By Susan Bloom

Distributors work to capitalize on the demand for LED upgrades, described as “one of the biggest growth opportunities the electrical industry has seen in the past 15 years.”  

Once considered ‘the future of lighting’ a decade ago, LEDs have come into their own and currently offer a high-performing, long-lasting, and low-maintenance solution for nearly every general lighting and niche application in the market. Among the fastest-growing segments of the LED market are upgrades of outdoor and parking garage applications (by 2030, the DOE forecasts that LED technology will account for 99% of all parking garage lighting), emergency lighting, and streetlighting for the estimated 25-44 million streetlights resident in the nation’s cities, towns, and municipalities, which have historically been lit by outdated HID or fluorescent sources. Recognizing the broad range of opportunities in the growing market for LED conversions, wise distributors are clamoring to meet the demand and position themselves to capitalize on an ongoing stream of LED projects in these segments.

“The introduction/acceptance/application of and current broad-scope conversion to LED lighting is probably the biggest change and growth opportunity the electrical industry has seen in at least the past 15 years,” confirmed Peter Bellwoar, Executive Vice President at Colonial Electric Supply, an over century-old King of Prussia, PA-based distributor which services customers from New York City to Washington, D.C. through 25 locations. As a result, he said, “our sales team is well-trained in lighting and control technology and actively looks for opportunities to upsell customers to LED technology.”

With its 22 locations throughout Pennsylvania, nearly 100-year-old Harrisburg, PA-based Schaedler Yesco has also been actively involved in the LED upgrade market.  “Emergency lighting upgrades at end users such as Landmark Suites, Armstrong Industries, and Precision Components are among our most recent projects,” shared Stephen Shepps, LC, Schaedler Yesco’s Lighting and Power Distribution Manager.  “I would expect to see more and more customers updating their emergency systems as they upgrade from old halogen or fluorescent technology to LED and as some of the new lighting control systems begin to incorporate wireless emergency monitoring systems, such as Acuity’s FIDO system, which Acuity will be soon be integrating into their nLight Air wireless control system. These types of control systems will not only save on electricity but on maintenance as well,” he said.

Takin’ It to the Streets

“The process of converting streetlighting from HID to LED by municipalities has been underway for some years now and gains momentum every month,” confirmed Bellwoar, whose firm recently worked with the borough of Queens, NY on a $15 million project to upgrade 88,000 cobra head fixtures with LEDs and is currently working on projects involving both the City and School District of Philadelphia. “More and more municipalities are looking at the success other municipalities have had converting their HID streetlighting to LED and are beginning to put resources in place to convert their own municipality. It’s not just limited to streetlights either,” shared Bellwoar, who noted that Colonial Electric is currently supplying replacement LEDs to several subway tunnels in New York City. “Any lighting that’s owned or operated by the municipality is under review for conversion opportunities, including the interiors and exteriors of public buildings, public parking lots, and bridges and tunnels.  Clearly many municipalities recognize the benefits of converting to LEDs and see the opportunity to reduce their energy, operating, and maintenance costs,” he said, “and the added benefit of increased security through more cameras and sensors makes these projects even more appealing.”

While Schaedler Yesco has similarly been involved in numerous LED streetlighting projects, including LED upgrades in the Pennsylvania towns/boroughs of Reading, Chambersburg, and Mount Alto, Shepps notes that none of them have yet opted for ‘smart’ lighting.  “Interestingly, a few years ago, we heard that the Pennsylvania DOT tested a smart lighting system mock-up on the Clarks Ferry Bridge in Duncannon, PA and found that it would actually cost them more, not just up-front but over time as well due to nuisance alerts that service teams would then have to go troubleshoot,” he explained. “It may have just been due to the fact that it involved an early-generation smart lighting system, but our overall experience has been that customers don’t see enough of an upside in using these systems to justify their additional cost.”

Tips for the Taking

Below, Shepps and Bellwoar offer dos and don’ts for capitalizing on LED streetlighting and other low-hanging LED upgrade opportunities:

  • Ownership Affects Projects – “In some boroughs and municipalities where the utility company owns the fixtures, we’re seeing upgrades occur at a much slower rate than in non-utility owned areas,” Shepps said. “This is unfortunate, because the municipality doesn’t get to reap the rewards of energy savings.”
  • Take a Wide View – Shepps believes that having ‘NCQLP LC’-certified lighting professionals and engineers on staff gives his firm an advantage when it comes to upgrading building, street, and area lighting to LEDs.  “We feel that by having these specialists in-house, we’re able to offer end users the best design and solutions for their specific application from every possible option available — not just the best solution any one manufacturer has or the best solution a lighting rep may have on their line card,” he said.
  • Invest in Photometric Layouts – Rather than blindly relying on manufacturers’ performance claims when it comes to replacing HID lamps with LEDs in one-for-one area lighting changeouts, Shepps recommends taking the time to conduct professional tests. “Detailed, CAD-based photometric layouts are a must to ensure that you’re meeting county and municipal codes as well as IES footcandle requirements,” he said. “Because there are massive liability issues when designing streetlighting, these projects should only be undertaken by certified professionals.”
  • Have Patience – While Colonial Electric has supplied several municipalities in the Philadelphia area with new LED smart city streetlight technology (both cobra head and decorative fixtures) from Current, Powered by GE for enhanced security and light control, Bellwoar said that these projects don’t happen overnight.  “These jobs range in size from $1-3 million and have long sell cycles,” he confirmed.  “There’s a lot of education required to bring municipalities up to speed on the technology so that they become familiar and comfortable with it, and further training is required after the product is installed.  Overall, there are some challenges involved with these projects, as this is new technology for municipalities and it’s constantly evolving.”


Bloom is a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry. Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.


Tagged with , , , ,

Comment on the story

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *