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Castlegar Dims the Streetlights

Castlegar, a rural City in the Kootenay Region of British Columbia (and our home) is getting smart street lights.

“The City of Castlegar is pleased to be the first city in Canada to totally commit to a complete transformation of all of its streetlights to the Adaptive Street Light Management System and moving ahead with its strategy for energy efficiency and green house gas reduction,” stated Castelgar’s Mayor Chernoff. “We also anticipate that the new lights will have a 6 to 7 year payback on investment and also be dark sky friendly.”

“The City of Castlegar is committed to reducing its energy consumption by adopting innovative and energy-efficient technologies,” states Michael Mulcahy, Executive Vice President, Customer and Corporate Services, FortisBC. “Through FortisBC’s PowerSense program, we are committed to helping our customers conserve energy and get the most out of their energy dollar.”

Maintenance efficiency savings is an important secondary benefit Castlegar will receive from the project, as staff will no longer be required to patrol streets to determine street light outages. Castlegar joins a growing number of communities that are dramatically reducing their street light operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions by installing SLQ’s Lumen IQ(TM) adaptive lighting controls.

With the City estimating a payback period of 6-7 years, (the manufacturer states 2-5 years),  the technology offers unprecedented control and reporting of the output and performance of streetlight fixtures. Talking with Chris Barlow, the Director of Public Works, the difference in payback periods is due to conservatism in his calculations, and having trialled the technology on several unsuspecting streets, progressively dimming the lights to see what the tolerance to reduced lighting would be, it seems that no body noticed the lower light output as there were no complaints. The best thing about the system from an operations perspective is the fine grained control of light output, this can be tweaked for each light or each neighborhood depending on factors such as the streetlight layout and road characteristics such as road width, the presence of sidewalks, frequency of collisions and proximity to intersections.

The system uses control software, radio hubs that allow the control of a number of lights, and receivers installed on each light fixture that have a proprietary photo-sensor and light output sensor. The system retrofits to the standard cobra head light fixtures, and apparently to other light standards as well, allowing for the continued use of this infrastructure.

One of the concerns I have is the heavy reliance on computer and radio frequency technology, fortunately, the system appears to gracefully degrade if the controls or radio connections fail. This is a new twist on the argument that our streets are over-luminated and that for most of the night the lights could be turned off.

I still vividly recall the first time I flew into Calgary in winter as dusk fell and couldn’t believe just how bright the City was. Having grown up in Sydney, a City about five times larger, I was astounded at the level of wasted light in this city of excess. Castlegar is no Calgary when it comes to size or lighting levels, but this project, spending around $250,000 should prove an excellent test study for other municipalities to review when considering options for replacing or retrofitting current streetlighting. I hope to see updated reporting on the success of the project as it moves forward over the years, and how the system performs against the expected parameters.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

3 thoughts on “Castlegar Dims the Streetlights

  1. When I stayed at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson Arizona I was surprised to see the parking lot had minimal lighting – no overhead lighting really. I was in their observation room admiring the night sky (yes you could see it) and another visitor told me the minimal city lighting was to preserve the night sky and not pollute the observations from nearby (90 km) Kitt Peak National Observatory. I asked her if she was worried about her personal security in such a dark parking lot. She replied “no” and showed me the handgun she had in her purse… but that’s another story!
    http://cms3.tucsonaz.gov/files/dsd/Tucson_Lighting_Code.pdf

    It’s a shame that in Castlegar you have to walk out of town to see the Milky Way. Let’s see if these new lights make a difference.

  2. A couple of years ago some driver collided with a power pole and Castlegar was in pitch darkness for about an hour or so.

    My dog and I took the opportunity to walk down our road and it was a magificent sight to see the stars in all their glory.

    I amost sent a “bouquet” to the Coffee Mate to the person whose mishap caused the blackout, and asking for a regular occurance so that we could see the night sky.

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