Streetlights using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are designed to last longer and use less energy than conventional lighting, but it’s not working out that way in at least two U.S. cities.
Thousands of lamps installed in Detroit have failed prematurely, prompting a federal lawsuit against the manufacturer, The Detroit News reports.
The Public Lighting Authority’s suit against Leotek Electronics USA claims that 20,000 or more of the LEDs are dimming or burning out long before they were supposed to, and that the agency “expects a system-wide failure of Leotek’s luminaries in the short term.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says it may cost as much as $9 million to correct the problem. The LEDs were expected to last at least 10 years.
As part of an overhaul of the city’s lighting system, the city signed a deal with Leotek in March 2014 to buy more than 25,000 E-Cobra model LEDs in a variety of wattages for $3.9 million. Installing the lights was to cost about $5.2 million. In all, Detroit has about 88,000 streetlights, 40% of which didn’t work when the city undertook the upgrade.
The lamps came with a 10-year warranty. Last fall, routine inspections turned up a number of lamps that were “charred, burned or cracked,” the newspaper said. Leotek initially acknowledged the problem and said it would work with the city to correct the problem. Leotek’s failure to follow through prompted the lawsuit.
Leotek did not have a comment on the suit immediately but a spokesman said the company planned to issue a statement on the dispute.
Similar problem reported in California
Detroit isn’t alone in experiencing problems with Leotek LEDs. In Berkeley, California, Leotek has agreed to replace failing LED fixtures that are under warranty after higher-than-expected failure rates over the past year, Berkeleyside said in an online article in February.
Berkeley began replacing high-pressure sodium lamps with 8,000 LEDs in 2014. The LEDs were supposed to last between 15 and 17 years but the diodes in some of the lamps began failing last year. That left those streetlights burning, just not as brightly, and that prompted a number of complaints from residents about poorly list crosswalks and roadways.
Berkeleyside said said Leotek accepted responsibility for the failures and had offered to pay for replacement lamps. Who paid for the labor to install the new fixtures was up in the air. A call to the city’s spokesman was not returned.
The good news was that Leotek was updating the lights with a more efficient model that should save the city another 25% in energy costs when compared to the originals. The city borrowed $3 million from the California Energy Commission to buy the streetlights and uses the more than $400,000 in annual savings to pay off the loan, The Daily Californian said.
But no problems in Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon, is another city that replaced its high-pressure sodium lamps with LEDs from Leotek, but in contrast to Detroit and Berkeley it hasn’t had any unpleasant surprises. “They’re performing really well,” Bureau of Transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera said by telephone of the 45,000 LED streetlights the city has installed.
The city said the new lights would draw 29 watts, a 75% reduction from the 118-watt sodium vapor lights it had been using. The lamps could be expected to last for 24 years (100,000 hours of operation), which represented a sizable maintenance savings.
Rivera said the new streetlights were performing up to Portland’s energy expectations and the conversion represents the largest single carbon reduction strategy the city has put in place.
“Generally speaking,” he said, “people seem happy that we’re doing this.”
Get building science and energy efficiency advice, plus special offers, in your inbox.