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Philadelphia: Lighting the Way to a Sustainable Future

By USCM President Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter
June 3, 2013

Philadelphia has come a long way since Ben Franklin introduced the first street lights in 1771. A recent news article called Philadelphia “America’s City of Light,” based in part on the city’s Avenue of the Arts programmed LED lighting installations and new streetlights.

New energy efficient lighting technologies have benefited Philadelphia in a number of ways. The city’s Office of Sustainability’s Greenworks program recently reported that Philadelphia successfully reduced its municipal energy use by five percent since the program’s inception. While the largest portion of that reduction was due to reduced vehicle fuel use, the next largest contributor was replacing 85,000 incandescent traffic signals with LED bulbs, funded in part through an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant from the Department of Energy (DOE). Streets Commissioner Clarina Tolson recently noted, “Our costs have gone from $100,000 a month to $27,000 a month, real money that we pay out basically saving us 70 percent” in electricity costs.

Philadelphia also has witnessed first-hand how lighting can do so much more than save money and promote energy efficiency. Through lighting installations at Avenue of the Arts, Boathouse Row, and the Ben Franklin Bridge, lighting has helped beautify Philadelphia and promote economic development, drawing people to the city’s businesses and restaurants, and creating a welcome beacon for visitors and residents alike.

For example, the Avenue of the Arts, the city’s premier arts and entertainment district, is transformed each night by programmable LED lights. This energy efficient lighting design enhances the beauty of the buildings and provides safety and entertainment. The lighting celebrates the Avenue of the Arts as a large performance space and has served as a catalyst for the development, growth, and sustainability of this urban center. This installation was done with Philadelphia’s Center City District, the business improvement district for downtown Philadelphia.

The city continuously looks for ways that energy efficient lighting can further its sustainability goals. Through a partnership with DOE, the city conducted an LED street light demonstration project, evaluating different models of LED street lights at three locations. The report from the DOE found that each of the LEDs tested not only delivered more lumens to the sidewalk and roadway areas targeted, but also used between 10 percent and 40 percent less power. The report noted that, although “energy cost savings are not currently possible for Philadelphia because they have yet to reach an agreement with the local utility for a new tariff for LED street lighting,” additional savings from reduced maintenance could make widespread luminaire replacement cost-effective.

In addition to these outdoor projects, the city has looked at ways to reduce energy usage in its buildings, which are its biggest source of energy use and carbon emissions. This issue is not unique to Philadelphia. Buildings account for more than half of the energy used in cities, and 75 percent of lighting in buildings is inefficient. In fact, only one percent of office lighting uses controls, occupancy sensors, or daylight harvesting.

Like many cities, Philadelphia has witnessed a trend of increased energy use in city buildings, and is taking steps to address the issue. These include:

• Requiring that all major city building construction and renovation projects achieve a minimum of LEED Silver certification. Using a state grant to help renovate six recreation centers with modern lighting and controls that will save the city more than $100,000 annually in electricity costs and serve as models for replication across the recreation system.

• Establishing Energy Works, a program to help retrofit commercial buildings and residential homes.

• Using EPA’s Portfolio Manager tool to benchmark all city buildings of 10,000 square feet or larger (300 buildings in total).

• Passing an ordinance that requires the benchmarking and reporting of energy and water usage data in commercial buildings with indoor floor space of 50,000 square feet or more, or in the commercial portion of mixed use buildings where at least 50,000 square feet of indoor floor space is devoted to commercial use. This is designed to provide an important tool for the city to use real energy data to not only help lower costs, but improve efficiency, sustainability and quality of life for its residents.

• Transitioning to a sophisticated energy management system and providing customized energy use reports to city departments and staff on a monthly basis so they can track their usage and improve energy efficiency.

• Implementing a large-scale energy efficiency project at four of Philadelphia’s largest downtown office buildings where the guaranteed energy savings will cover the cost of the upgrades. Many of the energy conservation measures involve upgrading lighting and controls.

Philadelphia clearly has taken a leadership role in sustainability, and lighting has played a significant role in helping to meet the city’s goals. Through Nutter’s leadership of The U.S. Conference of Mayors, resources such as the new Mayors’ Lighting Partnership are available to help mayors across the nation learn more about the many ways energy efficient lighting technology can benefit their city. To learn more, visit the website For more information on all of Philadelphia’s sustainability efforts, visit the website