They light up the numbers on your digital clock, produce almost no heat, and burn emission-free for hundreds of hours longer than other lighting at a fraction of the costs. And someday, they may illuminate your nighttime travels through Southeast Texas.
Light-emitting diodes, better known as LEDs, are nothing new. First created in the mid-1920s, a practical version came into being in the early 1960s with more and more uses found for them in the decades following.
Earlier this year, Entergy Texas, Inc.’s street lighting coordinator, Clay Sport, took notice of manufacturers using LED technology to produce streetlights. He purchased a sample light to install and study to determine whether the money-saving, environmentally friendly technology held promise for Southeast Texas.
Sport, along with Kyle Todd, reliability manager, installed the LED streetlight over a portion of the parking lot at Entergy’s Beaumont Service Center. And while there are a few modifications they would like to see take place, both are enthusiastic about the potential for using LED lighting throughout Southeast Texas.
“The technology is still in an infant stage and has a long way to go,” Todd said. “But we want to stay ahead of the curve and begin looking at the technology now.”
In today’s environmentally conscious world, LED lighting holds considerable promise. Of Entergy Texas’ nearly 56,000 streetlights, nearly 43,000 are high-pressure sodium lights. The remainder are mercury vapor lights that the company began phasing out years ago. Both require a special process for disposal. Entergy’s exploration of LED street lighting fits with the company’s overall policy of environmental responsibility. Entergy is also a supporter of the Change-a-Light program that encourages residential customers to use energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs at home.
LED lighting can fit into an electrical circuit, but illumination comes from the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material. The result is an efficient, cool and clean-burning light. The problem, of course, is that LED lights are small and give off directional light. They light up where they are pointed instead of diffusing enough light for the surrounding area as well. Technology is addressing those issues several ways, including installing LEDs in groups configured to light a larger area.
Entergy’s LED streetlight went into place in early January. Sport notes that LED lighting would mean decreased cost for maintenance, because the heat standard lighting produces is often a culprit in equipment breakdowns. Additionally, there would no longer be special environmental concerns with disposal of replaced lights. There is no ballast in the LED streetlights, so they are neither heavy nor bulky. Plus, they produce a true-to-color white light, unlike the odd glow of most streetlights.
But there are barriers to their immediate use, including operational and technical issues. The biggest may be their expense. They cost about 40 percent more than current lighting. In one place where the streetlights are being used, they are being phased in with the help of grants and other assistance. Ann Arbor, Mich., has embraced the technology early. Plans there call for all streetlights to eventually become LEDs. They already light the way along a few streets in downtown and in one residential neighborhood. The rest of the city’s lights will be replaced as it becomes feasible from both a technology and cost point of view.
The ability by the manufactures to reduce the first cost and improve the technology  will figure heavily into where, when and if Entergy Texas brings LED street lights to Southeast Texas. “As technology improves, we expect the price to come down,” Todd said. “I believe the environmental benefits will eventually be a key driver for installation of LED street lights.”
Neither Sport nor Todd, however, are ready to predict when LED streetlights will illuminate Southeast Texas roadways.
“It’s good to test them, review their durability and efficiency and be able to address any concerns with the fixtures before we bring them in,” Todd said.
Entergy Texas provides electricity to 395,000 customers in 26 counties. It is a subsidiary of Entergy Corporation. Entergy Corp. is an integrated energy company engaged primarily in electric power production and retail distribution operations. Entergy owns and operates power plants with approximately 30,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity, and it is the second-largest nuclear generator in the United States. Entergy delivers electricity to 2.7 million utility customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Entergy has annual revenues of over $11 billion and approximately 14,500 employees.