By Alex Davies for WIRED.
NOT LONG AGO, Los Angeles ditched its power-hungry sodium-vapor streetlights in favor of miserly LEDs. The new lights bathed the city in a pale yellow-white hue, but also added a touch of green.
Replacing 4,500 miles of outdated technology took four years and cost $57 million, but now saves $9 million a year in energy costs and 60,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. It also leaves power plants with excess capacity--an unintended benefit that the city will use to power as many as 100 new electric car charging stations. "It was totally gravy," says Mayor Eric Garcetti.
So far, the city has installed three of those stations, all of them downtown. It plans to add 27 more by the end of the year and have as many as 100 running a year after that. It's an interesting use for excess power that "totally makes sense," says Eric Mills, marketing VP at Cree, which provided some of the LEDs that LA finished installing in 2013.
Garcetti heard about the idea in 2014 from Matt Peterson, the city's first chief sustainability officer, and Ed Ebrahimian, who runs the Bureau of Street Lighting. This being a municipal project, it took 18 months to launch and get buy-in from a handful of agencies. The city DOT agreed to surrender some parking meter revenue, for example, and the Department of Water and Power hooked up the juice.
The Level 2 chargers supply 240 volts and typically provide up to 20 miles of range for every hour you're plugged in. Chargepoint, the country's largest charging provider, operates one of them. LA officials intend to enable credit card payments at all the stations, obviating the need for membership with any given company.
The LED project covered the entire city (minus a few historical districts), so there's no limit on where the chargers might go. Still, the city can't line every boulevard, because even a Chevy Spark draws more power than the least efficient streetlights.
Of course, 100 chargers won't do much in a city with six million cars. But the project falls under the city's "Sustainable City pLAn," which covers everything from cutting water use to bulking up mass transit to easing the cost of housing. "It's all of those together, combined with the idea of economic prosperity and equity," Garcetti says.
The mayor is an EV OG who's had not one but two doomed GM EV-1's and a first-gen electric Toyota Rav-4. Eager to expand the community, he's pledged to install 1,000 charging stations citywide by 2017. LA requires that half of all new light duty city vehicles have a cord, a ratio that climbs to 80 percent in 2025. Just today, the LAPD announced to add 100 electric BMW i3 cars to its fleet--a nice way of adding some red and blue to the pale white LEDs over those new charging stations.
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