In an attempt to cut greenhouse emissions, Boston is embarking on a plan to convert all its electric lighting to efficient LED fixtures.
When compared with things like transit and heat, lights may seem a small piece of Boston’s emissions pie. But they’re far from insignificant.
Streetlights alone account for nearly one-tenth of emissions from municipal operations, and about 0.2 percent of citywide carbon pollution, according to Stacia Sheputa, the city’s director of communications for the Environment, Energy, and Open Space Cabinet.
In 2019, the Boston community emitted 6.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. Local government operations emitted 138 thousand metric tons of GHGs. That means in 2019, streetlights were responsible for between 12,400 and 15,500 metric tons of carbon pollution — or around the same carbon footprint as the annual electricity use of 10,000 homes.
The city has some 80,000 street lights, and not all of them have the same carbon impact.
The most polluting are the historic, ornate ones powered by gas. There are 2,800 of those across the city — accounting for just 4 percent of total street light fixtures. But they produce roughly 5,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases every year, accounting for 37 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from Boston streetlights. So the city is working to swap them out with LED versions, which aim to keep the same look.
What about the rest of those 80,000 lights? Well, approximately 14,000 of them are conventional electric lights, each responsible for an estimated 0.10 metric tons of CO2 annually, according to the city.
LED lights use about half the energy of conventional ones.
Boston has already cut emissions from streetlights by about half since 2010, in part by converting to LEDs.
Officials believe all the city’s traffic lights are powered by LEDs, but it will soon confirm that, and also take stock of the emissions footprint of other municipal lights.
The city said last week it will begin by making an inventory of all of its street lights, traffic lights, and athletic field and park lights, noting the condition and type of each.
“We are having an auditor go to each pole,” Sheputa said.
The Streetlighting Department will use the data in a conversion plan for all the lights.