Shining a light on Birmingham’s next-gen streetlights

Birmingham street lights 15 Shining a light on Birmingham's next-gen streetlights
A photo of Regions Field by Martin Gilmore – via Alabama NewsCenter

While you may have seen AL Power’s signature utility trucks repairing stoplights and streetlights before, you might not know that these lights are actually owned by the utility provider, and that they’re getting an upgrade.  Alabama Power is on track to replace the city of Birmingham’s street lighting with cool, clear LED lights, shifting away from the typical gas-discharge street lighting characterized by warm light.  But how is our city involved?

Ride the Lighting
140206225650 02 los angeles led horizontal large gallery Shining a light on Birmingham's next-gen streetlights
Comparison of LA’s streetlights, before and after LEDs were installed. LED-lighting is show on the right – via CNN

There are some good reasons to make the switch.  LED lighting, compared to traditional methods, use less than half the energy, even at brighter levels of luminescence.  They offer a more “neutral” temperature of light that reveals more detail than gas-discharge lighting.  And maybe most importantly, they last for years, sometimes even a decade, of constant use at a time, drastically reducing replacement costs.  However, LEDs aren’t without their flaws.

Where the sun don’t shine
140206230426 05 los angeles led horizontal large gallery Shining a light on Birmingham's next-gen streetlights
Another comparison shot in LA, with LED lighting on the right. It’s harsher, but much more revealing – via CNN

There are some concerns about LEDs, ranging from health impact to costs.  The American Medical Association offered warnings about LED lighting pertaining to Seasonal Affective Disorder and sleeping patterns.  If the color temperature of the LEDs is too cool, then they can disrupt sleep cycles and drivers’ nighttime vision, even to the point of retina damage.  Increased blue light can also make you fat.

Playing too many computer games


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Computers have had fancy lighting effects for years now. Some companies like Avexir even included tiny plasma tubes in their components – via

I’m just going to take this opportunity to throw out my own solution: RGB lighting.  It’s been a thing in computers for so long, even things like fans and RAM are adding rainbow, colorshifting LEDs to any place there’s room.  My mouse cycles colors.  My keyboard changes its backlighting in response to the keys I press.  My computer itself – well, doesn’t, but I had to work harder to keep it that way than I would have to let it shine like a toddler going bananas in a glowstick factory.

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My computer doesn’t look quite like this, but it was a struggle to keep it that way
Show me the money

Of particular concern to Birmingham, however, is how AL Power will manage these new lights.  LED lighting costs in Birmingham are entirely unregulated.  The company can charge whatever it likes and if the city wants to keep its streets lit, we’ll have to pay.  When asked if Birmingham’s bills would drop, AL Power spokesperson Keisa Sharpe was evasive: “I think that’s speculation at this point.  This is very new technology.”

Municipal LEDs are relatively new, of course.  But for all the speculation being done, one thing remains absolutely certain: Birmingham streetlights are about to draw a lot less power.

James Ozment
James Ozment

I'm a Birmingham native who loves music, cycling, reading, and tech. Find me on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College, in Avondale, or hanging out with my cat

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