How Adelaide in South Australia is going carbon neutral with the help of LED street lights

Reading time: 10 minutes
15 April 2016

Seven years have passed since The Climate Group's LightSavers initiative – a major trial of LED street lighting in 12 cities around the world – and many early adopters are already seeing big energy savings and environmental benefits from switching to LEDs.

The Climate Group is revisiting the original LightSavers cities to explore their progress since the early trials and uncover key lessons learned, in a series of articles. The first city is Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, which is a member of The Climate Group’s State & Regions Alliance. Find out more about our LED work.

The City of Adelaide in South Australia is one of the world’s leading cities when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

Supported by the Government of South Australia, Adelaide recently announced its intention to become the first carbon neutral city in the world by 2025, with public sector operations to be carbon free as early as 2020.

Both Adelaide and South Australia have a strong history of global leadership on climate and sustainability, having signed parallel international carbon reduction commitments through the Compact of Mayors and The Climate Group’s Compact of States and Regions respectively.

As a member of The Climate Group’s States & Regions Alliance along with 35 governments leading on climate action, South Australia has also pledged to achieve net-zero emissionsby 2050 – with progress against these commitments reported through the Compact of States and Regions, a partnership initiative driven by The Climate Group and CDP


Economic development has not been hampered by the city and state’s carbon reductions. Between 1990 and 2013, South Australia’s total carbon emissions fell by 9% while its economy grew by more than 60%.

Similarly the City of Adelaide achieved a 20% reduction in carbon emissions coupled with a 28% economic growth in the same timeframe.

Jack Mazek, Sustainability Advisor at the Adelaide City Council, explains the economic opportunities brought by lowering emissions – and adopting LED lighting in particular. “Here at the Adelaide City Council we have built a long and successful history of reducing carbon emissions from our own operations, setting ambitious and long-standing targets since as early as 2008. Between 1994 and 2009-10 the city’s carbon emissions fell by 60% and in 2011 we adopted the Energy Management Action Plan, a central strategy which targets deep cuts in energy use to maximize long-term carbon reduction from Council operations. 

“In October 2015, we reported having been able to meet the targets set in 2011, which also delivered annual cost saving to the Council of AUS$800,000 (US$604,045) based on 2014-15 prices. The savings have been achieved thanks to the successful implementation of a number of energy efficiency projects in major building assets and public lighting.

“Particularly, we recognize that adoption of city wide LED public lighting is one of the most immediate and actionable solution to implement on the way to net zero carbon emissions from city operations by 2020, and are deeply committed to making a significant dent in carbon emissions from the public lighting sector by making use of energy efficient LED lighting.”

Image: LED street lighting in Adelaide

LED lighting for 2025 Carbon Neutrality

To reach its GHG emission reduction targets, Adelaide has developed a plan of actions outlined in its Carbon Neutral Strategy 2015-2025, which highlights the key role energy efficient lighting will play in achieving the city’s carbon neutral targets.

Today public lighting accounts for around 20% of the City Council’s annual electricity consumption – corresponding to 2,900 tonnes of CO2-e each year.

In 2014-2015 the Council saved over AUS$160,000 (US$120,809) on electricity used in public lighting compared to the previous financial year. And in the same period electricity use fell by 16.4% and carbon emissions from electricity consumption declined by 580 tonnes of CO2-e.

And besides lighting, Adelaide’s carbon neutral strategy is also targeting electric vehicle transportation, promotion of renewable energies and energy storage as other key priorities to reach carbon neutrality over the coming decade.

LightSavers: From trials to rollout

In 2009, Adelaide City Council was one of the 12 major global cities that participated in The Climate Group’s LightSavers Program – a major global trial for LED street lighting to validate their performance, public acceptance and wider socio-economic benefits.

The project was supported by HSBC and Philips Lighting, and concluded that LED technology was ready for rollout in cities around the world and capable of achieving up to 50-70% energy savings at scale.

Adelaide City Council installed LED luminaires among a pedestrian pathway to compare performance with previous metal halide bulbs. The initial trial demonstrated how the LED luminaires were capable of reducing electricity consumption by 18% while delivering the same illuminance on the ground compared to the previous system.  

The city report produced at the end of the trial recommended Adelaide proceed with full scale-up of its 4,800 public lights to LED technology.

Overcoming early technical barriers

The initial stage of the upgrade was very much driven by the optimization of energy efficiency and technical performance using ‘cool white’ LED bulbs  (ie. reaching up to 5,000K color temperature) in around one-third of the city’s public lighting fixtures.

This early installation was not without challenges. Some residents objected to the new LED lights as they appeared too bright and cold. Glare was also reported as an issue, and in some cases ‘shields’ or ‘baffles’ were added to the luminaire to block excess light falling onto people’s homes.

The Adelaide City Council has now set out to address and solve these early adoption issues. Since 2009-10, LED lighting solutions have progressed and many energy efficient ‘warm white’ LEDs are more widely available.

Adelaide is therefore looking to install warmer white LEDs (eg. between 2,700K and 4,000K color temperature) for residential areas, primarily to satisfy public preferences while still achieving the much needed energy savings.

Image: LED street lighting in Adelaide

Long-term, smart plans

Before proceeding with upgrading the remaining two-thirds of the city lighting fixtures, the council is currently updating the Adelaide Design Manual to include reviews of the latest developments, long-term smart city opportunities, options on future-proofing installations to allow interoperability and future upgrading, and to review aesthetics of fixtures and lamps for some key areas of the city.

Options around smart city concepts are particularly challenging in areas of data acquisition, data use and data ownership, particularly where these may form the basis for future revenue streams for the city.

Another aspect that Adelaide has extensively considered is the use of adaptive lighting and dimming controls as an incremental energy saving opportunity – but the city’s legal lighting level requirements and resultant limited opportunities for savings has meant that this option has not been prioritized.  

Looking forward

The City of Adelaide, like many other cities around the world, has fully recognized the key role that LED lighting plays in achieving substantial energy savings and reducing carbon emissions at the city and state levels.

Early trials such as the LightSavers have been vital in validating LED performance and helping the business case for rollouts across the city.

Although some challenges have been recognized along the way, the city is now reviewing key design decisions for the future, as well as addressing public opinion before completing the remaining lighting upgrades.

Ben Ferrari, Director of Partnership at The Climate Group, says: “Being at the very forefront of bold actions and commitments to tackle its carbon emissions at the city level, Adelaide has recognized the key role that LED street lighting plays in reaching these emissions reduction targets.

“The LED story from Adelaide teaches us a very successful lesson about the importance of early rollouts of LEDs and early public consultations – and that cities can now move forward with confidence to reap the full energy and monetary benefits that LEDs can offer at scale.”

“State and city collaboration is crucial in both achieving successful low carbon transition and greater impact on emissions,” underlines Libby Ferguson, States & Regions Director, The Climate Group. “In fact, policy alignment on the city and subnational level would help setting ambitious, long-term targets that can give certainty to businesses while protecting and involving their citizens.”

As our latest city LED lighting consultations have revealed, such as in our report ‘The Big Switch’, technical issues around LED lighting have now been largely resolved.

Like Adelaide, many cities are now finalizing their options so they immediately benefit from the energy savings of LEDs, can maximize the opportunities for future products and services, and provide a modern and flexible lighting solution for their city residents, businesses and visitors.

This post is part of the ‘LED=Lower Emissions Delivered’ Campaign. Find out more about our LED scale-up project.

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by Arianna Tozzi

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