A local company is installing cutting-edge radio-controlled lights in Coolidge Park this week, slashing lighting costs and energy consumption by about 50 percent.
Expand technology like Global Green Lighting's beyond Coolidge to the rest of the city, and Chattanooga could save $1.5 million annually, according to government officials.
"That may come in time. We'll have to wait and see," said Dan Johnson, chief of staff for Mayor Ron Littlefield. "This wasn't designed to be a test, but it can act as one."
Global Green Lighting has brought its manufacturing operation to Chattanooga from China to tap into environmentally friendly projects. A large chunk of the funding for these lighting initiatives comes from federal stimulus money, which requires at least half of a product be made domestically. So, the company left China and brought about 80 jobs to the Chattanooga area.
The city decided to upgrade park lighting after a March 19 incident in which shots were fired as police tried to break up a group of about 300 youths.
Light is the best deterrent to crime, Johnson said, so the city is paying $251,695 -- $211,695 of which is covered by the Office of Sustainability to retrofit lights -- to brighten the park.
The city wanted a lighting system police easily could control that would mesh with the network the city already has. They found a quick, easy way of getting that here in town.
Global Green Lighting had been working for years with Raleigh, N.C.,-based Sensus, a utility infrastructure company, to develop a system that happened to be just what Chattanooga was looking for.
The lighting system can be controlled anywhere with Internet access, officials said. The lights can be dimmed, turned to full brightness and flashed as needed, but the majority of the time they'll take care of themselves.
They can be programmed to run at 25 percent brightness at dusk, 50 percent at night, 100 percent as the park closes, and whatever levels in between the city deems appropriate.
If a light burns out, the system will run a diagnostic test, sending a report of where the problem occurred and why within 15 minutes of the error.
"It's really high-tech stuff," said Global Green owner Don Lepard.
Lucky for Lepard, Global Green didn't have to reinvent the wheel to put this technology together. Sensus already had a radio-controlled metering system developed that adapted well to lighting.
"It's not like we're starting from scratch," Lepard said. "We took a tested technology and applied it to a new market."
Global Green is installing induction lights in the park, a lighting technology relying on magnets and microwaves to illuminate bulbs.
Right now, induction lighting coupled with the radio technology is hugely cost-effective, Lepard said. An LED light -- a popular alternative technology -- costs about $1,300. An induction light comes in at $425.
"It's cheeper cost, but it gives you the same as LED light," Lepard said.
He expects LED technology to catch up to induction lighting within the next decade -- induction development has plateaued while LEDs have been developing rapidly -- but induction is a great way to bridge the gap between lighting of the past and the future.
It may not be cost-effective to light an entire city with LED technology, Lepard explained, but using LEDs in main areas while putting up induction lights on secondary roads can be a cost-effective compromise.
Global Green is hoping to continue working with Chattanooga, and it's already outfitting other cities across the country. Baltimore is up next with a 70,000 light order, according to the company.
Lepard said he has been able to move manufacturing to Chattanooga largely without raising costs.
Quality problems abound with Chinese manufacturers, he said. On top of that, the federal government charges a 6.8 percent duty tax on fully-constructed goods being imported and a less than 2 percent tax on the individual parts.
Ultimately, Lepard attributes a lot of his success to the opportunities given him by Chattanooga.
Selling a city on lights in a showroom is one thing, but being able to point to what they expect to be a successful first deployment makes the sale all the more convincing.
"We're trying to break into a market that's controlled by giants, and the city's giving us a chance to do that," he said. "The city of Chattanooga has been behind us. They want to see us take this technology and make it grow."