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Cross-Europe buying consortium to drive prices down, innovation up for public lighting

Winding your lights down under Baker Street: The PRO-LITE consortium will drive affordable LED lighting innovations for public places, including the London underground. Above, London's Baker Street stop.

In a world of shrinking government budgets, how can public entities afford LED lighting, which for all of its dramatic energy savings, can cost a fortune in upfront capital expenditures?

London’s transport division and five other public bodies from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have come up with an answer: Band together to gain not only purchasing power, but to also push LED vendors for innovations.

‘It’s about public sector organisations spending money in the private sector, but asking those private sector organisations to bring some new technologies into the marketplace,’ said Leon Smith, project manager for technology and innovation at Transport for London, which spearheaded the formation of the group called PRO-LITE – Procurement of Lighting Innovation and Technology in Europe.

First up: Members of the group will buy LED lighting for schools in Germany in Italy next spring. Soon after, Transport for London (TfL) hopes to place an order for inventive LEDs that will withstand the rigors of London’s underground train system, Smith said in an interview with Lux. TfL’s seven-point wish list includes, among other things, heavy duty bulkhead lighting for tunnels as well as lighting that evenly diffuses across a wall (see the full list below the story).

The European Commission is providing €2 million to PRO-LITE to assist in its operations. It will also contribute a one-off 20% of the cost to the German and Italian school projects.

While TfL’s London underground scheme does not directly involve other European groups, the idea is to help stimulate lighting innovations that otherwise might not reach the market, Smith said.

 Innovations like a pre-PRO-LITE development in which lighting vendor EASi developed a Lux Award-winning plastic LED tube for TfL could now come with greater regularity, he noted. (EASi developed the product because dirt – common in the underground system – that bakes onto more standard glass tubes does not bake onto the plastic models).

TfL is already updgrading its underground lighting to energy efficient LEDs at several stations. 

Besides TfL, the group’s members include: the cities of Bremen, Germany and Turin, Italy, both focused on buildings including schools  and, in the case of Turin, ‘traffic lighting’; the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance’s Consip unit, a central purchasing body for public projects and which is focused on streetlighting in the case of PRO-LITE; Holland’s central government procurement agency PIANOo; and Spain’s EVE (Ente Vasco de la Energia), the energy agency in the Basque region.

PRO-LITE is looking for additional members.

Smith oversees innovation across all of TfL, not just in lighting. PRO-LITE could become a procurement model for other areas within the transport group. For instance, TfL is investigating the use of energy-saving lightweight carriage doors built from aerospace material. London’s TfL oversees surface transportation as well as the underground.

The EC’s backing of PRO-LITE echoes a multi-city emphasis increasingly favoured by Brussels when it is considering funding. It anticipates providing about €70 million to collaborative public LED initiatives under its broader 7-year, €80 billion (yes billion) Horizon research and development programme. It recenlty backed a 6-city, Genoa-led initiative that included LEDs for streets and public venues in the Italian city as well as in Belfast, Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Heraklion, Crete, and Klaipeda, Lithuania.

                                   Transport for London’s underground wish list: 

Baker Street underground photo is from Nick Adams