Obama Keeps the Lights on Bulb Bright Idea

Obama keeps the lights on bulb bright idea

By Cassie Spodak, CNN / Updated 7:57 PM ET, Mon January 26, 2015

Washington (CNN)President Barack Obama hosted 200 mayors at the White House Friday during the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter meeting, and called on local leaders to upgrade 1.5 million street lights to high efficiency LEDs.

The announcement is a continuation of the administration's effort to overhaul outdated technology in communities around the country and save money and energy -- and light bulbs are just the beginning.

The phasing out of old fashion light bulbs might seem like an odd reason for a political battle.

But in 2011, to Republicans, it was just that: the fight between consumer freedom and government intrusion. Criticism fell on Obama, even though the decrease in manufacturing of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs was actually the result of a law signed by George W. Bush in 2007 to promote energy efficient bulbs like LEDs.

Tensions were so high that Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann got a crowd riled up ahead of the 2012 election just by saying that "President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want in the United States of America."

Bachmann never won that title, and on Friday, Obama announced a new ambitious plan that takes light bulb efficiency to a whole different level.

According to experts in the field of LED technology the future of cities is about more than just saving money and energy, it is an opportunity for cities to fundamentally change the way they operate.

    "You could actually put a computer in there and do a lot of other things. We put in a sensor and a network and gather information about what's going on in the city for cities to use."

    Hugh Martin, CEO of Sensity Systems, an LED conversion company, told CNN that converting old lights to LEDs allows cities to also install a network of sensors that gathers data about traffic patterns, weather, parking spots and even terrorism.

    While most of the sensors installed in street lights are still in the trial period, Martin predicts that adoption of LED lights will sweep the country.

    According to Martin there are about 530 million high powered lights -- such as street lights, parking lot lights and warehouse lights -- in the country. He predicts that the U.S. would save about $94 billion a year in energy savings and maintenance by switching those to LEDs.

    Converting all of those lights to LEDs would save about 290 million tons of CO2 emissions a year, Martin says.

    "Within 10 to 15 years you're going to have all the major cities in the US with LED lights. In that period of time, at least half of them will have advanced systems that gather this sensory information to help the city better manage."

    The White House has announced commitments from 10 cities, two states and three regional networks to update their street lights.

    Martin says the White House initiative is not just about saving money, but also about remaining competitive globally. His company is also working with cities in Europe, Australia and India.

    "I think it's something the White House is interested in: how do we create infrastructure, new infrastructure, that allows us to not only manage the cities better, but gives us the competitive advantage relative to other countries."

    As Obama looks to what he can accomplish in his last two years of office, he told the mayors he is going beyond Washington, to local leaders in cities across the country.

    "We take our partnership with you seriously, because you are often the place where change happens fastest," the President told the room full of mayors Friday.

    "Successful cities in metropolitan areas end up being the engines by which communities and states, and ultimately nations, succeed."