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LED Lamps Make Hillsboro, Oregon Shine

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TORRANCE, CA — October 10, 2001 — Hillsboro, Oregon faced an ongoing problem: its Arch, the embodiment of civic pride, had become an eyesore in the city’s nightscape. Marring the grandeur of 90-foot Arch was the failure of many of the 580 incandescent lights adorning its contours. The burnt-out bulbs prompted complaints from city residents. With an average operating life of just 14 months, replacing the failed lights was a frequently needed chore, but one not often nor easily performed due to the logistics involved.

Compounding the problem was the light rail line running beneath the Arch, and the transit authority’s reluctance to stop rail service, reroute trains and inconvenience commuters to enable maintenance crews to relamp the Arch. Two or three times a year, the transit authority gave city maintenance an hour, usually at 2 A.M., to replace any failed incandescent bulbs. Not only was the time less than ideal, it was costly. Overtime labor expenditures for a relamping crew of four and a flag crew of two, amounted to about $1000 plus $1100 for renting a 100-foot lift truck.

With goals of minimizing the frequency with which the Arch had to be relamped and reducing maintenance costs, Hillsboro Facilities Manager Mike Klein searched for an alternative to the incandescent lights. “We considered using flood lights to wash the structure in color, but then started to research something with a longer life. We knew about LED technology, so we looked for and found a company that made LED bulbs that we could use on the Arch.”

Mike contacted LEDtronics (, a premier light emitting diode (LED) lamp manufacturer located in Torrance, California. LEDtronics’ answer: a four-LED cluster 470nm Blue LED (LEDtronics part number WN304CPB1KB-24VAC-SLD) that uses a tenth of power required by an equivalent incandescent lamp and, most importantly, operates for 11 years. An LED is a diode chip made from semiconductor materials, usually from groups III and IV of the periodic table. When current flows across the junctions of the different materials the energy level in the semiconductor changes. This change in energy generates photons, some of which are emitted as light. The color wavelength of the light is determined by the composition of the semiconductor material and is independent of the lens color.

With an average 100,000-hour operating life, LEDs last 30 – 50 times longer than any incandescent lamp, making them the perfect solution for a maintenance-intensive lighting application like the Hillsboro Arch. While hair-thin metal filaments and glass make incandescent lights vulnerable to damage, LEDs are solid-state with no fragile filaments to break. The results? LEDs are impervious to electrical and mechanical shock, vibration, frequent switching and environmental extremes so they operate year-after-year. In the four months since the 580 LEDs have been installed on the Arch there have been no failures.

“Over a similar four month period, we would lose 5-10 percent of the incandescent lamps to burnout,” says Mike Klein. Between the cost of the incandescent lamps and labor expenditures, it was costing almost $2500 each time lamps were replaced. This became a $5000 to $7500 per year expenditure that has now been virtually eliminated by using LED lamps manufactured by LEDtronics.

LED lamps use 80% to 90% less operating power than standard incandescent bulbs, which expend 90% or more their energy in the formation of heat. LEDs emit 100% of their energy as colored light while generating negligible heat. In the short time since the Arch was relamped, Hillsboro has already seen considerable savings in operating costs. The Arch now operates at 0.6kW for the entire 580 lamps compared with 2.7kW for incandescents — a four-fold reduction in the operating costs and a 75% decrease in energy consumption.

While LED lamps seemed the most logical choice based on life expectancy, the price when compared with similar incandescent lamps made Hillsboro skittish. Hillsboro’s financial concerns were soothed when analysis showed that the cost of the LEDs would be off set by the reduced number of times the Arch had to relamped. Typically, savings from reduced power usage, maintenance cost and downtime return the capital investment in six to eight months! While the purchase price of an incandescent appears as pennies in the books, the true cost lies in squandered energy and labor costs. Depending on what it costs to pay a maintenance worker – even if it’s just for 15 minutes – the real cost of relamping incandescent bulbs skyrockets.

Cost savings aside, the Arch is more attractive. The LEDs create a soft electric-blue halo against the night sky – a dramatic departure from the harsh corona made by the incandescent lamps. LEDtronics provided Mike Klein with lamps of various colors from which to select. After seeing the different colors, city staff members voted for the blue. “The lighting is different as well,” Klein said. “In some ways, it’s more intense and more directional. It depends on the angle from where you’re viewing it. I think you’ll see the Arch from a lot farther away now,” Klein said. “From farther away, it looks better. From a distance the two lines of blue kind of merge together.”

LED lighting is emerging as a viable, provocative alternative to incandescent lighting. Fueling the migration of LEDs into general lighting applications are new manufacturing technologies, packaging innovations and the increasing number of colors. These factors along with a growing awareness of the advantages of LEDs (e.g., a life span measured in years not hours, vivid sunlight-visible colors and low-power requirements) have engineers, architects and the residents of Hillsboro viewing LEDs in a whole new light.

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