Update: Turning Off The Gas Lights
Trustee Levison sheds light on a yearlong experiment with on/off switches.
A little over one year ago, South Orange participated in an experiment of installing on/off switches in approximately 20 gas lights around town. The switch would turn the gaslights off during the day and back on at night, a plan that could save the town hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Currently the gas lights remain lit all day and night.
The gas light has become a historic symbol in South Orange. The town has over 1,400 gas lights, owned by PSE&G, which light the streets. The town has one of the largest collections of them in the United States. In addition, the gas light is in the town’s symbol, newspaper and even has a restaurant named after it.
The experiment of the switches was presented by Trustee Howard Levison, chairman of the finance and information technology committee and also the trustee liaison to the environmental commission. Although the official results of the experiment won’t be available for a while, Levison seemed pleased with what he saw out of the switches.
“They worked, I think, better than the traditional lamps, from a maintenance perspective,” said Levison. “But we don’t have accurate statistics at this time.
According to Levison, the switch, if installed in all the town’s gas lights, could save the town roughly $200,000-$400,000 a year. The cost of installing the switch is approximately $1 million. While PSE&G owns the lamps, Levison described how the cost would work to be beneficial to the town.
“We would like to purchase the addition ourselves, bond it and in essence, gift it to PSE&G,” said Levison. “What that does is that it doesn’t drive an ongoing tariff forever, recapturing the capital improvement put on that lamp.”
The switches would drive down maintenance and electrical costs for the town, earning back the capital improvement bonds over time. South Orange, one of the few communities to rely solely on gas lights, is not the only town testing the new switch.
“PSE&G is part of a consortium, this is not the only place it’s being tested,” said Levison. “We need to get the information from all the locations and see what it says about certifying if these things are acceptable.”
As for the future of the gas lights, Levison hopes the switches are just a start of future changes. He is an advocate for researching if ZigBee chips can be installed in the lamps. ZigBee chips are low range wireless chips that can transmit information at low data rates. Among other things, they are used in smoke detectors, wireless light switches and energy monitors. Levison hopes the chips can transmit the lamps’ working status to a designated location so that the town is more aware of when a lamp is dysfunctional.
“They call it machine-to-machine communication, so that we would come back to a node and pick up the communication,” said Levison. “But on the larger context, that opens up the ability to communicate because these can represent (wireless) nodes throughout the village.”
A node is the term for where wireless signals intersect, thus storing and broadcasting the data coming to them. If Levison’s plan is successful, the gas lights could be used for other purposes, such as security cameras and wireless technology throughout the town.
As for the cosmetic look of the lamps, the switches and potentially the future chips would not change the lamps visually. However, as Levison points out, there will be one big difference to the lamp during the day.
“The lamp is going to be off,” Levison says.