DOE Brightens the Path to Chicago's LED Conversion

chicago at night

Did you know that for every 10 Chicagoans, there is a hard-working street light brightening their path? In fact, the largest city in the Midwest has a network of more than 300,000 street lights that collectively form a nightlight visible from space. Until now, less than 2% of these lights have been converted to LED, the new standard in efficient, effective outdoor lighting, but that’s about to change.

The Key Players

With support and technical assistance from the Department of Energy and MEEA, the City of Chicago and Chicago Infrastructure Trust have committed to converting 270,000 high-pressure sodium fixtures to LED and deploying one of the largest networked lighting management systems in the country.

The Chicago Infrastructure Trust (Trust), a non-profit organization whose mission is to catalyze public infrastructure projects, worked with the Office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, multiple city departments and the Chicago Park District to lay the groundwork for this impressive project and shepherd it through council approvals. From the early stages, MEEA—with generous support from the Department of Energy and technical assistance from Pacific Northwest National Laboratories—provided guidance, support and an emphasis on achieving maximum energy savings for the city and its residents.

DOE's Invaluable Resources 

In the years leading up to the conversion, the city had to tackle barriers related to infrastructure, financing, technology and more, but for every nearly challenge that emerged, the project team drew on U.S. Department of Energy resources to help zero-in on a workable solution. Cities contemplating their own conversion should check out the Better Buildings Initiative: Outdoor Lighting Accelerator (OLA) online toolkit, which includes a user-friendly decision-tree and the U.S. DOE Outdoor Lighting Resources webpage, which offers resources such as the retrofit financial analysis tool, and model specifications for roadway luminaires and networked outdoor lighting control systems. These resources and more helped pave the way toward a successful project in Chicago.

The Path Forward 

As of early 2017, the Trust has proceeded to the contracting phase with the successful bidder, Ameresco, for this ~$160 million project. The four project components—a complete street lighting asset inventory, conversion of 270,000 HPS fixtures to LED luminaires, targeted infrastructure stabilization/repairs, and rollout of a city-wide Lighting Management System—are expected to be completed in four years.

MEEA staff cannot wait to see the next NASA photo showing a more efficient Chicago in four years.

To learn more, access MEEA’s online street lighting toolkit or contact Rose Jordan at

Photo Credit: NASA Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra,, taken from the International Space Station on April 5, 2016