Chattanooga business executive Don Lepard is passionate about light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and the technology that his company has developed to significantly reduce the operating cost of street lights for cities like his hometown.
In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, the President and CEO of Global Green Lighting (GGL) talked about the company he founded in 1997, and its response to the nation’s growing need for energy efficiency.
Lepard has recently returned from an eight-day trip to China, where he has an office that manufactures electronic components and wire harnesses for global appliance manufacturing companies. Doing business in China is a natural for a person who previously managed six national and international sales organizations as well as manufacturing facilities in several Asian countries.
“It was from that office that we birthed our lighting business,” Lepard explained. The “lighting business” is LEDs and induction fixtures coupled with a smart grid based wireless control technology.
For now, production occurs in China, where GGL can manufacture as many as 25,000 LED lights a month. That is about to change as the company prepares to meet growing demand for a product that Lepard says can realize a “measurable and recordable” reduction in energy usage up to 75 percent.
“We’re setting up for eight production lines in Chattanooga,” he said. Ramping-up started in September and will be completed by the end of the 2012. At that time, GGL will be able to produce up to 15,000 LED lights a month in the local plant.
“LED technology has been on the cusp the last three or four years,” Lepard explained, adding that GGL has created “a new paradigm shift, out of two other paradigm shifts” that he believes will revolutionize the lighting industry and, in essence, significantly accelerate his company’s growth.
He explained that GGL has “merged cutting-edge, low-energy lighting with an industry-leading wireless control system, to create the first lighting system with remote energy management control.”
“We offer the only street lights (in the world) with smart grid technology,” Lepard proudly notes. The result of the integrated approach is lower cost because GGL’s system “allows the municipality to be in control of each and every light fixture.”
The company’s web page describes the product as a “proprietary lighting control system (that) uses an FCC-licensed, private spectrum radio signal to communicate with every GGL-installed light within a 35 mile radius.”
Lepard explained that this means that every light can be controlled individually – dimmed, turned on or off, and even made to flash, providing a service he terms “situational functionality.” The GGL product is also described as offering improved light quality and color, as well as wireless monitoring to track exact energy usage for each light.
If a light stops working, it sends a self diagnostic report with its exact location within minutes. Lepard said this means that there is no longer a need to drive around looking for non-functioning lights any longer.
“We simply call it up on the system, and dispatch a repair truck within minutes.” Lepard says.
“Our primary focus (today) is municipal lighting,” Lepard explained, and added that the City of Chattanooga is both the company’s first major customer for the new offering and a key demonstration site.
GGL will be replacing about 26,500 street lights in the city over the next three years at a cost of $18.2 million. As it installs the new lighting, Lepard says that “Chattanooga will be hosting other cities interested in seeing how this conversation has transformed the scenic city, while cutting operating costs.”
Published reports indicate the average cost per light is about $687 and will save the city approximately $2.7 million per year when completely finished, resulting in a payback on the investment through reduced energy and maintenance costs in about seven years.
Lepard says there is seldom a week goes by that we are demonstrating the lighting control to someone who is interested. “We have already hosted visits from a number of cities in the USA, such as New Orleans, Knoxville, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Dalton, and a number of visitors from international countries such as South Australia, Switzerland, China, and Japan. We have even done a test deployment at the University of Alabama recently, and we hope to begin installing our new lighting system there by the end of the year as well.”
The company’s business model reflects the CEO’s belief in the long-term future of GGL.
“We are offering a specific ESCO for the street light approach, which means we will privatize and lease the street lighting,” Lepard says, explaining that it is an alternative to a city buying the lighting system. Under this option, GGL finances the installation of the lights and rebates a portion of the energy savings to the city.
There are no upfront capital equipment costs that will create debt on the cities. Lepard describes it as “the trifecta for lighting.” Cities will gain immediate savings without creating debt, reduce carbon foot print, and gain a multiple of collateral social and safety features.
In 2011, GGL was awarded Chattanooga’s prestigious Kruesi Spirit of Innovation Award, the nation’s first award for community-based innovation.
Lepard is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Prior to founding GGL, he was with the Steward Company for 13 years, including serving as Director of Manufacturing and Director of Domestic and International Sales and Operations.