Science Cafe returns in person at Market Days to talk about Concord’s energy goals

Monitor staff
Published: 8/9/2021 6:12:23 PM

Concord has a goal of making sure 100% of electricity consumed in the city comes from renewable energy sources in just nine years. This seemed a bit of a stretch when the council adopted it in 2018, yet in light of dire warnings from the latest climate-change report, it now feels like a minimum requirement of good governance.

However, it is easier to set goals than to reach them. So you may be wondering what the city is doing, whether its ideas are realistic, and how Concord is doing compared to other places.

You’re in luck. Science Cafe New Hampshire is returning in person for the first time since November 2019, and we’ll chew on this very question during an outdoor discussion at the Market Days festival in downtown Concord. More on that in a minute.

One of the things that is sure to come up in the discussion is the current program for replacing the city’s 2,100 streetlights with LED versions by the end of the year.

According to initial estimates, this will cut street light electricity usage by 68%. That’s about 770,000 kilowatt-hours saved per year, according to RealTerm Energy, the Maine firm that won the contract, or about 128 times the total amount of electricity I used in my home last year.

While this isn’t actually replacing current usage with renewable energy, it’s almost as important. Cutting the amount of energy you need not only makes it easier to get by with renewables, it can save money. The saying in energy circles is that the cheapest and cleanest megawatt of electricity is the one you don’t need, a.k.a. the “negawatt.”

Upgrading streetlights is less straightforward than it sounds, said Mark Carter, a vice president with RealTerm Energy, who is overseeing the Concord project. It involves more than removing every light and putting up an LED.

“There are 19 different data points we’re putting in a GIS database,” he said, ticking off options: “Is it a little two-foot mast on the shoulder or an 8- or 10-foot mast that puts light clear across the road? Is it a metal or wood pole. … Local characteristics; frequencies of accidents, vehicular/pedestrian conflict.” Even crime data can be incorporated.

“The team will take all that information and use a standard by the Illumination Engineering Society, referred to as RP8-2020 Roadway Lighting, to determine what the lighting level should be for road classification.”

But there’s more to it because traffic patterns can change after lighting is installed and technologies change, too.

“You can cure the sins of the past. Lighting put up in the ‘50s might be different than the ‘60s and ‘70s,” he said. “Here is your one chance to say we’re going to normalize the lighting throughout the entire municipality. It should look the same – color temperature, intensity, light pattern on the ground.

“When we go do the audit and the design, we may say, ‘you know what, 70 watt is not enough based on IES guidelines, but it should be 100 watt – so we’re going to recommend a 32 watt LED,’ ” Carter said. “Conversely, maybe it should have been a 50 watt, so we’ll put a 19-watt LED.”

Replacement is slated to begin next month after planning is done, and to be finished by the end of the year. The estimated cost of  $720,000 will be covered partly by a grant from Unitil, the city’s electricity provider, and partly through billing.

As for the return of Science Cafe New Hampshire. As you may recall, we met in bars and restaurants for a decade, both here and in Nashua, to discuss all sorts of meaty topics from a science point of view until COVID-19 derailed everything. SCNH has been holding monthly sessions online but that’s not quite the same, is it? So I jumped at the chance of bringing it back for Market Days.

We’ll gather in a tent in front of the State House from 5 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 19, the first day of the weekend-long Market Days festival. We’ll discuss what Concord is doing about its energy pledge, what it plans to do and should do, as well as what it’ll cost, what’s feasible, what Nashua and other cities are doing, and anything else that you – yes, you! – want to know.

As always, the conversation will be driven entirely by audience questions, and Concord TV will film it for future audiences. And, yes, it’s free.

Panelists will be Concord City Councilor Rob Werner, director of the state League of Conservation Voters; Coria Brown, energy manager for the city of Nashua, which also has strong goals and in many ways is ahead of Concord; and Bob Hayden, senior energy analyst at Standard Power of America in New Hampshire, who I invited to douse us with the cold water of financial and technical reality if it becomes necessary.

Science Cafe currently has no plan to return to live monthly events. Like everybody else, we’re waiting until COVID-19 fades, which, thanks to – well, you know why – is still a ways off. You can keep track of what we’re doing, including online events, at sciencecafenh.org.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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