Let There Be LED Lights

Joe Garisto shows off a pair of LED tubes that he says can revolutionize the lighting industry, and save municipalities like Vaughan millions. Photo by Omar Mosleh.

When it comes to dealing with government, Joe Garisto says there is a lot of red tape in getting a green light.

Garisto, a 43-year-old Woodbridge entrepreneur, says he has a product that could revolutionize the lighting industry. He sells a new type of light-emitting diode that he claims can save 50–90 percent on an electrical bill by reducing energy consumption.

LED technology is considered more environmentally friendly because, unlike conventional bulbs, it does not release chloride or contain mercury. Also unlike incandescent bulbs they do not have a tungsten filament inside that burns. Instead, they create light with an electrical chip that produces a chemical reaction. LED lights last about 100,000 hours, 10 times as long as fluorescent lamps and almost 130 times longer than an incandescent bulb.

So far nearly every government body Garisto has approached has been skeptical.

“I find with all these organizations, they care nothing about the real underlying problem when it comes to green initiatives,” he said in an interview. “There’s basically a line, splitting those who actually care about the environment and those that just want to save money.”

LEDs have been around for 50 years, but have not been viewed as a practical lighting solution due to their cost. But in 2009, Colin Humphreys, a professor and director of research at the University of Cambridge in England, discovered a new method of creating LEDs using gallium, a chemical that drastically reduces the cost of production.

Garisto’s LED tubes utilize this new technology, and one of his 18-watt bulbs produces the same amount of light as a 50-watt, 4-foot fluorescent light tube, the type used in most office buildings.

Tony O’Donohue, a civil engineer and former Toronto city councillor who founded the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, an arm of the city that works on environmental issues, is a strong supporter of Garisto’s LED tube. He says it is one of the most energy-efficient and cost-effective products he has seen in a long time.

“I think the (potential) savings are phenomenal,” he tells Vaughan Today. “That’s why I support him.”

But Garisto has not received much further support. The York Region District School Board and York Catholic District School Board both have said they are not interested — even in free samples.

Norm Vézina, senior manager of environmental and office services for the Catholic school board, said the board has done significant research in the past few months and did not find the replacement of its current fluorescent lights feasible.

“Our research shows that the life cycle cost to replace interior high-efficiency existing T8 (fluorescent) lighting with LED is not efficient at this time,” he told local trustee Maria Carnovale in an e-mail she forwarded to Garisto.

Carnovale defended the board’s decision and pointed out initiatives such as the Eco Champion program, which promotes awareness on energy consumption.

“It’s not that we’re negligent,” she told Vaughan Today. “We obviously can’t adapt everything at once.

“We’ve made great strides on all levels . . . We’re really quite on top of a lot of green initiatives.”

Garisto says he received a similar response from the York Region District School Board.

“If they just gave me five minutes of their time, I could prove it’s cost-effective,” he declares.

He says he also tried contacting, though unsuccessfully, one of the City of Vaughan’s strongest green advocates, Councillor Alan Shefman.

Shefman was on vacation at the time of this writing.

But there may be light for Garisto at the end of the tunnel.

He recently outfitted an underground parking lot at Jane Street and Steeles Avenue West. And the Toronto District School Board is conducting an LED feasibility and cost-evaluation test.

Iftikhar Uddin, the board’s energy project coordinator, confirmed the board is conducting the tests to see if Garisto’s tubes are fiscally possible.

“LED is a recent technology, and it conserves power, but its price is high,” he said. “We want to see whether we’ll be able to fit it in or not.”

Most buildings still use fluorescent light tubes indoors. Garisto’s LEDs, at $45, are still more expensive than a conventional fluorescent light. But O’Donohue said the money is recouped via yearly energy savings.

To O’Donohue, the switchover is a no-brainer.

“My first reaction was, why does it take them so long to come this far?” he said.

O’Donohue says the answer is simple: unlike private organizations, governments are wary of trying new technology because they are accountable to the public.

“Cities, and all bureaucratic systems, are very cautious because they don’t want to get fooled by all the people who come and want to sell them products,” he said. “They’re not set up for that, and that’s the sad part of it.”

He said the public tendering process, often in place to ensure transparency, also results in a very slow implementation of new technologies.

The City of Toronto currently uses LED lighting in many parks and parking garages, but has not done a full interior switchover. Vaughan initiated an LED street light program in 2009.

Vaughan has begun billing itself as a green city with the construction of its new city hall, one of Canada’s first LEED gold-certified buildings. Garisto says the city is not doing enough.

“Installing 4-foot fluorescent bulbs in offices is not green,” he remarked.

O’Donohue figures it is simply a matter of time before a complete conversion takes place.



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