Lights out: fallout from worldwide shortage impacting streetlight repair in Calgary

A backlog in streetlight outage repairs is leaving some Calgary neighbourhoods in the dark.

lights out: fallout from worldwide shortage impacting streetlight repair in calgary

According to city officials, a worldwide supply shortage of materials earlier this year has hampered the City of Calgary’s ability to replace the burnt-out streetlights.

“We had some issues at the beginning of the year with luminaires,” City of Calgary streetlight design team lead Michael Gray told Global News. “So we worked with our supplier to anticipate longer lead times, order more supply — so we’ve plugged that gap.”

A luminaire is a fully assembled lighting unit at the top of a streetlight pole that includes a board of LED lights.

Gray said there were also issues acquiring steel and junction boxes from overseas suppliers.

A change in the amount of inventory the City of Calgary carries has helped with the shortage, Gray said, but there are now backlogs in streetlight repairs.

“Those material shortages — initial staff shortages — just compounded the problem where we’re really seeing it right now,” Gray said.

The City of Calgary said as many as 1,100 streetlights are out across the city, which is a small percentage of the around 104,000 streetlights in total. But Gray said it is still too many.

City crews aim to address a reported streetlight outage within 30 days, but the city has had trouble meeting that goal recently.

Gray said with the sun setting earlier, burnt-out streetlights are a lot more noticeable, and it results in a spike of reports to the city.

According to Jon Van Heyst of Bike Calgary, visibility and reliability are critical for people who walk, run and bike on city sidewalks.

“When you think just about people driving, then it might not be top of mind because everybody’s got bright headlights,” Van Heyst told Global News.

“But for someone even just out walking their dog, they don’t necessarily have that benefit. So it makes the lighting a really critical part of that transportation network.”

City officials anticipate crews will be caught up with the backlog by next spring.

Gray said outages lasting longer than 30 days, outages on major roadways as well as outages in areas heavily used by pedestrians are prioritized.

According to Rajbir Bhatti, an associate professor of supply chain management at Mount Royal University, the shortage of luminaires can be attributed to the high demand for new vehicles.

Luminaires require a certain grade of semiconductor wafers, which are also used in semiconductor chips commonly found in newer vehicle models.

Bhatti said those semiconductor wafers are being redirected away from other sectors to meet the demand in the auto sector.

“The automobile sector definitely gets precedent just because they are the big fish,” Bhatti told Global News. “So whatever semiconductor wafers are available, they are being routed to the big players because they have the buying power.”

Gray told Global News the city doesn’t anticipate further delays related to materials due to the changes made in its inventory.

“We have, in effect, more material, so we would be able to taper off in the future,” Gray said. “So we don’t anticipate that problem.”

However, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said supply chain disruptions that have impacted city services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are lessons learned, and perhaps require a rethink of how the city relies on overseas markets.

“Maybe it’s time to look locally and maybe it’s time we got back to creating things and producing things in our own country,” Gondek said.

“We’ve got to do things differently. We’ve learned that relying on other markets isn’t always the way to go.”

The City of Calgary is urging residents to report outages by using its streetlight outage tool online or by calling 311.

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