LED Lights Keep D.C. Zoo Burning Bright This Holiday Season

LED Lights Keep D.C. Zoo Burning Bright This Holiday Season

When you need more than half a million outdoor lights to decorate for the holiday season energy costs can be a top concern.

That’s why ZooLights — the annual holiday event at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo — chose environmentally friendly LED bulbs to enchant zoo visitors the month of December.

ZooLights features larger-than-life displays of the zoo's most popular animals, all constructed of LED lights. These lights use about 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs.

The event, which draws about 180,000 visitors each year, is sponsored by the D.C. electricity provider Pepco. They know a thing or two about lights — especially how to keep costs down.

“Pepco is proud to once again support ZooLights,” says Debbi Jarvis, vice president, corporate citizenship and social responsibility. “Pepco helped launch ZooLights as an entertaining way to introduce and demonstrate the use of energy-efficient LED technology.”

One of the most popular attractions at the zoo is the carousel, which opened in late 2012, and features hand-carved and hand-painted animals representing endangered species or formerly endangered species.

Zoo's carousel powered by the sun

Pepco donated and installed the 162 solar panels that light and power the zoo’s wooden carousel, making it one of the few solar-powered carousels in the world.

Thanks to Pepco, the illuminated carousel has a net-zero impact on the zoo’s energy consumption and any excess energy is diverted back to the zoo’s electrical grid.

Pepco also donated the interactive digital dashboard that allows guests to see how the carousel generates and uses solar energy in real time.

A touch-screen display translates the energy the carousel saves into more familiar terms, such as the number of trees saved, the hours of video games that could be played and the cups of coffee that could be brewed with the same amount of energy. 

About 100 Pepco employee volunteers are on hand to distribute energy savings tips, along with thousands of glow sticks to both kids and adults.

Nothing like a little education mixed with holiday festivities. Plus, ZooLights offers plenty of ideas for decorating your own home for the holidays.

What are LED lights?

LED is short for light-emitting diodes.

These compact bulbs have been used for years in Christmas decorations and children's toys, but they're becoming popular for whole-home lighting as well. They contain no filament and no mercury or other toxic materials.

Instead, they use diode chips encased in a plastic. Talk to a highly rated local lighting company to learn how you can incorporate these lights into your home.

RELATED: Angie's List Guide to LED Lights

When electricity passes through the diode, its electrons become excited and release light, but virtually no heat. As a result, these bulbs are up to 85 percent more efficient than incandescent bulbs and 10 percent more efficient than CFLs.

That means LED bulbs generally last around 50,000 hours, which translates into a longevity of 10 to 15 years. Old-school incandescent bulbs, by comparison, last about 2,000 hours.

LED bulbs do cost between 10 and 30 times as much as competing bulbs. So, you may want to consider that when deciding if switching is worth it. 


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Lincoln Park's Zoo Lights is lit with mover 250,000 LED holiday lights. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo)
Lincoln Park's Zoo Lights is lit with mover 250,000 LED holiday lights. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo)

Organizers of Lincoln Park Zoo Lights, Brookfield Zoo's Holiday Magic and Wonderland Express understand the value of LED lighting in holiday displays.

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