Appalachian Lighting to take LEDs overseas, license its technology
The first time Ellwood City hooked up one of James Wassel's LED street lights in 2006, the experimental device didn't register any energy usage for three days.
Dom Vaccari, manager of the Lawrence County borough at the time, called Wassel and told him something was wrong with the light.
“He said, ‘Give it another day,' ” Vaccari said.
By the fourth day, the light had used one kilowatt of electricity, he said. Mercury-vapor street lights that were in use at the time drew five to six times as much energy.
“They were blown away,” said Wassel, who founded Appalachian Lighting Systems Inc. in 2007, a few months before Ellwood City won a state grant to start replacing its street lights with his LEDs.
Wassel, who had been tinkering with the technology in his basement, had to scramble to secure manufacturing space and employees to fill the borough's order for hundreds of street lights.
“Even my mom had to help build them,” said Kate Wassel, systems specialist at the company and daughter of CEO James Wassel. “But we made it work.”
Ellwood City eventually replaced all 796 of its street lights with Appalachian LED lights, producing savings of tens of thousands of dollars a year, Vaccari said. The first phase of the replacement project, in which 135 lights were changed over, cut the borough's energy bill by $1,152 over three months, an 83 percent reduction.
“I didn't have to raise taxes in seven and a half years,” said Vaccari, who retired in 2013. “Of course, it wasn't just the lighting, but it was a big factor in the savings.”
Appalachian Lighting, which markets its lighting systems under the name ALLED Lighting, has gone on to replace lights at the Allegheny County Jail, General Motors' Lordstown assembly plant in Ohio and Pittsburgh International Airport, as well as in other cities and facilities around the world.
The airport, which installed Appalachian Lighting LEDs in its parking garage and at passenger pickup and dropoff areas, estimates it's seeing yearly savings of more than $140,000 in electricity costs since the change to the brighter lights, airport authority spokesman Robert Kerlik said.
“For us, it was definitely a win-win,” Kerlik said.
The replacement projects have led to annual revenue between $5 million and $8 million during the past several years for privately held Appalachian Lighting, President Al Iagnemma said. But the company expects significant growth in sales in 2016 as it expands overseas and generates revenue from licensing its technology to other lighting companies.
For example, the company has orders to replace 80,000 street lights in India, 30,000 in Mexico and 17,000 in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And Wassel holds patents covering technology that controls lights remotely, which is expected to generate millions of dollars in licensing and royalty revenue for Appalachian.
Annual revenue next year is expected to be at least $25 million, said Iagnemma, who was hired in March to lead Appalachian's expansion.
The company plans to hire 20 workers during the next year, more than doubling its workforce of 15 employees, he said.
Fabian Hoelzenbein, an analyst for IHS Technology in London, estimates that the global market for LED lighting will be worth $80 billion in 2020, up from $41 billion in 2015, as more conventional lights are switched to LED.
Wassel said LED lights are the future because they generally produce twice the brightness of the lights they replace, but use 70 percent to 90 percent less energy. Appalachian Lighting LEDs have patented features that keep the lights cool, which extends their life to about 17 years on average, he said.
In addition to lighting systems for streets, parking lots and manufacturing spaces, Appalachian is developing LED tubes that can replace fluorescent lights in offices and schools. Iagnemma said typically two Appalachian LED tubes can replace four fluorescent tubes and produce the same amount of light while significantly reducing energy use.
The company is experimenting with solar-powered LED street and parking lot lighting, Wassel said. He said he couldn't go into details, but the company is testing prototypes in Australia.
The company is developing specialized grow lights for medical marijuana producers.
“And we're always working on reducing the price and increasing the efficiency of our lights,” Iagnemma said.
Alex Nixon is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.