AUSTIN, Texas -- LED streetlights – after traffic lights, they're the next big frontier for municipal energy efficient lighting retrofits.

Lenexa, Kan.-based EcoFit Lighting says it can make the job cheaper and easier, and it wants $2 million to prove it.

The trick, said company president Cason Coplin, is EcoFit's LED retrofit module, which can slide into place in the "cobra head" fixtures that make up most of the United States' streetlights.

That way, you don't have to replace and dispose of the entire metal-and-wiring structure, he said.

It makes an LED retrofit much cheaper than a full replacement – about $400 versus a replacement's $700 to $900, he estimated.

That, of course, is on top of the 60-percent energy savings and six-fold lifespan extension that comes from replacing today's common traditional high-pressure sodium streetlights with higher-efficiency light-emitting diodes (see LED Streetlights Go to Crime-Ridden Area).

And it only takes about five minutes to retrofit a streetlight fixture with EcoFit's module, versus the 15 to 30 minutes to take the entire head off for a replacement, Coplin noted – an important consideration when cities are looking at the costs of sending out workers to replace thousands of streetlights.

The business proposal seemed to convince the judges at the Clean Energy Venture Summit in Austin, Texas, who named EcoFit the winner of a competition featuring 20 competing green technology companies (see Anzode Brings Nickel-Zinc Batteries Up To Date and Enistic Seeks U.S. Market for Smart Power Strips).

EcoFit has raised $1.15 million to date, mostly from angel investors and the state-run Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp., and has used the money to design and contract-manufacture its LED modules, which use LEDs from such suppliers as Cree and Philips Lumileds.

So far it's installed test modules in about 20 cities, including in streetlights in front of utility Pacific Gas & Electric's downtown San Francisco headquarters, Coplin said.

EcoFit's current production capacity is about 10,000 a month, "But we think we're going to need more than that," he said. Thus, the search for a $2 million investment to increase the production threefold to fourfold, he said.

With about 35 million streetlights in the United States, "the opportunity here is extensive," he said.

The company would seek debt financing, Coplin told judges at Thursday's competition, but for the fact that it has little in the way of collateral to put up against a loan.

In any case, EcoFit knows it's competing in a marketplace dominated by giants like Philips, General Electric and Osram, and expects that its exit strategy will lie in being acquired by one of them someday, he said (see Green Light post).

Those same giants could copy EcoFit's idea, he conceded, though the company does have patents pending on its concept and design.

But it will be hard for copycats to design their way around one key feature, he said — the 10 pounds of heat-sinking metal that surrounds the module.

Heat is a key limitation for LEDs, and finding another method to get rid of it that doesn't add prohibitively large costs to another similar module could be a challenge, he said (see Progressive Cooling: A New Way to Cool LEDs).

Image of an EcoFit installation in Lenexa, Kan. via the company.