Victorian procurement regime ‘'bad for competition'’ say streetlight suppliers

Streetlighting suppliers in the Australian state of Victoria have complained that competition is being stifled and energy-saving opportunities missed because the public procurement process costs too much and lacks transparency.

Victoria is undertaking one of the world’s biggest energy-efficient streetlighting projects, with 230,000 of the state’s half a million streetlights set to be replaced by 2016.

But at August’s Australian Smart Lighting Summit in Melbourne, a number of LED lighting suppliers and manufacturers raised concerns about the cost and difficulty of getting into the market.

Suppliers’ products must be assessed, then submitted for approval by the various electricity distribution businesses that look after streetlighting in different areas.

To handle this process, the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) directs enquiries to an external consultancy, Ironbark Sustainability, which charges suppliers to have their products assessed so they can be considered for approval by the electricity companies.

Ironbark calls itself the ‘first port of call for LED manufacturers wishing to enter the Australian market’, working with half the electricity authorities and local governments in the country. It says it has assessed more than 50 LED streetlighting products in the past two years.

But some suppliers object to being asked to pay for the chance to have their products specified in Victoria.

According to the MAV’s website, the suppliers who currently have streetlighting products approved for use in Victoria are Sylvania Lighting, the country’s dominant streetlighting manufacturer; Pierlite, which amalgamated with Sylvania earlier this year; Austeknis; Streetworx; Vicpole and Legend, which sells power products and controls for lighting.

When asked by Lux Review how many of the approved products were LED, the MAV declined to say, citing ‘commercial confidentiality’.

In a section of Ironbark’s website carrying announcements of approvals for Victoria, the only LED products mentioned are iterations of the Sylvania StreetLED.

Concerns

Some manufacturers and suppliers of LED lighting say the whole process of getting approved – which Lux Review understands is currently under review – is holding back competition.

Ed Darmanin, managing director of LED Innovations, told Lux Review: ‘We, like many other international LED streetlighting suppliers, are very keen to compete for business in the Victorian LED streetlighting market. However unlike other states, technical barriers to trade have been unnecessarily created in Victoria that are preventing new suppliers from entering the market.’

Nigel Parry of LED lighting supplier OrangeTek said: ‘Most manufacturers have to meet standards – international standards, EU standards for recycling, and most manufacturers have these already in place. What seems unusual and harsh is for Ironbark to charge all manufacturers a cost to go through the process. Our view is that we don’t agree with the process and price opportunities are being missed.’

Parry compared the system with that in Auckland, New Zealand, saying: ‘Auckland has three consultants working the approvals process. They give you a list of everything you need to supply and there is no payment up front.’

And because it’s the electricity distribution companies that approve products, Parry says, 'even when you’ve paid the money, there’s no certainty you're going to be on the list, or used by councils'.

The MAV’s CEO Rob Spence told Lux Review: ‘LEDs are required to be approved for use by each of the electricity distribution businesses in Victoria. The MAV has no role in?this process.’

Lux Review approached several of the electricity companies to find out more about their approval processes. AusNet Services confirmed that it approves products internally to check that they meet its own standards, and national standards. The other companies contacted said they were unable to provide more detail on their procedures at the time of publication.

Local requirements

Suppliers are also frustrated by the differences between local requirements for streetlighting and international requirements and best practice. Victoria has strict rules to protect wildlife, including measures covering light distribution, as well as requirements to ensure that products are compatible with equipment and fittings used in the state.

One lighting manufacturer, which asked not to be named, told Lux Review that Victoria’s highly specific wildlife protection rules - combined with a lack of transparency - make for an extremely difficult environment in which to sell LED lighting to public bodies.

But Paul Brown, managing director of Ironbark Sustainability, defended the local specification, saying that all such large-scale installations operate on a similar basis. ‘Local specifications are important, for instance, brackets upon which the lights are installed are different in the different parts of Australia, and around the world. We need to tell a manufacturer, this is our bracket size, otherwise we’d by buying a product you can’t install.

‘The IEC [international standards] are minimum standards and don’t cover a bunch of local requirements that make the lights more robust, more energy efficient and longer lasting. But again the Australian standards cover this – vibration – and the Victoria [LED lighting] spec simply refers to the Australian standards in this regard.’

Brown said the typical cost of assessment was dwarfed by the cost to a manufacturer of adapting products to meet local requirements, which might reach six figures.

He defended the stringent requirements, saying: ‘If it can’t be installed, it is irresponsible to buy it, so there is a balance between approval and making sure of adequate quality to meet local needs.’

 

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