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A smarter approach for city lights

With the latest innovations in the Internet of Things, smarter solutions are now available in cities, allowing for more open and connected infrastructures to transmit information that monitors and responds to any circumstance. Not only does smart city lighting help save energy, lower costs and reduce maintenance, it also serves citizens better and works to reduce carbon emissions.

Street lighting has become a priority issue for city managers as they try to reduce energy costs and meet their sustainability targets. This once mundane city service is also being transformed into a focal point for smart city innovation. Few cities or utilities can ignore the potential of smart street lighting, but they need to consider local requirements and conditions if they are to make the right choices.

Eric Woods is the Research Director for Smart Cities and Urban Innovation at Navigant Research, a premier market research and advisory firm covering the global energy transformation and its impact across all industry verticals. Navigant’s Global Energy Practice is the largest energy management consulting team in the industry with over 600 consultants.

Eric highlights the attraction and necessity for smart street lighting by noting that street lighting can account for up to 40% of a municipality’s electricity bill. He says that…

“…a move to more efficient lighting technologies is the obvious step for cities looking to reduce both energy costs and carbon emissions. “In most cases, this means adopting LED lighting,”

Although LEDs can reduce energy consumption for street lighting by up to 50%, Eric notes that the adoption of LED lighting is only the first step. He explains that the real revolution comes when intelligence is added to lighting systems using networked controls that support features (such as remote dimming and scheduling, energy metering, asset monitoring, and adaptive lighting). “Combining LED technology and networked controls can reduce energy and maintenance costs by a further 10-30%. It also creates a new networked fabric for the city and can be the foundation for a broader set of smart city initiatives,” Eric addresses.

Street lighting networks have the potential to support a variety of smart city applications like air quality monitoring, traffic and pedestrian monitoring, smart parking, and gunshot detection. This is driving a rapid uptake in adoption. Navigant Research estimates that by 2026 more than 73 million street lights will be part of connected lighting networks.

Despite the benefits offered by connected lighting, making this a reality in complex cities and large utility territories involves much more than technology. Eric suggests that Cardiff, the capital of Wales offers a good example of a city that initially invested in smart street lighting to reduce energy costs and is now benefiting from the capabilities offered by advanced lighting controls. More than 14,000 LED street lights have been connected and deployed across the city’s strategic road network since February 2017. The initial driver for the project was the need to achieve savings on the city’s energy bills, reinforced by a desire to cut carbon emissions, but the city team is now looking at the potential to deploy other smart city applications. 

“It began with an innovative testing program,” explains Eric, stating that the city council’s lighting team invited a group of leading LED manufacturers to demonstrate their products using a large-scale test bed along two city roads. The test bed allowed a real-world comparison of the products and enabled citizens, key stakeholders, and specialist groups to review the lighting quality. An important insight from the test was a clear preference for using a correlated colour temperature (CCT) of 3000K in the LEDs, making Cardiff the first UK city to choose this option for a citywide deployment. Eric indicates that Cardiff is still able to meet its energy savings target because of LEDs, he continues, “Advances in lighting technology also means that 3000K lighting can now achieve energy efficiencies close to those of 4000K systems.”

The new system has already reduced the city’s annual energy bill by around $1.4 million and is expected to pay back the project costs within five years. In addition, around $230,000 is expected to be saved annually in maintenance and management costs. The CMS is providing the lighting team with new levels of flexibility in managing the city’s lights, as well as improved fault monitoring and maintenance operations. Eric states that Cardiff is now exploring how other devices can be connected to the Sensor-Ready lanterns to progress its smart city ambitions in areas such as traffic and pedestrian monitoring, air quality improvements, and drain monitoring: “The city has already upgraded 1,200 residential street lights in preparation for the eventual deployment of 22,000 new lights in residential areas”. 

Eric touches on Australia as an example of the some of the different challenges presented where street lighting networks are owned and managed by power utilities. Eric explains that there is often less urgency for utilities to reduce off-peak energy consumption, and there may be concerns about the balance between regulatory and non-regulatory business models.

However, many utilities are now recognising their role in reducing emissions and those less willing to change are being challenged by municipalities and national governments that see an opportunity to reduce energy bills and cut carbon emissions. Eric emphasises that inaction is no longer a viable approach and that forward-thinking utilities are realising the benefits that smart street lighting systems can bring to their business.

A recent Navigant Research study on a pioneer of utility street lighting services, Georgia Power, showcases the value in connected street lighting. The Georgia Power lighting team is responsible for around 900,000 outdoor lights, regulated and unregulated across its territory. “As with many utilities, Georgia Power was initially uncertain about the cost, quality, and business benefit of LEDs to its outdoor lighting market,” explains Eric. He says that as costs began to fall and quality improved, the division recognised the need to turn a potential threat into a business opportunity.

Georgia Power then recognised that LEDs are the future for lighting and saw the benefits of upgrading the lighting systems to connected controls, particularly for maintenance savings. Eric reports that since 2015, Georgia Power has implemented network controls (using Telensa’s PLANet connected street lighting system) on around 300,000 regulated street lights under its management, making it one of the world’s largest deployments of connected street lighting. Georgia Power and its customers have already seen significant benefits.

“Besides reducing energy consumption, the new network is helping address long-standing issues around asset management and maintenance scheduling,”

Eric advises. The program is also enabling service innovations such as time-of-use tariffs and additional smart city applications. Georgia Power is now considering how it can use the network to deploy sensors for several use cases, including storm drainage and waste-level detection, air quality, gunshot identification, and parking occupancy. It is also working with telecommunication companies to install small cells on lighting poles to improve radio coverage.

Despite the different contexts, the City of Cardiff and Georgia Power are both demonstrating the multiple benefits of connected LED street lighting. “Both are already delivering significant financial savings and an improved and more flexible lighting service,” according to Eric.

Both of these examples also showcase a
scalable and flexible digital infrastructure that gives them many options for the future. Eric believes the common lesson for other cities and utilities is that although the cost and energy savings from smart street lighting are universal, successful projects must be carefully aligned to local needs and conditions. Each smart city journey will be unique.