Smart city lighting is becoming a reality

smrt city lightingSmart Cities are a growing phenomenon, with cities around the world vying for supremacy. But for all the hype, it can sometimes seem as if physical changes are a long time coming. So it’s good to read about some very concrete developments that will bring smart city lighting a lot closer to many of us.

Smart city lighting: the idea

The idea behind smart city lighting, also known as intelligent or adaptive street lighting, is that it adapts to movement by traffic, whether that’s cars or pedestrians. It dims when there is no activity, and brightens when movement is detected. The first large-scale implementation of such a system was in Oslo in 2006.

These systems use cameras or movement sensors connected either machine to machine (M2M) or to the Internet of Things (IoT). While different systems work in slightly different ways, the idea is generally that the lights communicate both with a central computer and with each other, so that switching one on would also switch on its neighbours. Such lighting systems have huge benefits for cities, because they reduce energy consumption massively, by allowing lights to power down when they are not needed. As a side benefit, that also reduces light pollution over cities. At the same time, smart lighting improves safety. Nobody can hide in a dark corner anymore, because there are none: when someone’s there, the lights will come on. And if you’re out alone, you can see if anyone is coming towards you by the lights.

But in an increasingly cash-strapped world, it’s hard for city governments to find the money for big infrastructure projects. Although there will be energy savings down the line, the capital cost must be found upfront. So how are cities to do that?

Two major projects on smart lighting

Back in June 2014, the completion of a smart street lighting project was announced in Hampshire. It involved two companies, The Technology Partnership (TTP) and Mayflower. Hampshire Council is now able to control over 100,000 of its street lights wirelessly and remotely. It is expecting a massive reduction in power consumption as a result, which is clearly hopes will pay for the project. But the savings are not just in power consumption: they also lie in better lamp life and improved efficiencies.

Another project, announced more recently, offers even greater potential for savings. Cisco and Sensity Systems have teamed up to convert street lighting into a sensor network that will support multiple different applications. It combines Sensity’s NetSense platform with Cisco’s City Infrastructure Management software. And how is the system affordable? It is designed to work on the power freed up by converting street lights to the more efficient LEDs, and therefore requires no change in wiring.

With councils and cities around the world planning to convert their old lighting to LED systems, this sounds like a great option to tap into the energy freed up as a result. What’s more, with the existing wiring able to support the new apps, the additional cost is relatively small. Cisco’s CIM will link the sensors with a central office, and the data will be available to APIs, and therefore to developers for new applications. This is a cost-effective way to improve the city infrastructure and add intelligent aspects without having to make a huge investment.

LED lights use up to 80% less energy than traditional light bulbs, which is what makes adding new sensors and systems feasible. They can also be turned on and off much more quickly, which again makes them much more suitable for smart lighting initiatives. As an additional benefit, their white light is safer than the old orange colour of traditional street lights, as well as being more popular with residents.

Cisco and Sensity point out that although smart lighting is the first and most obvious application, there are plenty of others. Their partnership provides an infrastructure of sensors and platforms from which cities can expand in future as their needs develop, and their budgets permit. And that’s perhaps the most important aspect. Smart cities cannot afford any kind of ‘big bang’ approach to change with the increasing pressures on public budgets. Everything has to be done in an evolutionary way, with new systems building on what is already there. This partnership, which ‘piggybacks’ on cities’ existing plans to replace their lighting systems with energy-efficient LEDs, clearly understands and supports that approach.

On this evidence, you can expect to see smart city lighting coming to a city near you, soon.

Image credit: Lights by Harm

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