Lighting the Way to a Brighter – and Smarter – Future

Besides lighting your way, what else can your neighborhood streetlight do? If you’re fortunate enough to live in a smart city, the answer could extend well beyond lighting your way at night and automatically switching off during the daytime.

The turning on or off of streetlights typically fades into the background of daily life. Yet pricey bills – traditional street lighting can make up a staggering 40 percent of a municipality’s electric bill – have in recent years prompted some communities to restrict or completely remove streetlights as part of cost-cutting efforts. No need for a Deluminator there.

A handful of cities in the U.S. and Canada have taken the opposite approach, investing in the latest streetlight technology now in order to reap a panoply of long-term rewards. In Canada, Silver Spring Networks, Inc., has announced plans to deploy a network of 43,000 smart streetlights in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The company estimates that replacing traditional streetlights with LEDs can cut energy and operations costs by 50 percent or more with a return on investment in eight years; networked LEDs drop the payback period to six years. In addition to energy savings, the smart streetlights tap into a world of additional possibilities by connecting the streetlights with the power of the Internet of Things.

LEDs Magazine notes that “the value of networks to maintenance and to new services such as safety and security has surpassed the perceived value in incremental energy efficiency.” Smart applications being developed for streetlights include weather sensors, public safety, parking management and transportation planning.

Over the next five years, Los Angeles plans to install 600 Philips SmartPoles with built-in 4G LTE wireless technology, according to an announcement made by the mayor’s office earlier this month. PCMag states that, “The city plans to lease the ‘digital real estate’ on top of the light poles, so a wireless carrier could pay to use these lights as a secondary cell tower of sorts and boost coverage in areas where access is spotty,” creating a self-funding and revenue-generating project. More efficient lighting and better cell service? Bright idea, L.A.

GE has a smart streetlight in development that – in addition to the 20-year life of its ultra-efficient LED – “can use sensors to brighten or dim as needed or even turn itself on or off, depending on conditions like traffic, weather and so forth,” reports TechCrunch. Each bulb comes with a sensor pack “with capabilities such as video, light and weather sensors … giving cities and developers access to its Predix Internet of Things software development platform to build applications based on the data the sensors generate.” What each city does with the possible applications, and resulting data, is up to them.

This spring, GE Lighting launched a pilot program with Jacksonville, Florida, to outfit the city with 50 data-collecting streetlights. Among the potential benefits: “Through the streetlight sensors, residents can be notified when parking spots are available, or even if their meter might be running out,” says the Jacksonville Business Journal. A city spokesman emphasized that measures will be in place to safeguard the data collected by the sensors.

Does your city make the grade when it comes to smart streetlights? What other applications can you envision for this technology?

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