How cities are starting to see the light about smart streetlights

Smart streetlight projects are often the first choice of city leaders who want their city to become a smart city. They provide better lighting and can be remotely monitored and controlled. Their energy costs can be half as much (or even less) than traditional lighting. We at the Council have been recommending that cities consider deploying smart LED streetlights as their first project for some time because of their versatility and ability to host any number of other applications, such as environmental sensors, video surveillance in high crime areas and more.

And it looks like cities are increasingly seeing the value of a fully utilized connected smart streetlight network. Cities throughout the world are considering, planning or actively deploying connected networks that are far more than lights on poles. The story below offers recommendations for how cities can ensure they're making the choices that suit their situation best, as well as examples of smart streetlight projects in the planning stages and underway. — Doug Peeples


About 73 million connected streetlights are expected to be installed throughout the world by 2026, Navigant Research predicts. That's impressive in that the market research and consulting firm also notes that smart street lighting accounts for just 2% of the total number of installed streetlights now.

While the benefits of intelligent LED lighting are very real, city officials and planners can get bogged down in the planning details or aren’t sure which next step is the right one for their particular needs. A Navigant report, Smart Street Lighting for Smart Cities, includes five recommendations to help cities develop a street lighting policy that will help ensure their projects are successful and can be deployed with minimal delay.

  • Think of street lighting improvements as an element of an overall IoT strategy, one that integrates with other digital technologies for city operations and services a city is or may be planning.
  • Collaborate across departments to ensure that the door will remain open to adding applications to the streetlight network in the future — and consider partnering with other stakeholders such as local electric utilities.
  • Identify potential problems and sticking points first. A street lighting network can be the framework for many other applications, but they aren't all going to have the same priority for every city.
  • Collaboration and consolidation among city departments is practical, but city officials should recognize those departments may not have the same needs and that a hybrid approach will likely be necessary. For example, the communications technology needed for smart streetlights may not be the same as it would be for public safety applications.
  • Think of smart streetlights as an asset, one that can generate new sources of revenue. Light poles are increasingly being used to increase the range of cellular and Wi-Fi services and the availability of EV charging stations, among other applications.

And we would add that city officials should be monitoring what is working and what isn't in other cities so they can reproduce the good results and avoid making the mistakes others have made.

Speaking of learning from other cities…
As we mentioned earlier, cities have different needs and priorities. The following are examples of how a variety of cities are either planning or conducting streetlight upgrades.

The Midland, Texas City Council is considering a package that includes switching to LED street lighting, adding smart cameras to monitor available parking spaces and solar lights for three city parks.

The ancient city of Bhubaneswar, India will have entirely replaced its streetlights with LED lighting by the end of this year. The city has been phasing in the new lighting and expects to have 50,000 LED lights in operation when the project is complete.

Chelmsford, UK has the distinction of being Britain's first city conducting a field trial with smart streetlights bundled with Wi-Fi hotspot access, sensors for monitoring pollution levels and technology to assist driverless vehicle navigation. Its streetlights also have a 'universal socket' attached for future applications.

Atlanta, Georgia's Smart Corridor is a research and development hub intended to assess which smart city technologies would do the most good and could be reproduced throughout the city's neighborhoods. The city is now testing smart street lights in addition to smart traffic signals, wireless vehicle-to-infrastructure and autonomous cars in the corridor.

As Atlanta CTO Samir Saini explained in a StateScoop article, "I think we're doing this for the same reason everybody else is doing this, which is that we have no choice. While it may seem like on the surface it is just for experimentation and show and tell, there is a harsh reality here for citizens and the public that our cities are growing at an alarming rate because of urbanization trends."

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.