How street lights will save Chicago money (and create jobs)

Are street lights worth it? Just ask Chicago. A project that’s under way now will provide the usual smart street light benefit: energy efficiency. As you’ll read below in the news release from Council Partner Ameresco, the new lights could cut energy use by as much as 75%. Given that the city is replacing 85% of its lights, that’s real savings.

But the project provides another boost to Chicago’s economy. It’s putting the people who live there to work. A majority of the lights will be made at a plant in Chicago. At least half the people working on the project will be from the city.

Building a business case can be a hurdle in launching any smart cities project, but this story is a great example of how projects can provide benefits that reach far and wide. — Kevin Ebi


Ameresco, a leading energy efficiency and renewable energy company, announced it has contracted with the City of Chicago for the City’s comprehensive Smart Street Lighting Project to modernize its infrastructure. Working with Silver Spring Networks, the project is believed to be the largest city-led wireless smart street light program in the U.S., and will connect more than 250,000 street light fixtures across Chicago.

The four-year modernization project is expected to transform Chicago’s street light system by replacing approximately 85% of the City’s existing street lights with smart LEDs.

“Ameresco is honored to work with the City of Chicago and its leadership for this historic street light project that will increase the energy efficiency of the system while helping to improve visibility and safety throughout City neighborhoods,” said Louis Maltezos, Executive Vice President, Ameresco. “We’re also very pleased to support the City’s priority to ensure a diverse lineup of subcontractors and that City residents will have access to the jobs created through the Smart Lighting Project.”

More than half of the light fixtures in at least the first year will be assembled at a plant in the City of Chicago, and the project will use City residents to perform at least 50% of the work on the project. Additionally, the project is striving to achieve 27% Minority Business Enterprise participation and 7% Women’s Business Enterprise participation. The first phase of the project requires a city-wide survey of existing street light infrastructure, and at least half of the personnel for this phase will be graduates of Chicago Public Schools career and technical programs, City Colleges of Chicago construction technology training programs, and/or ex-offender apprenticeship programs.

The new smart LED street lights will be owned and operated by the City of Chicago, supported by Silver Spring Networks’ managed services and its Streetlight.Vision Control and Management System (CMS) software. The new LED street lights are expected to consume between 50 and 75% less electricity than the City’s existing lighting infrastructure. Silver Spring’s IPv6 platform will enable the City to remotely dim or brighten street lights as needed, as well as to remotely monitor street lights for proactive maintenance and faster repairs if failures do occur.

The economics and benefits of the smart street light network approach will help the City manage their resources prudently, and achieve sustainability-driven initiatives and goals throughout the community. The smart street light infrastructure will be integrated into Chicago’s 311 system.

The Chicago Infrastructure Trust (CIT) led the procurement in close coordination with the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) and the Chicago Park District. The Chicago City Council approved the project on April 19, 2017.