Smart street lighting: Where do we go from here?

Thu, 2017-02-02 14:03 -- Doug Peeples

You could say that smart street lights have been the 'Next Big Thing' for smart cities for the last several years and not get much of an argument. They're often the smart city initiative cities tackle first because they promise energy efficiency which can dramatically reduce energy costs, and they are increasingly used as platforms to deploy other valuable applications, including environmental and noise sensing, surveillance and other public safety functions, parking and traffic management, Wi-Fi delivery and more. All of which can provide additional cost savings and an enhanced quality of urban life. And as we've seen with other relatively "young" technologies – for example smart electric grids and connected cars – smart lighting is evolving and is expected to continue to do so.

Read on to learn about trends and technological developments that could show us what intelligent lighting could bring to cities in the near future. And if your city is planning or deploying an intelligent lighting network, you'll want to take note of the challenges, too. — Doug Peeples

How time flies. It was just 10 years ago or so when Norway conducted what is said to be the first large-scale deployment of a control system for street lighting. Since then the adoption rate for smart street lighting has steadily accelerated as cities realize the benefits it can provide and the energy and cost savings. And as noted above, that trend is expected to continue for several reasons.

First, the market
According to a report on LED and smart street lighting there are now about 315 million streetlights operating in countries all over the world, and forecasts have that number growing to 359 million by 2026. And while Europe and the Americas are the largest markets, smart street lighting is a global phenomenon. The report says the technology is growing rapidly in up and coming markets in India, China and Poland because those countries are engaged in numerous smart cities projects. And a trends article from mobile application developer Teknowledge on all uses for smart lighting says the Asia Pacific region is experiencing the fastest market growth.

Market research and consulting firm Navigant Research says global shipments of LED light fixtures are forecast to grow from 16 million in 2016 to more than 28 million in 2025. A major driver for smart lighting is that residential, commercial and outdoor lighting segments are all growing because homeowners, building owners and managers and city governments appreciate the efficiency. And smart lighting overall is considered to be one of the fastest growing sectors in IoT.

The rough spots
There are challenges. There have been complaints from residents concerned about the faintly blue 'color' of LED lighting and its potential effect on human health, glare and that the lights don't pool light the same way more traditional lamps do – meaning there are dark areas where the light doesn't reach. Also, Navigant's research found that while lighting controls are growing too, there isn't a lot of standardization for the different technologies. As Navigant said in its report summary, "Many different technologies and control protocols are competing against each other."

But even considering those issues, Navigant and other research companies generally agree LED lighting – rather than fluorescent, high-pressure sodium, high-intensity discharge and other lighting types – will thoroughly dominate market in the years to come.

What's next for smart street lighting?
Other stories in this special issue of the Council newsletter offer examples of what the tech companies are doing to further improve street lighting. Here are a few more to help assess where the industry is heading and what that direction could mean for smart cities.

Council Associate Partner Panasonic is working with smart grid and IoT product company Silver Spring Networks to extend and perfect the multiple use capabilities of smart street lighting networks for cities, utilities and others. The partners are focusing on five areas: smart mobility, clean energy, city services, smart buildings and health and wellness.

Council Lead Partner IBM is bringing its Watson cognitive computing team into a partnership with controls systems provider Echelon to analyze data from lighting networks and other sources to come up with ways to maximize street light operations and abilities. As Sohrab Modi, Echelon's chief technology officer, put it "If mayors and town selectmen can have infrastructures that adapt to the data produced by billions of sensors and devices, they can positively impact crime and weather-related accident statistics."

Council Lead Partner Cisco has recently released a dedicated Ethernet switch to resolve some of the problems with Power-over-Ethernet technology. While the system is intended for buildings, it also applies to exterior lighting.

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