Smart Cities: LEDs take cities and utilities into the future

By Claire Swedberg | Apr 15, 2016
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With cities and utilities worldwide upgrading to light-emitting diode (LED) lighting for streets and outdoor areas, owners and installers wonder when they 
will build in the controls for smart-city applications. Most analysts and technology 
vendors say installing controls while doing retrofits will bring the greatest gain.

The value proposition of replacing high-pressure sodium (HPS) with LED lamps is obvious to cities and utilities alike. Smaller streetlight manufacturers, and even some of the big companies, are entirely phasing out HPS fixtures while LEDs continue to advance. The LED trajectory is aimed upward in the commercial sector as well.

According to analyst firm HIS Research, the keys to LED adoption are the declining price of hardware, government regulations and incentives, and the need to save energy and reduce costs. HIS Research forecasts that the great majority of outdoor streetlights in the United States will be converted to LED lamps by 2030. With more than 45 million street and highway lights in the United States, and nearly 300 million streetlights worldwide, most of the work is still ahead to upgrade aging infrastructure.

“We have seen rapid adoption of LED lighting retrofits as cities globally struggle with tighter budgets and increasing demands for improved services for citizens,” said Brandon Davito, vice president of Smart Cities, Silver Spring Networks, Redwood City, Calif.

In the meantime, the global “Smart Cities” market is expected to increase from about $411 billion in 2014 to $1.1 trillion by 2019, at an annual growth rate of 22.5 percent, according to a “Smart Cities Market” report by Markets and Markets.

These two trends mean municipalities and the electrical contractors who install and maintain the street-lighting systems need to think long term when determining what installations should consist of now and what will benefit users in the future.

Jesse Foote, Navigant Research senior research analyst, said that adding controllers while fixtures are changed to LEDs makes sense. Installers can screw in a wireless controller at the same time they place the fixtures to make the transition to intelligent lighting. By doing everything at once, cities can bring down costs through more energy efficiency and bring intelligence to their systems.

It’s not just a matter of saving time on installations. The 2014 ANSI 136.41 standard for area lighting called for better controls, which are available now from numerous vendors.

These transitions are already underway in major cities. One example is Los Angeles, which is installing fully upgraded LEDs along with a wireless network.

Utilities own the majority of public street lighting; therefore, the involvement of these entities is necessary for such installations to become universal. Cities have been collaborating with utilities to add networked controls to LED retrofits as an easy pathway to other smart-city applications.

“We’ve seen cities like Chicago, Halifax and Miami in North America, and Bristol, Copenhagen, Glasgow, Paris and others overseas, lead the charge for smart-lighting deployments,” Davito said.

Older streetlights can consume up to 40 percent of a city’s energy budget and require regular maintenance to repair individual luminaires. By networking upgraded LED luminaires, cities can lower costs by as much as 60 percent, according to Davito. Intelligent streetlights can also boost savings by varying brightness based on traffic flows, time of night and weather. Controls can also help increase road safety for drivers and pedestrians.

Reducing maintenance

LED-based streetlights have a lifespan of up to 20 years (versus five years for HPS and mercury-vapor lamps) and are highly controllable. Networking offers the benefits of remote monitoring and management, automatic outage detection and proactive maintenance.

In fact, the initial use cases for smart streetlights are typically centered on remote management of the fixture—dimming, advanced schedule management, device diagnostics and predictive maintenance, for instance. These features save operators money and enable community leaders to establish a platform for future smart-city services.

“With little incremental cost, the network for streetlights can be expanded into other smart-city and smart-grid applications,” Davito said.

This includes traffic light controls; smart parking; traffic management; electric vehicle charging stations; and electric, water and gas metering. All of this makes it easy to gradually expand smart-city initiatives.

For example, in Scotland’s Future City Programme, the city of Glasgow deployed adaptive streetlights and sensors on an active travel route for cyclists and pedestrians to monitor vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic as well as dim and increase illumination according to need.

Copenhagen, Denmark, has set a goal of becoming carbon-neutral by the year 2025. It is also growing at a rate of 1,000 new citizens each month, which requires cutting-edge solutions to ensure mobility, safety and sustainability. For that reason, the city is transforming how it manages energy use, traffic systems and emergency response.

Copenhagen’s commitment to the smart-city transformation begins, in part, with a more efficient and networked street-lighting system supported by Silver Spring Networks, according to Davito. One application uses intersection-based occupancy sensors and light controls to sense an approaching cyclist and provide extra light as he or she crosses the dangerous vehicle crossings.

Another city example is Chicago. Utility ComEd is working with the city to connect streetlights to its network, so the lights can be dimmed at the right time to reduce usage and save money and brightened to help create safer streets. ComEd is leveraging its existing smart-grid network to deploy smart streetlights.

In addition to remotely controlling and scheduling the lights and receiving maintenance updates if the lights go out, ComEd is looking at how to use intelligent lights for other functions, such as having a lamp pulse outside a home that has called 911 and is waiting for emergency responders.

Lighting is still just the tip of the intelligence iceberg. While smart lighting is often the initial application, smart cities encompass a full spectrum of community systems, including transportation, energy, water, engaged citizens, health and safety, environmental sustainability, and building management, Davito said. The associated applications and citizen services must seamlessly integrate to enable people and their city to share information.

As budgets allow, some cities are choosing to go beyond government guidelines to position their infrastructure for future development, according to Rita Renner, director of corporate marketing, LEED, at intelligent lighting company Echelon, Santa Clara, Calif.

"With little incremental cost, the network for streetlights can be expanded into other smart-city and smart-grid applications." —Brandon Davito, Silver Spring Networks


“The streetlights essentially become an integrated networked control platform that extends beyond the cost-saving objectives of a basic lighting retrofit,” she said. “Ideally, a city should want to reduce energy use now, capture some maintenance benefits and implement the technology capable of manipulating the lighting infrastructure to take advantage of emerging applications.”

People are familiar with scheduled lighting shutoff or dimming light levels, but, with intelligent controls, management of lighting maintenance and dimming evolves into real-time light control, capable of responding to specific inputs. Renner pointed to a citywide deployment in Cambridge, Mass., which modified the sequences of lighting operation based on neighborhood characteristics so that some residential neighborhood lighting was dimmed to lower levels for longer periods at night.

Many cities are seeking low energy consumption and even intelligence but want to keep historical or decorative fixtures, Renner said.

“Cities are rarely willing to compromise the aesthetics of these types of fixtures, so [they] are looking for effective and reliable control solutions,” she said.

Companies such as Echelon offer line-control platforms with this capability in addition to the ability to integrate with wireless control platforms to implement unified control across a range of lighting fixtures, including historic and decorative ones.

To retrofit a lighting infrastructure, most municipalities use an energy service company (ESCO) to orchestrate the installation, Renner said. She suggested that contractors should seek out their regional ESCO to become part of the installation team.

Just the beginning

There’s still a lot of growth ahead. Of the 140 million streetlights installed worldwide last year, only 19 million were LEDs, according to IHS Technology. By 2020, LEDs are expected to account for 100 million of the installed base of 155 million streetlights. Annual sales of LED streetlights will jump from $4.3 billion to $10.2 billion in the same time period. Boston, Seattle and New York are all undertaking big retrofits. New York’s $76 million project will be the largest in the country, with the goal of replacing 250,000 lights by 2017. City officials expect to reap $14 million in energy and maintenance spending per year.

The global growth of cities also opens up the market for industry players to grow their business in new and emerging smart cities. The infrastructure investment for these cities is forecast to be $30–$40 trillion over the next 20 years.

LED retrofits timed with controls are being used for building applications and on city streets for various outdoor cases, said Stuart Cowan, chief scientist at Smart Cities Council, Redmond, Wash., and adviser for smart-city deployments. Once intelligence is built in, users can provide Internet connectivity, electric vehicle charging stations and air quality sensors, for example. Wi-Fi connections, cellular networks and other wireless or wired connections manage data collection.

“There are all kinds of different networks being done,” Cowan said. “New kinds of partnerships are developing.”

He sees cities, utilities and third-party smart services providers taking part in the installations. In some cases, third parties are coming in to help pay for and manage the installations.

Elements of smart cities can already be seen everywhere, including municipal Internet networks and sensors. Cowan predicted that major adoptions will be underway in nearly all major cities within 10 years, with full adoption coming in 20 years.

“The No. 1 reason? We need it,” he said.

About The Author

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at [email protected].





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