Smart street lights represent a cost-efficient solution for cities working to reduce energy consumption, enhance public safety, and foster further developments in intelligent infrastructure.
For cities looking to invest in smart technology, intelligent street lighting offers the chance to reap outsized benefits for a relatively small investment. In its simplest form, networked LED lighting promises to lower energy costs by using motion detectors to provide illumination only when needed. Beyond energy efficiency and advanced lighting capabilities, city planners looking to harness data-driven intelligence can use networks of smart street lights as the foundation on which to build powerful smart city applications.
While there are a variety of smart city initiatives that can benefit both officials and citizens, adaptive lighting offers city planners the most bang for their buck. First and foremost, it can be implemented piecemeal and without a massive overhaul of existing infrastructure — by simply replacing street lights that already need to be upgraded.
Smart street lights can be outfitted with a vast array of sensors and cameras to collect critical data, help cities make well-informed decisions, and improve city useability for residents. On top of the Internet of Things (IoT), street lights can communicate with each other wirelessly while monitoring traffic conditions, tracking maintenance updates, alerting officials to potential security risks, and more.
Easily scaled, and extremely flexible, intelligent lighting systems will very likely be at the forefront of urban development as cities begin to take a leap into the future.
Navigant Research estimates that by 2023, there will be 100 million LED street lights in use, one for each HPS fixture. These smart lights will help cities reduce electricity costs, lower CO2 emissions, and improve maintenance. With auto-dimming, scheduling, and a host of other capabilities, cities could see a 50-75% reduction in energy costs via smart street lighting.
But energy efficiency is just the beginning. Air quality monitoring, traffic control, accessible public wi-fi, security cameras, gunshot detection devices, and digital signage/advertising all represent viable candidates for implementation into urban street light infrastructure. Public safety applications could reduce crime up to 10%, according to Silver Spring Networks.
Intelligent Lighting in Action
Smart street lights are cropping up in cities across the globe, with promising results in terms of safety and energy conservation. Chicago leads the way with a $160 million project to replace 85% of the city’s public lights — an initiative that the mayor’s office projects will lower energy consumption by 50-75%.
Los Angeles has installed smart street lights on 80% of its roadways. These connected lights feature LED bulbs and 4G LTE wireless connectivity, as well as sensors capable of detecting gunshots and other threats to public safety. In the first year alone, LA has benefitted from a 63% reduction in energy costs in addition to improved city-wide cell service.
In Dallas, TX, the Smart Cities Living Lab program is developing several projects in the West End Historic District. The city has partnered with AT&T to install 23 smart street lights with LED bulbs, as well as additional devices that can manage parking, irrigate lawns, and monitor air quality. Since beginning this initiative, the West End has seen a 35% reduction in energy costs, 12% increase in local business revenue, and 6% decrease in crime. If the program were to be implemented across Dallas’ 85,000 lights, the city would expect approximately $90 million in yearly savings.
As Schenectady, NY deploys smart street lighting throughout the city, Mayor Gary McCarthy is examining further ways to benefit from IoT technology. The city’s LED lights use motion sensors to dim when there is no traffic present, and the entire network is accessible through a secure web browser. Schenectady light posts will be equipped with HD cameras to improve the flow of traffic and protect citizen safety. McCarthy also believes that these cameras could enhance city maintenance efforts by, for example, taking one photo of the street surface per month over a three to five year period.
ROI for Smart Light Initiatives
As of 2017, the Connected Street Lights Market was worth $3.59 billion, and is projected to reach nearly 9 billion by 2024. Currently, Europe holds the largest market share at 34%, followed by North America and Asia. With substantial funds being invested in smart lighting, it’s essential for city officials to show the value of intelligent infrastructure not only in terms of its value to citizens but also its potential return on investment (ROI).
Fortunately, the payback for smart street lights is faster and higher than most other smart city initiatives, with most reports estimating cost reductions of 70-75%. The switch to LED bulbs provides substantial (and highly measurable) short-term ROI, which paves the way for the simultaneous implementation of technologies with longer paybacks and hard-to-capture ROI like real-time traffic monitoring.
A Silver Springs analysis demonstrates that LED bulbs alone are likely to pay off in approximately eight years, while IoT-enabled lamps are expected to achieve payback in just six years. While adding connectivity may increase initial costs by 20%, it’s expected to deliver 30% or more in further cost savings throughout the lifespan of the bulb — which can last up to 20 years.
Connected street light initiatives continue to make more and more sense. Successful case studies are stacking up, hardware costs are coming down and city planners are finding it easier and easier to get public buy-in. The short-term ROI produced by smart street lights’ core capabilities is increasingly undeniable.
But the bigger opportunity rests with the ancillary capabilities — the massive and diverse array of data that can be collected and converted — from raw information into intelligence and action. Transportation departments might be responsible for deploying smart street light networks, but all city departments stand to benefit — from housing to labor to law enforcement to energy and beyond.