Jan 31 2020

The Power of Smart Street Lighting in Smart Cities

Intelligent street lighting can help cities save money and enhance services and public safety, but there are privacy concerns.

Smart streetlights are one of the core elements of smart city deployments. For cities looking to tap into the Internet of Things, smart streetlight upgrades can give them a strong foundation.

Cities can refurbish old streetlights with more energy-efficient LED bulbs, as well as wireless connectivity, motion sensors that activate lights when passersby are near and connected sensors to alert the city when bulbs need to be changed. Intelligent street lighting can also enhance public safety via networked surveillance and environmental monitoring.

According to a recently released research report from the IoT analyst firm Berg Insight, the global installed base of smart streetlights is expected to grow to 31.2 million in 2023, up from 10.4 million at the end of 2018.

Europe is the leading smart street lighting market, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the installed base, according to Berg Insight. “Characterised by a higher degree of utility ownership of street lighting assets, the North American market has seen a more scattered uptake of smart street lighting but is nevertheless home to several of the world’s largest deployments,” the firm notes.

Levi Ostling, IoT analyst at Berg Insight, says “the smart street lighting market is currently undergoing significant transformation and is now entering a new era of competition where the success of vendors will be determined by their ability to establish themselves as competitive providers of communications and management platforms for smart city devices.”

What Is a Smart Street Lighting System?

Smart city streetlights, or simply smart streetlights, are streetlights that have generally been upgraded to LED bulbs, which consume far less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. Philips, one of the leading smart streetlight vendors, says cities can reduce energy use by up to 50 percent with connected lighting. This is critical because, as Cisco notes, streetlights can add up to 38 percent of a city’s utility bill.

Streetlights that can be remotely managed, or automatically dim or turn off based on a lack of activity nearby, can save cities money. LED lights are also brighter than traditional lights, increasing public safety by making traditionally dark areas of cities brighter.

Chicago is in the midst of installing 40,000 new LED streetlights in neighborhoods across the city. The city said in 2019 that it will save an estimated $100 million over the next decade thanks to the energy efficient new lights, which consume 50 to 75 percent less electricity than outdated high-pressure sodium streetlights.

At the same time, as the website Smart City Lab notes, smart lighting has been “recognized as one of the most actionable and ready-to-implement technologies for cities to transition to a low-carbon economy and peak emissions in the next decade.”

Lampposts retrofitted with LED lamps are also “the ideal infrastructure for mounting smart city systems” the site notes, and “when used for networking and monitoring, they become a sensor platform, growing efficiency even further and providing vital data for a myriad of urban solutions.”

Glenn Buck, manager of sales engineers for Transition Networks, writing in Smart Cities Dive, notes that the “street lamppost of the future will do much more than light the streets at night.”

Smart streetlights can support solar power capabilities, digital signage, environmental condition monitoring (temperature, humidity, flood conditions, air quality), as well as traffic monitoring.

This data, transmitted over a light sensory network, “is capable of supporting many city services and initiatives across a single common infrastructure: from law enforcement to environmental improvement, transportation oversight and earthquake preparedness,” Cisco notes.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover how Chattanooga, Tenn., is using connectivity to enhance public safety.

What Is a Streetlight Management System?

A smart streetlight system involves a cluster of streetlights that “can communicate with each other and provide lighting data to a local concentrator,” according to embedded wireless firm Radiocrafts.

The concentrator then “manages and transmits the relevant data to a secure server that captures the data and presents it in a web-browser dashboard.”

A smart streetlight management system also incorporates two-way communication that allows utility or facility managers to “remotely control streetlights while keeping track of electrical power consumption in the lamps and in the driving circuits.”

Such monitoring helps cut down on maintenance costs, since each streetlight has a unique ID and can be pinpointed. If a connected streetlamp breaks, tips over because of the weather or malfunctions, city workers can schedule maintenance for that specific lamppost.

Glenn Buck, Manager of Sales Engineers. Transition Networks
The street lamppost of the future will do much more than light the streets at night.”

Glenn Buck Manager of Sales Engineers. Transition Networks

A streetlight monitoring and control systems can provide automated street lighting maintenance. As a research paper in the International Journal of Engineering and Techniques notes, light sensors can be placed in all streetlight circuits, which are responsible for switching lights on and off automatically.

Once the lights are switched on, current sensors placed at every streetlight circuit report the lights’ status to the centralized system via a Global System for Mobile Communication wireless module attached with the circuit.

Once that data is sent back, maintenance workers can be easily dispatched to malfunctioning streetlights.

“The system also maintains a database to store useful information from each streetlight, like power consumption, total number of burning hours, total number of interruptions, tally the actual power consumption with the power supplied and details of fault detection,” the paper notes.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how LoRa and LoRaWAN help smart cities.

How Smart City Streetlights Enable Public Safety

Smart cities and police departments are using smart street lighting to help fight crime, aid emergencies and better serve their citizens.

David Graham, the chief innovation officer of Carlsbad, Calif., and San Diego’s former deputy COO, told IEEE Spectrum in 2018 that smart streetlights with sensors could detect certain sounds to “automatically alert police to dangerous situations, by recognizing the sound of broken glass or a car crash, for instance.”

Public safety officials are “able to monitor intersections and note when traffic backs up — information that might one day be used to adjust traffic signals.”

A Smart Cities Council post notes that Coolidge Park, on the riverfront in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn., has benefitted from the addition of LED smart lights.

The site reports:

The park was notoriously unsafe, with gatherings of gangs that sometimes led to gunfire. But the city partnered with local company Global Green Lighting to install smart lights that could be controlled remotely, causing them to brighten, dim or flash. When the lights were flashed, the gangs scattered and over time the city eventually reclaimed the park.

Additionally, smart lighting systems can contain built-in speakers that can be “used for broadcasting public address announcements in case of emergencies or simply playing music to add to the ambiance of a public space,” Smart Cities Council notes.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how 5G networks will impact smart cities.

How Smart Streetlights Intersect with Surveillance

Using surveillance cameras embedded in smart streetlights, cities can “monitor traffic conditions and speeds to adjust traffic signals or to alert drivers of traffic backups via digital signage,” Buck writes in Smart Cities Dive.

He also notes that smart lampposts “may also help to identify suspicious behavior or enable license plate recognition.”

San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit says that the city’s smart streetlights with embedded cameras are “a game-changer” for helping find suspects.

“We use them very sparingly, for only the worst type of cases, very violent type of cases, or serious or fatal injury collisions,” Nisleit tells The San Diego Union Tribune. “But it’s our ability to use them as a reactive tool, as an investigative tip to lead us in the path of who is responsible for the crime. It actually lets us narrow our focus.”

However, critics say that the streetlights in San Diego, which also collect data on pedestrian movements, could put citizens’ data at risk. “We have to come together and realize this is about all of our data, all of our privacy, all of our rights being trampled upon,” Genevieve Jones-Wright, legal director for the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, a San Diego-based advocacy group that helps refugees, tells the Union Tribune.

StateScoop notes that San Diego “maintains an online map that gives the exact coordinates of each installed and planned device.”

However, activists have clashed with the city’s government over privacy concerns and have called on San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer to impose a moratorium on the technology, according to StateScoop.

Simon Sylvester-Chaudhuri, the executive director of CIV:LAB, an urban innovation nonprofit, says on the Samsung Next blog that to mitigate privacy concerns, city leaders “need to build sophisticated controls to guard citizens’ data and be transparent about who can access the data and how it can be used.”

“Privacy and citizen buy-in are very important,” he says.

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