Street lighting – route to Internet of Things?

Street lighting upgrades offer the opportunity for new smart city and IoT applications for utilities and cities.
Published: Thu 09 Mar 2017

For utilities, the typical route to the smart grid is via smart meters and then growing numbers of sensors and other devices on the grid. But what about moving beyond that in a world of emerging smart cities and an Internet of Things (IoT)?

One option is electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which is still relatively nascent in terms of utility involvement. Another, more advanced, is street lighting, which is attractive both for its energy saving potential as well as, with its distributed nature, of adding other applications on top, such as public safety surveillance or traffic light management.

One of the latest utilities to take this route is Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) in the United States. The company will deploy Silver Spring Networks’ IoT platform to connect and manage up to 250,000 LED street lights across its service territory.

“Connected street lights will help OG&E improve service, lower costs and enhance public safety,” said Ken Grant, VP of Sales and Marketing at OG&E of the project. “Connecting the street lights across our service territory is a natural extension of our ambitious smart grid programme.”

Street lighting and IoT - potential

According to market intelligence company Northeast Group in a recent study, there are currently 315m street lights across the world. This number will grow by over 12% to 359m by 2026.

At the same time the legacy street lights are being replaced with new LED lighting technology, offering longer lifetimes, lower energy consumption and reduced maintenance costs.

In most developed countries, LEDs are already an economically beneficial alternative to existing street lights when energy savings are considered over their lifetime, despite the higher upfront cost. But in the next few years, LED street lights are expected to reach cost parity with legacy technologies, making their benefits to costs immediately positive.

At this point, they will make economic sense as replacements in almost all countries. Also, many emerging market countries are rapidly urbanising and in need of improved urban infrastructure, providing further drivers for this market.

Smart street lights

At the same time also, networked ‘smart’ street lights can help cities further reduce costs with the remote switching, dimming and maintenance capabilities that are opened up.

According to Northeast Group, smart street lighting is already taking off in major markets such as the US, UK and China. But overall, the LED and smart street light market remains young and some challenges must be overcome.

Costs must continue to fall for financing to be feasible in many countries. Vendor-led financing (i.e. performance contracting) must continue to develop to enable projects in many geographies. In some emerging market countries, multilateral financing can help overcome these challenges, and in 2014 the World Bank announced a $1bn fund exclusively for LED street lighting.

Another challenge is a lack of standardisation. Particularly for networked streetlights, undeveloped standards could limit vendors’ ability to meet rising demand across the globe. As it is according to Navigant Research, there are many different network technologies and control protocols competing against each other.

Navigant Research projects global shipments of LEDs growing from around 16m in 2016 to almost 28.5m by 2025 and accounting for about 90% of the outdoor lighting market.

Indicative of the potential, Northeast Group also projects that smart street lights could reach 42% of the total street light market by 2026.

Utility experiences

Among some of the utilities engaging in smart street light projects are Baltimore Gas & Electric, ComEd and Pepco Holdings Inc. Florida Power & Light’s project, totaling nearly 500,000 networked street lights across Miami and South Florida, is believed to be the largest connected street lighting project in the world.

The latest city to join this IoT wave is San Diego, which is combining a street lighting upgrade with a smart sensor deployment. The project, based on the Current, powered by GE, platform, will include the deployment of 3,200 intelligent sensor nodes on street light poles, along with the upgrade of 25% of the outdoor lighting amounting to 14,000 new LED light fixtures.

“Repurposing San Diego’s lighting infrastructure in a way that allows the community to put their hands on the heartbeat and nervous system of the city is our way of building a smart city app store,” comments David Graham, San Diego Chief Deputy Officer.

Real-time sensor data collected across the city will be used to develop applications from optimising traffic flow and directing drivers to open parking spaces to helping first responders during an emergency. 

The $30m project, claimed to be the world’s largest smart city IoT sensor platform, will start being installed in July. It also allows for the expansion of another 3,000 sensor points later in the year.

The new LED fixtures, which are equipped with an advanced controls system to dim, brighten and check maintenance on the lights remotely through a single dashboard, are expected to save the city $2.4m per year in energy costs.

Other participants in the project include AT&T as the wireless data carrier, Intel, whose technology will sit inside the intelligent nodes, and ShotSpotter, CivicSmart and Proximetry, which are focussed on the new smart city apps.

Related Webinar