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A light bulb moment for European cities by Seeta Hariharan, general manager and group head of TCS Digital Software & Solutions Group

Thanks to recent advances in energy-efficient LED lighting and smart software, streetlights can now serve as the foundation for building a smart city


A light bulb moment for European cities by Seeta Hariharan, general manager and group head of TCS Digital Software & Solutions Group

Cities are one of humanity’s greatest achievements. At their best they bring together people from diverse backgrounds, creating a melting pot of talents, skills and cultures to create something unique that drives business, society, entertainment, healthcare and education.


And with scale comes the opportunity for enticing efficiencies, too. But it also brings major complexity. That’s where the holy grail of the smart city comes into play.


Becoming truly smart is now the ambition of almost every European city. With financial pressures being felt by local governments, often as a result of bulging populations, demands for improved efficiency and a reduced carbon footprint have never been greater. Smart cities have the potential to offer a significant part of the solution to these competing pressures, but until recently they’ve been more theory than reality.


However, in one particular area – street lighting – digital innovation holds tremendous promise for cities. Thanks to recent advances in energy-efficient LED lighting and smart software, streetlights can now serve as the foundation for building a smart city.


Anyone who’s been in a city after dark will recognise that lighting is an intrinsic part of any urban landscape. Just as a theatrical production employs painstakingly designed stage lighting to convey the changing tones and moods of a play, street lighting performs a similar role in cities.


Intelligent street lighting not only sheds light on roads, bridges and parks, but a city’s character, too. It can improve mood and well-being by providing a warm, welcoming feeling to visitors and residents alike. Reflecting each city’s unique personality, smart street lights can be dimmed to enhance the enjoyment of outdoor events such as a fireworks display or meteor shower. The luminosity of specific street lamps can even be adjusted in response to light pollution complaints to maintain quality of life.


In addition to reflecting upon a city’s character, street lighting has an enormous financial impact. Street lamps reportedly account for 15 per cent of the world’s electricity consumption. To city leaders, making street lamps smart represents an opportunity for dramatic savings.


Across the EU, local governments spend more than €7.5 billion on powering public street lights each year. It’s estimated smart lighting could cut these bills by up to 70 per cent – or €5.3 billion per year – if a sustained investment was made.


And it’s no longer about these lights just being energy efficient. The Internet of Things (IoT) means that nearly everything can become connected - and lighting is no different. Smart lighting can now adapt to changes in the weather, shine more brightly in areas with higher crime rates, and turn on only when movement is detected to save energy.


Becoming a smart city is a process and most cities need expert input to make it work. Tata Consultancy Services is using machine learning and predictive analytics in its cloud-based Intelligent Urban Exchange software to customize street lighting for cities, such as saving energy in one neighborhood and addressing high crime rates in another.


The software analyses data from a variety of different sources, such as weather information, embedded sensors, buses, traffic and pedestrian cameras, utilities and emergency services. To keep citizens feeling safe, it can automatically brighten streetlights when pedestrians approach or notify police or an ambulance of a car accident. If there’s a water main break it can brighten streetlights in the vicinity and help reroute buses in real-time.


There’s still some way to go as few cities across Europe have implemented smart lighting. But we’re in a unique period that is presenting the opportunity for cities to take advantage of the technology and become truly smart. The European Commission has even pledged to help fund a project to set up 10 million smart street lamps around cities in Europe by 2025.


It’s paramount that cities in Europe – and around the world – embrace the power of this technology and IoT to improve the city for all citizens.


Smart lighting is a fundamental part of the city of the future. Seeing the impact it’s having makes it an easy decision for other ambitious cities to follow suit.


Over the course of the next decade, 125 countries across Europe will add almost 300 million LED street lights, and will invest more than €12.5 billion in smart, connected street lights. The time to switch to LED lighting is also the time to switch to smart lighting. LED is an important step, but smart lighting offers so much more.


By investing in the next generation of lighting, smart cities can deliver something more valuable than savings – the wellbeing of citizens. If they haven’t already had their light bulb moment, authorities need to understand now is the time to make the switch to more welcoming, safe and resilient cities.




Seeta Hariharan is GM and Group Head of TCS Digital Software & Solutions Group (DS&S) where she is responsible for overseeing all aspects of operations for this new strategic growth unit with its own P&L. Hariharan sets the strategic direction for the unit, establishes product direction and ensures solutions designed and delivered meet business needs. She is also responsible for equipping engineering with the staff and resources needed to execute against a visionary roadmap and oversees sales and marketing efforts to establish TCS in the licensed software business.


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