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Light Fantastic

Smart street lighting doesn’t just save money and helps the environment – it can underpin many other aspects of the smart city too. Barnaby Page reports.


The light and shade of Tango dancing in Buenos Aires
The light and shade of Tango dancing in Buenos Aires

How many lightbulbs does it take to change a city?


The answer, at least in the case of the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, appears to be 91,000. That’s the number of on-street bulbs (or “luminaires”, in the jargon) that Philips Lighting has replaced in Buenos Aires over the last three years, as part of a project to upgrade 70 per cent of the city’s lighting estate, cut energy bills in half, and reduce CO2 emissions.


But the implications of rollouts like Philips’s in Argentina go far beyond the fitting of better, longer-lasting lightbulbs. Outdoor lighting, not only at roadsides but also on paths, in tunnels, in parks and elsewhere, can bring benefits to the smart city far beyond the illumination it sheds, the attractiveness it gives to public spaces, and the sense – or indeed reality – of safety that it brings to citizens.


The reason? When lights (and other road-related devices such as bollards and signs) are networked, equipped with sensors and linked to management software, their ubiquity makes them good candidates to form the basis of much wider-ranging smart city applications.


As ChessWise, a firm that focuses on this field, puts it: “Smart lighting infrastructures deliver a gateway to the Internet of Things, as the perfect carriers for smart city and smart building networks. Other smart assets could potentially make use of smart lighting networks as a superhighway to any back office/management system. In short: could the lighting industry deliver new network providers which compete with classic networking/telecom giants?”


The answer, according to many, is a definite yes. For example, Telensa has installed its wireless lighting system in more than 50 cities, one of the most recent being Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And Philips itself is also active in the area of wireless lighting control that opens up so many possibilities of using this infrastructure as a backbone for other elements of the smart city.


Earlier this year it signed a partnership agreement with Vodafone to provide wireless lighting systems that can be monitored through the Web-based Philips CityTouch applications, while another partnership – this time with the cloud software giant SAP – will see information gathered from Philips connected street lights linked to data from other city-wide sensors, and presented on a single dashboard.


And so it’s no surprise that a standard is already emerging that puts lighting management at the heart of the smart city. The TALQ Consortium (a New Jersey-based industry group whose name stands for nothing in particular, and whose members include Cisco Systems and Silver Spring Networks as well as Philips and numerous specialist players such as Mayflower Complete Lighting Control, Telensa and Zumbotel) this summer said it would be expanding its standardised interface for street light control to cover other smart city and Internet of Things (IoT) applications.


With the first TALQ-compliant street lighting systems being certified this year, the consortium felt it was time to broaden its scope and define “a standard interface for smart city applications”.


“We will first analyse other emerging smart city interface standards and highlight why an adoption of the TALQ Specification promises benefits to cities,” Gerard Lokhoff, secretary-general of the consortium, was quoted as saying. “Our street lighting standard enables true interoperability and ensures long-term flexibility for cities. Now, with extending the specifications to wider smart city solutions, we will make these benefits available for a much broader set of innovative applications and public services.”


LED revolution


Why lighting, though? Why not base the smart city infrastructure on plumbing, or electricity supply, or traffic management?


Part of the answer must lie in the way that lighting technology itself has improved so dramatically in recent years, driven to a large extent by the introduction of energy-efficient, long-life LED luminaires – “LEDification”, as it’s sometimes called, which is now accounting for a substantial chunk of business for suppliers such as Osram.


LED’s superior qualities in themselves are a spur for cities to upgrade their street lighting networks, and since those improvements are coinciding with the upsurge of interest in broader smart city technologies, it makes sense to roll out the smart infrastructure at the same time as the lighting.


And of course the lighting itself is important, too. Its much greener credentials, and positive impact on the bottom line, are clear. Public lighting is estimated to account for as much as 6% of the world’s CO2 emissions, but new technologies help to reduce that: for instance, Hampshire County Council in the UK saved around 4000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, equivalent to 1600 cars annually, through deploying a new approach to street lighting driven by a central management system (CMS) from Mayflower. And where monetary benefits are concerned, the vendor UVAX argues that local governments can save up to 80% in energy costs as well as 20% in maintenance expenses.


Today’s lights feature programmable dimming for individual lamps and groups; smartness in switching on and off to avoid wasting energy by shining during the day; automatic reporting of bulb or electrical failures and problems; real-time control; and constant measurement of consumed energy.


It’s all a far cry from the pre-smart days of urban lighting, when teams roamed the city streets by night to hunt out non-working lights (no networking, and so no automatic reporting, in those days), the lamps themselves were either on or off (no in-between), and energy consumption was at best a guess. The industry has even come up with the buzz phrase ’lighting as a service’, echoing the ’as-a-service’ vocabulary familiar from the world of cloud IT.

Soft benefits


Public lighting has harder-to-measure, but equally important, soft benefits too. Just as one of the hot topics in the world of indoor lighting is ’human-centric’, meaning illumination that meets psychological needs and ties in with the body’s daily circadian rhythms, so outdoor lights can make a big difference to the way that citizens feel about the city at night.


As Thomas Hubertus Römhild – a professor specialising in design and lighting at the Hochschule in Wismar, Germany – puts, it the aim is “to get the best relation between highly energy-efficient public lighting infrastructure and the quality of stay in urban areas through better light quality”.


After all, as Römhild observes, the quality of individuals’ experience in public spaces “is important to the quality of life of inhabitants and also for the attractiveness of the city towards visitors. Public lighting serves security and orientation purposes and it can positively influence personal perception and experiences.”


There’s still a long way to go before these benefits are fully realised, so lighting may become an even more significant part of the future smart city than it is today. As Bill Bien, senior vice president and head of strategy and marketing for Philips Lighting, has said: “Less than 12 per cent of the world’s street lights are LED and less than 2 per cent are connected. We are at the start of a new era which will see highly energy efficient connected street lighting become the backbone of most smart cities.”



If you liked this, you may be interested in the following:



Philips and Vodafone partner in wireless smart lighting system
Lighting could form backbone of a smart city



Adelaide kick-starts Australia’s smart lighting ambitions
The city has installed a strip of 64 LED street lights, which have been designed to dim when not required, as well as harvest light from other ambient light sources within the area


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