Illuminating the Path to Smart City Infrastructures
By Paul David, TRC
Cities across the U.S. and around the world are converting their streetlights to light emitting diodes (LEDs) to deliver top-tier public service to their communities. As highly visible projects in the most literal sense, streetlight improvements pay immediate dividends to residents.
Keeping streets well-lit is one of the biggest expenses for local governments. But better lighting usually means safer streets, which is a huge cost saver for municipalities, residents and businesses. Improved lighting also can spur economic development by creating an inviting environment for pedestrians and highlighting storefronts.
LED streetlight fixtures require less power and maintenance than traditional high pressure sodium or other lights. Across the U.S., it is estimated that municipalities could save 20 GWh annually by switching to LED streetlights. In addition, each city that makes the switch can save as much as 60 percent on energy and maintenance costs per year. Streetlight retrofit projects are relatively inexpensive with quick payback periods.
LED streetlight conversion projects are a low risk, high benefit endeavor for cities and can also serve as a clear signal of the city’s environmental consciousness and community leadership.
A Pathway to Smart Cities
LED lighting also can be the first step toward a smart city architecture and can serve as the foundation upon which future smart city technologies can be built. LED controllers enable functions not previously available for streetlights, such as:
“- Dimming or raising light levels
“- Adjusting the lighting’s color temperature
“- Metering each light’s energy use and executing strategies that save even more energy
“- Identifying lamp failures and pole “tilt” or knock down
“- Performing other preventative maintenance practices
Controllers are mounted on the top of each fixture, where the photocell is traditionally mounted. The controllers are networked together—through power line carrier, mesh network or cellular technologies—and report to a central location, giving municipalities more information about and control over their streetlights than ever before.
Furthermore, the poles upon which the lights are mounted create a “vertical infrastructure” that spans the city. Properly equipped, this vertical infrastructure can see, hear and sense activity through cameras, audio detectors and motion sensors. The network can also deliver Wi-Fi coverage and messaging for residents through flat screen displays or public address announcements.
Ultimately, LED streetlights with smart controls can become the backbone of a citywide communication network. Municipalities can use this infrastructure to better serve their communities across a number of critical dimensions:
SAFETY. Imagine the police being able to hear a gunshot and pinpoint where the sound originated within seconds–then being able to lower or eliminate streetlighting levels while positioning officers or SWAT teams. Once the situation is in hand, light levels can be raised higher than normal to facilitate the investigation. Meanwhile, real-time traffic messaging can divert traffic from the crime scene and keep things moving around the area.
Public safety and services response can be vastly improved by incorporating LED features, such as:
“- Emergency “blue buttons” mounted on the light poles
“- Motion detectors to alert authorities about intruders in parking lots, parks and school grounds
“- Adjustable light levels to help with crowd movement and control
“- Sequencing of lights to promote movement in a particular direction
“- Light color variations for choosing the correct pathway
Cameras mounted on light poles also can help law enforcement track potential criminal activity, document and record situations and greatly extend their reach and effectiveness. A good example is the case of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which investigators broke wide open by examining—and releasing—video footage of the perpetrators in the moments leading up to the deadly blast.
TRANSIT. Congestion and mobility are almost universal issues for cities. Modernizing mass transportation systems is one of the primary challenges urban planners face—and cities are searching for ways to become more efficient, connected and responsive to local resident needs.
Smart city infrastructure integrated with LED systems can transmit real-time information about traffic and parking conditions; analyze and understand transit options to minimize traffic disruptions caused by major events or incidents; help build “smart corridors” like bus rapid transit routes; and utilize wireless technology among vehicles and infrastructure to improve safety, efficiency and usability.
ADDITIONAL REVENUE. Cities also may leverage smart city infrastructure for new revenue opportunities—everything from cellular and Wi-Fi coverage to electric car charging stations to advertisements on video displays and more.
Smart LED Solutions
The first step to implementing a smart, LED-enabled city infrastructure is ensuring city ownership of community streetlights and other relevant outdoor lighting—and then converting them to LED fixtures and control technologies. The good news is that the energy, maintenance and other operational savings from LED lighting is often sufficient to fund any acquisition of streetlights, the conversion to LED lighting and the addition of smart technologies. Cities use many key financing mechanisms to support initial implementation, including public bonds, energy efficiency incentives and energy savings loan agreements through energy service companies and banks wherein the energy and maintenance savings are used pay off the loan.
For public entities that do not own their streetlights, streetlighting is often a service that the local electric utility provides. Since agency ownership of the pole and light fixture asset is critical to establishing a smart city infrastructure, municipalities should ask if the utility offers a conversion program that enables them to acquire the streetlight assets. These programs are popular and commonplace across the country.
Second, municipalities should catalog all streetlights and other outdoor lights into an asset inventory database that includes information on all technical aspects of the lighting components and activities surrounding the lighting. These details lay the groundwork for planning and execution.
Third, cities must develop streetlighting and smart city strategies based on the activities, needs and wants of their community. It is critical to include a diverse set of stakeholders in the goal-setting process. Local law enforcement, fire, emergency services, schools, parks departments and others have different perspectives on what smart technologies can do for them—and the capabilities and equipment required to deliver the planned features and services.
Finally, most cities depend on outside technical and engineering assistance to ensure their conceptualized projects are successful in the real world. This approach allows municipalities to focus on shepherding the efforts internally while outside experts provide crucial expertise—tailoring solutions to local needs, specifying LED products, calculating accurate energy savings and providing financial metrics. Cities challenged with obtaining stakeholder buy-in and community approval, addressing streetlight inventory issues, reviewing contractor documentation or understanding utility processes can benefit greatly from seasoned professionals who have navigated similar issues and can offer viable solutions.
Seeing the Light
With such significant potential for financial, environmental and social benefits, LED streetlighting and smart city infrastructures represent a shining opportunity for cities to light the way to cleaner, more vibrant and safer communities. We can implement smart cities today that expand with new ideas and technologies for a sustainable future.
Local governments and cities are learning how data analytics, new technologies and cyber and physical security systems can meet city infrastructure challenges like transportation, parking, water management, sanitation and energy usage. As a result, cities are better managed and we all enjoy an improved lifestyle.
Our imagination is the only limit to what we can build together.
Paul David is vice president of engineering, efficiency at TRC and has 35 years of experience in smart, efficient energy infrastructure. A professional engineer, David provides senior-level guidance for strategic projects with utilities and agencies, helping position clients for smart city success to achieve their safety, public service, operational efficiency and environmental goals.