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Smart cities start with the lights

25/05/15

Technologies introduced to save energy could have other benefits, says lighting systems manufacturer

The sound of breaking glass disturbs a suburban street. Instantly, nearby street lights go on to three times normal power. If the sound was caused by a road accident, the super-illumination will help. If it was youths fooling around after a party, they might sober up and go on their way. If it was the first stage in burglary, the culprits might quickly change their plans, preferably making their getaway into the path of the police patrol automatically alerted to the incident - at high priority, if it seems to fit a pattern of serious crimes.

Streetlights_in_mistThat’s a fairly standard scenario in a future “smart city”, in which real time data predicts, minimises and reacts to incidents. What’s new is the key role played by that most everyday piece of urban technology - the street light.

The City of San Diego, California, has taken a step towards that future by piloting “software defined lighting technology” to help it solve challenges from energy saving to traffic control to crime prevention.

As a first step, it has replaced 1,600 sodium street lamps and others with 3,000 solid state LED lights, connected on a wireless digital network.

GE Lighting, which is promoting the technology under the name LightGrid, says the platform enables advanced lighting control, traffic and parking optimisation, and environmental monitoring and analysis. More immediately attractive, the company says it saves the city more than $250,000 a year in energy and maintenance costs.

Utilise the infrastructure

“All cities have problems of traffic and parking optimisation,” Agostino Renna, chief executive of GE Lighting Europe, Middle East & Africa, said in London last week. “There is also a need for environmental reporting; temperature, atmospheric pressure, sound levels and so on. The question is to what extent can we utilise the lighting infrastructure to make monitoring further reaching and more granular.”

Research published today by GE Lighting and the Carbon Trust finds the biggest barrier to implementing smart technologies is the availability of funds. Other key barriers to adoption are:
lack of an agreed long term strategic plan; procurement know-how and capacity; lack of internal ownership of smart technology projects and the perceived risk in moving away from existing technology.

Renna claims that finance should not be a problem given the payback from “intelligent lighting” which he says can cut energy bills by up to 80%. He said he has found a willingness to invest in several UK local authorities.

Torbay Council, for example, has partnered with GE Lighting to switch to white LED lighting on main roads, improving facial recognition and driving conditions. The fittings also have the capacity to be dimmed and the system is compatible with a variety of central management systems, giving the council full control of lighting assets.

Picture: Mist (3233920861)" by Harald Hoyer from Schwerin, Germany - MistUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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