First Killer App for Smart Cities: Street Lights

Create: 08/09/2017 - 19:33
IoT Smart City Lights ScottMadden

Photo: ScottMadden Management Consultants

As municipalities grow and urban population expands, city officials are feeling the pressure to invest in IoT pilots and programs. By adding embedded intelligence to its assets, cities can create a working framework of modern, cost-effective technology that gathers data and can ultimately improve the quality of life of its citizens.

In addition, every city, regardless of size, wants to have the moniker of being a smart city. With transportation, energy, safety, water and air quality issues that could all benefit from smart technology upgrades, the first question is often, “where should we start?”

Saving Energy, Saving Budget

In a new report, “The Smart City Opportunity for Utilities,” energy consultancy ScottMadden in Raleigh, NC, notes that cities need to look no further than one of the initial components of their existing energy network: the street light. The report states that street lighting projects are a popular entry point into the smart city conversation because of the enormous potential to deliver a strong—and rapid—return on investment.

Here are a few of the reasons listed by the ScottMadden analysts that show why street lights can pave the way for other citywide IoT projects:

  • Street lights represent a substantial portion of city energy budgets, up to 40 percent.
  • Smart street lights can save 50 percent to 70 percent of this cost by dimming when activity is low, which means the city saves big money. These savings can be used to reduce city expense and to fund future initiatives while offering the utility a chance to increase its asset base at the expense of energy costs.
  • Networked LED lights can provide not only energy savings, but information about outages or other anomalies in the energy network.
  •  Lights can be remotely dimmed to reduce energy usage. Networked lights can also be managed by smart devices that adjust lighting in response to traffic patterns and help identify roadway hazards.
  • Networked lighting systems are also seen as a viable platform on which solution providers can build future sensing, data gathering and communications capabilities. For example, networked lights can communicate with video cameras, parking sensors, environmental sensors, weather sensors and more through the same network infrastructure.

The report notes that smart cities ready to start pilots need to first identify the workable funding mechanisms, which can include municipal borrowing, public-private partnerships and integration with federal programs. Next, cities need to create alignment and collaboration among private and public stakeholders and secure the support of their citizenry. Then, cities need to find the right technology partners and solution providers who can design, launch and manage the improvements.

Seeing the Light: ROI

As a solution provider for a smart city, part of your value is providing the expected return on these investments, demonstrating how it will be measured and clearly outlining how the changeover to IoT technology will yield energy cost reduction. 

The ScottMadden report notes that smart city investments and street lighting pilots are already accelerating at a rapid pace, with a constant flow of U.S. cities and cities around the globe announcing initiatives, particularly during the last year. Some examples of cities and regions that have launched IoT initiatives with street lighting upgrades are:

San Diego: The city partnered with Current, a Boston-based firm powered by GE, and invested $30 million to deploy the world’s largest IoT sensor platform this summer. San Diego plans to transform its street lighting in a connected digital infrastructure, allowing the city to collect real-time sensor data across the city. That data will be used to develop a myriad of energy, safety and transportation-related applications.


San Diego Smart City LED lights

Photo: Current, powered by GE

San Diego will upgrade 25 percent of its outdoor lights, including those in its historic Gaslamp district downtown. Current will upgrade 14,000 city light fixtures to its Evolve™ LED luminaires. According to early estimates, the fixtures will save San Diego $2.4 million per year in energy costs. Each fixture is equipped with an advance controls system, LightGrid™, that allows city managers to dim, brighten and check maintenance on the lights remotely through a single dashboard.

The sensors will be powered by the AT&T LTE network. Intel IoT technology will be inside the nodes to help extract metadata. Intel’s Atom® processor E3900 and Wind River software will enable the platform to run intelligent analytics with the light fixture and extract the data.

Washington, D.C.: The District has moved to networked LED lights and sensors and is already seeing the benefits. A recently completed pilot project delivered smart street lighting, sensors and a pubic gigabit Wi-Fi network to a three-block area, which reduced lighting energy costs by 50 percent.

IoT street light banner


Chattanooga, Fresno, Peoria and Pittsburg: The major appeal of moving to smart lighting in each of these cities isn’t just to save energy. These areas are all using smart lighting technology as a tool to help fight crime, assist in emergencies and better serve their citizens. Learn more about the full technology rollout in each city from a report provided by the Smart Cities Council North America.

The Utility of IoT to Smart Cities

Solution providers who are interested in smart city technology and want to learn how to position the benefits of IoT to municipal buyers can download the full Smart City Opportunity for Utilities report from ScottMadden management consultants. 

About Author

Melanie McMullen
Melanie is an expert technology writer who specializes in covering the IoT, cloud, mobile computing, and emerging technology markets. Melanie has held top editorial and content development positions at, Internet Business magazine, and LAN Magazine. She has written hundreds of global business technology articles and blogs and co-authored The Standard for Internet Commerce.

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