32 ELECTRICALCONTRACTOR | MAR. 17 | WWW.ECMAG.COM
> FOCUS TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
charge the city a fixed rate based on how long the light was
illuminated. Given the many states of operation LED technology allows, from dimming to turning completely off based on
traffic and occupancy data, such simplistic rate structures no
longer make sense.
What both cities and utilities are looking for first in these
newly networked lighting systems is the ability to monitor
fixture status, including energy consumption, voltage and any
failures. When you are managing a network of 100,000 streetlights, flagging potential problems and addressing broken
fixtures proactively can lead to happier residents and customers than simply waiting for someone to call a trouble hotline.
Next on the wish list is the ability to control individual lights
in real time, which could be a boon for public-safety officials.
Perhaps this would mean turning all fixtures in a city block
to 100 percent brightness to aid in a search. Or, it also could
mean turning all those fixtures off, giving police officers wearing night-vision goggles an advantage over criminals suddenly
left in the dark.
Finally, there’s the ability of fixtures to respond—on their
own and with each other—based on dynamic, real-time data
received from their onboard sensors. In this case, one could
imagine lights in a given area starting to flash in response to air-quality sensors that have detected smoke or leaking gas, with
those closest to the event reacting more quickly.
“Because the devices can talk to each other, they can communicate with each other in real time,” Davito said.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, for example, streetlight-mounted
video sensors track bike-lane activity to turn lights on as
cyclists approach and then send a signal to traffic lights ahead
to turn green, as appropriate, for more efficient bicycle transit.
Of course, there are many decision layers to address in such a
scenario, for example, what the opposing traffic is like at the
intersection. This is why such roll-outs are rehearsed in small
pilot projects before going mainstream.
“Getting that right is really challenging,” Davito said.
Ashe believes that the open market, rather than individual
companies, is the best solution for addressing those challenges. He said that cities should open the data generated by
streetlight-based sensors—whether those sensors are tracking
air quality, traffic patterns, or simply offering a video feed of
surrounding parking and bike lanes—to the creativity of app
and other software developers.
“With sensors, you can provide real-time data to your citizens, and you can get software developers to build smart-city
apps that help cities solve some of their challenges,” Davito said.
For example, this could include the location of the closest
available parking space.
“That, ultimately, will be better than having one vendor who
solves one particular use case,” he said.
Offering sensors that can collect multiple types of data in
a single package is a goal for both cities and manufacturers.
This is likely to become even more important as the powerful light-output capabilities of LEDs enable more compact
and streamlined fixture designs. Such multifunctionality also
enables a much broader range of users to potentially benefit
from newly available data.
“The more multifunction the sensor is, the better,” Ashe
Five years out
said. “You give all the departments in a city a tool. That is the
vision of a smart city, and the pole is the quickest way to scale
that type of system in a smart city.”
Such sensors are only just beginning to hit the market,
though. Ashe said GE will be introducing a multisensor node
this year, which will be offered with cloud-based storage of the
kind of collected data app developers will need.
So, what this market look like five years from now? Berst hopes
for greater interoperability of sensors and other equipment
than is currently the case. Though common communication
protocols often are promoted, they aren’t always followed as
closely as he would like.
“Some vendors adhere to open standards, but they do it with
their own flavor, so you could be trapped into one vendor’s
infrastructure,” he said. “It can be pretty subtle. It’s something
that requires real effort on the part of the buyer.”
“I think this is a terrific growth area and it’s right in their
wheelhouse,” he said. “The economics are so compelling. It’s
hard to find a technology with a faster payback than LEDs, so
I think it’s a terrific future opportunity.”
RO SS is a freelance writer and editor who has covered building
and energy technologies for a range of industry publications and
websites for more than 25 years. He specializes in building and
energy technologies, along with electric-utility business issues.
Contact him at email@example.com.