Lighting: The Key to the Intelligent City

Lighting: The Key to the Intelligent City

By Joseph Howley, Manager—Industry Relations, Current, powered by GE


Cities around the world are exploring a new kind of intelligence that will transform the way we live, work, and interact.

It may sound like the opening line of a futuristic movie, but this is a statement of today’s actuality. Our physical and digital worlds are more interconnected than ever, and that connectivity is powering the transformation of metropolitan areas around the globe. “Smart cities” are no longer a fantasy and will become a widespread reality as municipalities seek more efficient solutions and citizens become even more connected.

Meaningful intelligence within cities is about more than cool technology; it is imperative to managing global population growth. Within the next decade, nearly 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, according to the World Health Organization. Cities must find new, efficient solutions to handle this influx and manage the long-term effects, and this is where the importance of big data and intelligence comes into play. The global intelligent city market will be valued at $1.5 trillion in 2020, according to a 2014 Frost & Sullivan report, proving smarter city solutions are well on their way.

Enabling Intelligent Cities

As cities search for ways to add intelligent capabilities, they should not overlook their existing infrastructure. More and more municipalities are realizing that upgrading street lighting to LED offers a number of significant benefits. With low energy consumption, diminished maintenance requirements, and uniform light quality, LED streetlights are a great solution to make cities more livable, workable, and appealing.

The integration of LED fixtures with sensors, transmitters, and microprocessors allow these streetlights to gather and analyze data to provide extraordinary insight into urban environments in real time. The built-in controls on these fixtures create a low-power, reliable communications network that is cost-efficient and unobtrusive. The sensors and cameras in each fixture can feed data back to a central computer for analysis, empowering data-driven decision making. With all of these components housed and operating within the LED, these lights are more mini-computers than ordinary lighting fixtures.

Picture this: An ambulance leaves a hospital for the scene of an emergency, and intelligent streetlights are able to detect incidents and guide them along the most efficient route. The same technology could be used to help you find the best way out of town when a hurricane bears down on your city. Or, say you want to head downtown to a restaurant but don’t want to deal with sparse parking. You could find a spot on your smart phone from home, as intelligent streetlights share parking availability to municipal databases. It sounds futuristic, but the core infrastructure is being put in place today.

Images courtesy of GE

The possibilities are seemingly endless; further examples of intelligent lighting benefits include the following:

  • Advanced lighting control: with smarter on/off scheduling and dimming of streetlights late at night when there is little traffic, intelligent lighting allows reductions in wasted energy
  • Parking optimization: when cameras detect available parking spaces, drivers could be notified, reducing both emissions from idling cars and the frustration of seeking a spot
  • Traffic flow: cameras and sensors monitor pedestrian and vehicle traffic, automatically detect accidents, send notifications, and reroute traffic based on road conditions
  • Asset management: complementing a smart grid solution, intelligent light fixtures can notify municipal service personnel of outages and issues and help with infrastructure planning
  • Environmental analysis: from monitoring air quality to weather patterns, sensors and cameras offer the ability to better understand what is happening and where
  • Infrastructure improvement: intelligent streetlights can facilitate metro-wide wireless Internet service, enable digital utility-grade metering of poles, and bring new capabilities to growing smart grids

Genesis of Intelligent Cities

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to building an intelligent city, but we can see how they might look by considering metropolitan areas already implementing this technology.

San Diego, for example, is executing a first-in-the-nation pilot program of Current’s Intelligent Cities platform, which adds sensor technology to LED streetlights in the city’s core, opening the door for data collection and analysis. Already, this outdoor wireless control technology is installed in more than 3,000 streetlights across the city, saving more than $350,000 per year in energy and maintenance costs thanks to real-time usage monitoring of individual light fixtures.

Cities around the world, from Barcelona to Tianjin to Dubai, are learning that intelligent solutions can transform urban infrastructure and improve daily life while preparing for urban influx. Lighting has gone from simple illumination to a new world of analytics and improved city services. Connecting a city is the key to turning societal challenges into opportunities, and we are taking great strides toward making that happen.

This piece was originally published in the February 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.

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