Can smart streetlights kick-start smart city progress? Yes, they can.

September 22, 2022

Besides saving energy and reducing costs, smart street lighting can provide a backbone for innovative and cutting-edge IoT city deployments.

Local governments are interested in smart city deployments and growth; the SmartAmerica Growth challenge estimates that local administrations will invest more than $40 trillion over the next two decades in internet-of-things technology for smart cities. And cities like New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Seattle are already heavily invested in smart city programs that focus on waste management, community engagement and reducing energy costs.

With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last year making more than $600 billion available for programs that touch smart city initiatives like smart traffic sensors, cities must be mindful of initial investments that will help other programs grow over time. One of the best places to start could easily be overlooked: smart street lighting.

Smart street lighting might seem like an aging topic, but it can be a backbone for innovative and cutting-edge IoT city deployments. Here’s how switching on the lights can help pave the way for more advanced programs.

Furthering smart cities

Connected lights help smart cities better manage their energy use and keep costs low, while also helping improve citizen safety. Between 2017 and 2022, research shows the implementation of street light use cases has grown from 61% to 72% and is expected to continue growing.

By using the right technology, cities can leverage the ubiquitous outdoor wireless communications infrastructure needed to support IoT street lighting initiatives to deploy a range of other IoT applications such as environmental monitoring or smart traffic sensors.

As a first step, planners could enable remote monitoring of lighting controls based on whether pedestrians or cyclists are in the area, or whether parts of the city, such as tunnels or bridges, need illuminating. Once the network and infrastructure are in place, other applications and services can share the same communications infrastructure, therefore reducing the overall costs of the IoT network infrastructure.

Recent research indicates that ever more IT decision makers are using IoT initiatives, like street lighting, to gain a competitive advantage (up to 29% from 20% in 2017). Cities can stand out among their counterparts by prioritizing IoT progress, and they can also appeal to more potential residents looking for a safer, more environmentally friendly place to buy or rent a home.

An international example

The City of London — or the Square Mile — is the historic financial district of the larger area widely known as London. The City of London has just 9,400 permanent residents — but up to 1 million people at peak times — and shows the impact that IoT street lighting can have on a community. The City has a goal to take control of its rising energy costs, lower energy use and improve public safety by replacing its outdated lighting system (around 12,000 lights). Specifically, the focus was on lighting streets, walkways, landmarks, bridges and tunnels.

While the project is young, it’s already saved around 80,000 kWh over the past financial year and has laid the groundwork for other smart functionality, including monitoring life preservers and environmental sensors on the Thames and other sensors as part of a zero-emissions pilot program. It started with a straightforward upgrade of aging streetlights and the foresight to base the network on a scalable communications technology, showing just how powerful this piece of the smart city puzzle can be in furthering progress.

Cutting down costs and saving energy

Because governments always keep an eye on their budgets and look for ways to reduce expenses, implementing smart street lights can go a long way in driving down energy bills and keeping them low. Case in point: Intelligent Energy Europe actually found that an obsolete lighting system could account for as much as 50% of a typical city’s entire energy bill.

Putting connected street lights in place improves efficiency and reduces energy consumption, therefore lowering costs. Additionally, they require less upkeep than traditional lighting, making them a smarter, more cost-efficient investment for the long-term.

The environmental and business cases are clear for starting the transition toward becoming a smart city by implementing connected street lights. If cities are looking for a way to fast-track energy and cost savings and IoT progress need look no further.

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