Navigant Research Blog

Realizing the Potential of Street Lighting Networks

Eric Woods — July 27, 2017

Navigant Research expects 73 million connected street lights to be deployed globally by 2026. This will be an immense asset for cities able to use these smart nodes as part of an emerging city mesh of sensors and smart devices. However, while the potential of smart street lighting is clear, there are still several hurdles to faster adoption. As Richelle Elberg noted in a new Echelon-sponsored white paper, we must examine the complex issues around the network choices facing cities—and technical complexities are only part of the problem. The Echelon white paper and Navigant Research’s recent Smart Street Lighting for Smart Cities report both identify five key messages for cities as they consider their street lighting policy:

  • Consider street lighting upgrades as part of an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy. Any city looking to deploy a street lighting network should at least have an outlined plan for how it will engage with the growth in the use of digital and IoT technologies for city operations and services. How do these developments fit with existing city development strategies? What are the priority local issues and what are the local assets that provide the starting point and make the plan distinct to the needs of this city?
  • Find new ways to collaborate across departments. The potential to add future services to a street lighting network means that coordination across city departments on procurement is essential. Restricting the procurement to the traditional concerns of the lighting department may limit the ability to realize future benefits. Coordination of networking requirements and procurement across multiple city departments—and even involvement of other stakeholders such as local utilities—should be considered.
  • Think about problems first. While there are a wide range of potential use cases for a multi-application network, not all will have the same priority. Just because many applications can be supported on a street lighting network does not mean that all will be equally important to all cities. As a leader of a successful smart city program recently said: “our secret is that we always start with a city problem not a technology.”
  • Understand the diversity of requirements. While integration across departments and the consolidation of requirements is a sensible approach, it is also important to realize that one approach will not satisfy all needs. Most cities are likely to require different communication solutions to address the span of smart city applications, from low risk Living Lab projects, to specific services applications such as street lighting and smart parking, to critical city systems for public safety. The future of city networking will be a hybrid.
  • Recognize that street lights are a city asset. In a world that depends on ubiquitous access to power and connectivity, the street lighting network is a valuable resource. In addition to providing a platform for new sensors and applications to improve the efficiency of city services, they can also be a source of new revenue. Street lighting poles are being used to extend cellular and Wi-Fi access, to integrate EV charging equipment, and as digital signage sites for advertisers.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Installing smart controls for street lighting at the same time as an LED upgrade program is a logical and cost-effective step to enhancing the value of the city lighting system. In 2017, smart street lights represent only about 2% of the installed base of street lights; there is still immense potential for better utilization of these valuable city assets.

Installed Base of Smart Street Lights by Region, World Markets: 2017-2026

(Source: Navigant Research)

For further detail on smart city applications, street lighting as a platform, and the relevant connectivity platforms, see the Navigant Research white paper, Smart Street Lighting as a Smart City Platform. The Executive Summary from the Smart Street Lighting for Smart Cities report is also available.

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