Navigant Research Blog

San Diego Aims to Set the Pace for Smart City Networks

Eric Woods — April 21, 2017

The announcement by the City of San Diego that it will deploy over 3,000 smart sensors as part of an ambitious upgrade to its street lighting system provides evidence that we are on the cusp of a new phase for smart street lighting and city networks.

As part of an upgrade to 14,000 city lights, San Diego will deploy 3,200 of GE’s Current CityIQ sensor nodes to create a multi-application city Internet of Things (IoT) network. The intelligent nodes can support a range of applications, including gunshot detection, smart parking, air quality sensing, and vehicle and pedestrian monitoring. Deployment of the platform and fixtures is expected to begin in July and to be completed before the end of 2018. The upgrade is expected to save the city $2.4 million annually in energy costs.

Platform for Innovation

As well as supporting a number of smart city applications, San Diego is also looking at the network to provide a broader platform for innovation. According to David Graham, San Diego’s deputy chief operating officer, the goal is to allow the community “to put their hands on the heartbeat and nervous system of the city is our way of building a smart city app store.” Delivering on this vision will put San Diego at the leading edge of smart city innovations.

The project fits with broader trends in the smart city market. The benefits of LED lighting are now widely understood by cities and many also recognize the value of providing network connections to those lamp poles (even if local finances and politics can still be a barrier to actual adoption). There is strong evidence that smart street lighting is crossing the chasm to becoming a mainstream technology.

However, the use of street lighting networks as a multi-application platform for smart city development has yet to make that leap. Today, deploying and managing a connected street lighting network is challenging enough for many lighting and public works departments. They need to ensure this upgrade goes smoothly and that significant benefits are provided to the city in terms of cost savings and improved lighting services. In this context, implementing additional sensor applications is not a priority. In addition, the business case for implementing these secondary applications is harder to develop, involves the scoping of new projects, and requires buy-in from a wider range of stakeholders. For these reasons, most cities still see the deployment of additional application on their street lighting network as a pilot project, at best.

Lighting the Way

However, there are signs that these issues are being overcome. San Diego aims to lead the way, but it is not alone. Cities like Copenhagen, which is deploying a street lighting platform from Silver Spring Networks, and Eindhoven, working on an innovative lighting strategy with Philips, are also in the advanced guard—among others. As other cities gain confidence from the experience of these leading adopters, smart street lighting will move into its most exciting phase yet.

For further discussion about some of the most exciting developments in smart cities, please join us for the upcoming free webinar from Navigant Research, Smart Cities and the Energy Transformation, on April 25 at noon EDT. Click here to register.

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