March/April 2021 | Vol. 26 No. 2
Outdoor electric lighting systems have been in place for more than 140 years. As they progressed from incandescent to mercury vapor to sodium vapor, each new technology enhanced performance, decreased maintenance and improved efficiency…yet offered just a single service: illumination. In the past decade, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) continued this trend and are installed in 50 percent of streetlights but with a new wrinkle. LEDs are capable of unlocking a range of new opportunities to jurisdiction and organizations willing to capture them.
The key is the embedded electronics of the LED. For instance, the outdoor lighting system can dim lights as needed for routine energy savings or demand response programs; indicate device failures, and monitor performance for routine maintenance programs. But that is just the first step. Using a communications platform (4G, Bluetooth, etc.) with access to the internet, the system’s existing infrastructure allows the fixture (increasingly a luminaire) to collect and report data. Devices or sensors that monitor elements other than lighting also can be included. Weather conditions for local news stations, cameras for security, Wi-Fi hot spots, traffic and emergency service alerts—the list goes on.
But only about eight percent of outdoor lighting installations included any network lighting controls to enable these applications. And since connected outdoor lighting is still in the early adoption phase, the lighting industry has to be vigorous about getting the word out about data value (collecting, organizing, and analyzing) to cities and end users (citizens) alike. The energy efficiency and life-cycle cost savings resulting from LED replacement projects are well documented and are a good point of departure to the wider opportunity. For instance, data from emergency service sensors can contribute to shorter response times and traffic monitoring and control can help improve traffic flow. Officials should be able to infer logically (and over time probably measure directly) how these sorts of enhancements are helping community quality of life. Just think of thousands of hours of cars idling vice moving and what that means for air quality.
For their part, NEMA Members are working to clarify and communicate the value of information by creating Standards that organize data into a common vocabulary that will support interoperability of systems and can assist in city management.
In addition to hosting advanced technologies and facilitating the collection and transmission of data, streetlights are advancing in other ways, too. For instance, scientists have been studying how outdoor lighting affects drivers, pedestrians, and neighborhood spaces. As reported in the article by Morgan Pattison, Senior Technical Advisor to DOE, this is the study object at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. This examination will help determine how to control connected outdoor lighting systems to adapt to changing conditions, optimizing lighting for specific applications.
Whether it is providing communities with cost savings, data collection, or fine-tuning lighting to different applications, the once quotidian streetlight continues to push the limits. NEMA companies have already made a nearly unmatched contribution to energy efficiency in lighting and other sectors. And now they are leading the way beyond efficiency to showcase the other forms of value lighting and electrical products more broadly enable for our modern economy and society. ei.
Kevin J. Cosgriff
NEMA President and CEO