Comment, IoT/Smart Lighting, Outdoor, Street

Smart streetlighting: when’s the smartest time to upgrade?

Philips' Lux Award-winning Iridium Gen 3 streetlight incorporates cutting-edge communications tech

When it comes to upgrading streetlighting, it’s all about money.

We already knew this, and a recent survey by GE Lighting and the Carbon Trust confirms the importance of upfront cost in holding local authorities back from adopting new technology. Two-thirds of the UK public sector procurement professionals surveyed said lack of funds was still the biggest barrier to implementing smart technology.

I look at cities that have gone LED and I think, ‘what a shame’… if we only do lighting, we’re missing a massive opportunity”

Graham Colclough, Urban DNA

However, there’s a cost to waiting as well. That may sound like the kind of thing that salespeople say to try to get you to sign on the dotted line, but there’s undeniably some truth in it. Sticking with older, less efficient technology means missing out on savings.

But jumping too soon can have its costs too, because you miss out on the even better technology available tomorrow.

This is the dilemma facing streetlighting managers.

And with the rapid rise of ‘smart’ streetlighting technology that harnesses the connectivity of LEDs as well as their energy-saving potential, there’s a compelling reason at the moment to hold out for the new technology – if it fulfils its promise, that is.


Perfect timing?
Graham Colclough of smart cities advisory firm Urban DNA is a fan of LED streetlighting, but reckons early adopters may live to regret embracing it so soon. He’s currently leading a pan-European project to kickstart a market for smart streetlighting, with the support of outdoor lighting giants Philips and Schréder.

Colclough believes cities that have recently upgraded to LED, without taking the chance to introduce intelligence, may have missed a trick. ‘I look at lots of cities that have just gone LED and I think, “what a shame”,’ he says. ‘Upgrading lighting to LED offers real tangible rewards, financially and in terms of CO2 reductions. But if we only do lighting, then we’re missing a massive opportunity. You can add Wi-Fi, air quality monitoring, parking, traffic sensing… That’s the upside that you can add on while you’re tackling the lighting, that’s the smart part.’

Cities simply don’t know how to use the data yet… they wouldn’t be in a position to extract much value”

Iain Macrae, Thorn

The latest streetlighting products incorporate ever-more sophisticated control and communications technology. This not only helps lighting work more cleverly and efficiently, but also supports other services that can be built on the foundation of the smart lighting infrastructure.

One of the star products at last year’s Lux Awards was the Philips Iridium Gen3 streetlight, which was named Exterior Luminaire of the Year. It doesn’t look that unusual from the outside, but on the inside it includes GSM connectivity, harnessing mobile phone networks for communication.

So with these advances in what streetlights can do, is now the time to buy?


An exciting phase
Iain Macrae of UK lighting manufacturer Thorn says local authorities are ‘rightly nervous’ about smart city technology, because it’s still young and there’s little standardisation. They’re looking for ways to ready themselves for the future, without having to jump right in now, and without tying themselves to particular manufacturers.

‘We’re at the start of an exciting phase,’ Macrae says. ‘Municipalities can see the power these technologies can offer, they’re just aware that it’s very early days. Most of them see something coming down the tracks, they understand some benefits from it, but they can’t justify spending money on it yet – they’re not confident that they’d get the benefits. The next two to three years will be key.’
Macrae says smart city lighting is at the same stage today that LED technology was five or 10 years ago, ‘when it was the new kid on the block and everything was going to be perfect, before we hit all the problems with colour consistency and lifetime’.

‘We have a lot of lighting people who would love to sell you a luminaire and call it smart,’ says Macrae, ‘and we have a good range of smart technologies. But we’re not really at a point where the infrastructures of cities are talking together in one language. I can provide you smart city lighting, but at the moment, it’s not really part of a smart city. It’s a platform that can take sensors, nodes and communications hubs.’

A further problem is that cities simply don’t know how to use the data yet, so even if the systems work, they wouldn’t be in a position to extract much value from them.

It’s a choice that many lighting managers are going to face very soon. According to the survey by GE Lighting and the Carbon Trust, nearly three-quarters of UK sustainability professionals are planning to invest in lighting systems in the next five years.

Of course, when technology is advancing this rapidly, it’s impossible to know when’s the right time to buy. But buyers must keep in mind the extra benefits that might be just around the corner.



To keep up-to-date with the latest in smart streetlighting technology and learn how you can make the most of it, don’t miss LuxLive on 18-19 November, where Graham Colclough of Urban DNA will be among the speakers. Register now at