5 steps to a smart city: A brighter future begins with intelligent street lights

5 steps to a smart city: A brighter future begins with intelligent street lights


By: SGN Staff


Quick Take: Silver Spring Networks helped to invent the smart grid over a decade ago as an early champion of open, IP-based networks. So it's no surprise that this forward-thinking company is an important thought leader in the nascent smart city market.


Since street lighting and other smart city initiatives are coming to the fore in many cities now, I asked SSN to share some of its early learnings and best practices. You'll find their first contribution below, from Sterling Hughes, their Head of Advanced Technology.


Sterling emphasizes smart street lighting as one good place to start the smart city journey, but the five steps he recommends are valid for almost any smart city application. Pay special attention to his "canopy network" idea. Cities should be building their starter projects with enough headroom to layer on additional applications. Infrastructure becomes much more cost-effective when it can be used for multiple purposes, as SSN recommends. - By Jesse Berst


By Sterling Hughes


"Smart city” is the industry’s catch-phrase of the moment. In the past year, many cities have started to connect and automate key services, ranging from street lights to parking meters to traffic management to environmental sensors. They do it to become smarter, more efficient, and ultimately, a catalyst for innovation and economic growth.


Rather than adhering to a "One Size Fits All” model, cities should take a methodical approach to ensure that they achieve a solid ROI and spend citizens’ tax dollars wisely.


One good starting point

Networked street lighting represents one obvious starting point. Aging street lights can eat up to 40% of a city’s overall energy budget. There is a clear business case where implementing networked LEDs can drop this overall number by two-thirds, with the additional benefit of lowering operational costs, extending lighting network life spans, creating a safer environment for citizens, and establishing a "canopy network” under which other future services can be delivered.


This seemingly small task of upgrading street lights can have a big impact on a community. Four years after implementing LED lighting, Los Angeles has achieved electricity savings of more than 63% and reports that crime has decreased by up to 10% in areas where these modern lights have been installed. Baltimore has saved millions of dollars per year with LEDs and Paris - "The City of Lights” - aims to reduce energy consumption 30% by 2020 using networked street lights.

Step Three: Choose an open network for multiple applications

The biggest challenge facing a city when it comes to selecting a network is leveraging economies of scale, while still maintaining vendor choice.  Many vendors in the infrastructure space are still offering proprietary systems, which can lock a city into a single supplier. Operators should select a solid framework for their smart infrastructure that not only upgrades it in the short-term, but that can also deliver multiple Smart City applications as a city’s facilities and services continue to grow and transform in the future.  


Through an open, unified network platform that has demonstrated support for multiple applications and that has experience in mass-scale networks, operators will not only be making a wise investment for street lights, but in installing a network that will help a wide ecosystem of partners to work with in the future.


Step Four: Keep a speed-to-value mindset

Although the beginning of a Smart City project may begin with one asset - street lights - operators should always have a future-focused mindset, planning to add additional applications on the network that will help deliver measurable results, faster.


For example, operators may realize the value of the networked street light upgrade with demonstrated savings of at least 50% for energy, and total savings of 80% with networked LEDs. Additionally, public safety benefits achieved through better and more reliable lighting should also be captured, if not quantitatively, at least qualitatively.


Leveraging a standards-based platform to be able to select, in order of socio-economic importance for the city, the applications from the broadest ecosystem of providers ensures the highest-impact solutions are deployed in priority order.


Step Five: ‘Rinse and repeat’ to extend to multiple applications

With a smart street light deployment underway, operators now have a recipe to leverage the network canopy to add additional Smart City applications.


Once operators and their civic partners have identified the next priority application - whether it’s intelligent traffic controls, parking meters, city communication networks, or environmental sensors to monitor things like CO2 or noise levels - the incremental deployment costs are significantly reduced, thanks to network effects and the five-step best-practice process.


Beyond the monetary aspects, the raft of new services delivered over the city-wide canopy means that the smartest cities will be those that have invested in long-term infrastructure so that they can continually improve the quality of life, safety, and economic competitiveness of their citizens.


Sterling Hughes, Head of Advanced Technology, has been with Silver Spring Networks since 2004, and currently heads up development for new market initiatives, including Silver Spring's Smart Cities business and many of its international activities. While at Silver Spring, Hughes has held multiple roles, most notably leading the design and development of Silver Spring's IPv6 networking fabric and, in the process, authoring more than 10 domestic and international wireless networking patents. Prior to joining Silver Spring, Hughes was one of the core developers of the PHP programming language and spent 10 years working on high-performance websites, including Friendster, FAST Search & Transfer, and Yahoo!.