Monetizing smart street lights: A bright idea being tested in San Diego

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Reprinted with permission from the Smart Cities Council.

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One of the biggest energy cost centers for cities is the street light grid. So turning that grid into a revenue generator seems like a bright idea – and that's just one objective of a first-of-its-kind smart street light pilot under way in San Diego County.

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The pilot is a collaboration between San Diego Gas & Electric, the industry group CleanTECH San Diego and many of the county's 18 cities and public agencies – a partnership officially called the Street Light Working Group (SLWG).  Since 2009, the SLWG says it has retrofitted 60,000 street lights in 14 cities, saving 20 million kWh annually and spurring $25 million in economic development for the county.

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After this initial success, the SLWG took it a step further with its Phase II adaptive controls pilots to create smart street light grids in the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista. The downtown San Diego pilot is using post top street lights with adaptive controls from GE. The Chula Vista pilot is using roadway cobra street lights with Acuity ROAM adaptive controls. Other cities have installed LED streetlights with adaptive controls to achieve remote monitoring and energy efficiency benefits, but SLWG says the San Diego region is the first to attempt to create a grid that monetizes the street light network.   

So how does it work?

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As SLWG explains it, surface-level benefits of the project will include real-time asset monitoring and utility-grade metering capability. Validation of the latter -- utility-grade metering –- would allow a utility to establish a metered ‘dimming tariff’ rate which in turn would enable cities to monetize off-peak dimming of street lights.

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But there's more to it.

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Once the smart street lights are converted from non-metered utility tariffs to metered tariffs, it enables cities to plug in third-party applications and create an entire smart city street light grid. For example, by leasing space on the grid, SLWG suggests cities could:

  • Enable holiday lights
  • Provide emergency preparedness and response
  • Initiate chemical sensors for homeland security applications
  • Provide WiFi to under-served neighborhoods
  • Enhance cellular service with microcells
  • Power EV charging stations

To share the pilot project’s findings with other municipalities, the city of San Diego will demonstrate this advanced system at the 2014 EPA Climate Leadership Conference which takes place in San Diego Feb. 24-26.