As governments around the world look to reduce costs and save energy, street smart lighting systems stand as a largely untapped area of opportunity.
It remains a segment of the green building and construction industry where opportunities abound not just for electrical engineers and electricians in Australia and elsewhere but also for manufacturers of LEDs, communications equipment and network management software for public outdoor lighting.
In a recent report into the sector, clean energy sector research firm Pike Research says worldwide shipments of smart street lighting systems – lighting systems which use automatic controls to make adjustments, such as dimming lights when fewer cars and pedestrians are around – will grow from less than 200 this year to around 1,100 by 2020.
Over that same period, shipments of communications nodes will rise from roughly 550,000 to approximately 4.8 million, the research firm says.
One factor driving this growth is the emergence of new lamp options – most significantly LEDs which not only allow for better dimming control than standard street lights but through their electronics allow for relatively easy integration of control nodes.
On a related note, the ability of the systems to do more is increasing. In the US, for example, the Intellistreet system developed by Detroit-based global lighting contractor Illuminating Concepts knows where the sun is and has the ability to turn lights off on one side of the street before the other. The system also boasts an LED banner system which can be used for announcements such as road re-routing and street maintenance as well as digital street signs, which can assist in routing for theatre and stadium districts and give parking lot directions.
Most important, however, are cost and environmental issues. A draft Street Lighting Strategy Paper prepared by the Australian, State and Territory and New Zealand governments released last year placed the average annual energy cost of the 2.28 million street lights around the country at more than $125 million, a number that swelled to more than $250 million including maintenance. The paper said street lights were the single biggest source of emissions for local councils.
Any technologies that help reduce these costs and emissions will no doubt be welcome, but there are certainly challenges.
The Australian government report identifies a number of significant barriers to wider adoption, including upfront costs, acquiring suitable expertise and dealing with standards, approvals and regulatory issues. Furthermore, despite the enormous growth of the sector, Pike says a number of smaller manufacturers in this area around the world are finding life difficult, with many having either failed or been acquired by larger firms.
Still, given the significant demand for systems which do more while using less energy, the long-term future for smart street lighting systems looks rather bright.