Smart Street Lights Could Save Money and Energy, and Cut Crime

Photo: CleantechSanDiego.org

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Cities will spend $8.2 billion dollars on “smart street lights” in the next decade according to a new report. These lights are much more efficient than the lights currently in use across and have a variety of functions, including traffic data collection to save time and weather monitoring to improve forecasts. Cities hope that implementing this fast-growing technology can help them gain real-time insight on their roads and can help provide greater safety against crime, but some citizens worry about their privacy

Why This Matters: “Street lighting can be up to 40% of a city’s energy bills, so you see huge cost savings across the board,” Benjamin Gardner, president of the Northeast Group, a smart cities marketing firm, told Axios. Those cost savings will also be reflected in cities’ lower carbon footprints. 

  • Lighting accounts for nearly 5% of global emissions.
  • According to CLASP, a non-profit organization that advocates for efficient appliances, by creating global lighting efficiency standards by 2030, we could save 640 TWh of electricity every year, “equivalent to $360 billion in avoided investment in 290 large coal-fired power plants.”

Win-win-win — save money, cut carbon, and improve safety.

Helping Cities Meet Climate Targets

Lighting the streets with LEDs could also help developing nations accelerate their climate plans. LEDs prices have been steadily declining, and because many people in developing nations still get their lighting from pricy fuels like kerosene, replacing inefficient street lighting can make a much greater impact not only for city budgets but for citizens as well. Already, many cities are adopting an LED standard. Northeast group said, “overall, over 90% of streetlights will be LED by 2029 and 35% will be connected.

What else can they do?

Experts say that smart streetlights will have many applications ranging from doubling as electric vehicle chargers to air quality monitoring. 

  • In Los Angeles, a design competition resulted in a smart street light with awnings for shade and solar power production. 
  • In 2019, Cleveland, OH rolled out a program to replace and connect 61,000 streetlights. All on a central network, the lights can be controlled, monitored, dimmed, and brightened, without in-person maintenance.

As these lights become more advanced, some cities, like Cleveland, have been using the smart networked streetlights in “high-crime” areas to bring them brighter lights, potentially assisting police departments to monitor and prevent crime. Other cities are interested in using the technology to pull in revenue by renting out light poles for large advertisements and 5G hotspots, and selling collected data to corporations.

A San Diego watchdog group in 2019 expressed concern about that city’s smart streetlights, saying “What is very concerning and troubling is that these cameras were installed and are being used all over this city without any oversight.” The activists were concerned about the opportunities for civil rights abuses, citing the high concentration of the new lights in minority neighborhoods. But other San Diegans say they feel safer knowing that cameras and sensors may help law enforcement solve crimes.

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