Europe’s plan to make the ‘humble’ lamppost a bit less humble

Outdoor lighting giants Philips and Schréder are joining a group of companies and cities from across Europe to kickstart the market for ‘smart’ streetlights.

Smart lighting technology – with sensing and communication capabilities built in – is still young and not widely understood. So around 25 organisations representing potential buyers, sellers and makers of the technology have committed to playing their part in establishing the market. The aim is to get 10 million smart lights on to Europe’s streets by 2017.

The cities of Paris and Madrid are on board, as is the London Borough of Greenwich, and clusters of smaller cities in the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Finland and Estonia. On the supply side, Philips and Schréder are joined by Schneider Electric, telecoms company Orange, and a number of energy suppliers and technology companies.

The ‘market making’ project, nicknamed The Humble Lamppost, is part of the European Innovation Partnership on smart cities, set up by the European Commission. Rather than throwing money at smart lighting, the EC’s plan is to bring interested organisations together to develop the market themselves. Each participant has made a commitment to help build the market, and the EC is running a series of events and an online ‘marketplace’ to help them collaborate.

The project comes alongside other pan-European initiatives to drive innovation in public lighting, including the Pro-Lite group, in which public sector lighting buyers from a number of countries have banded together to share expertise and drive down costs; and the Enigma project, which helps cities share the risks associated with procuring lighting.

The participants in the Humble Lamppost project reckon that Europe could save €2 billion a year on electricity bills by upgrading its 60-90 million streetlights – most of which are more than 25 years old – to more efficient technology.

But as well as making streetlighting more efficient, the project is about building intelligence and communication into lighting infrastructure, to ‘enable other smart city initiatives’.

The organisations involved hope to get some proof-of-concept projects underway this year, then move on to larger scale projects next year.

Philips and Schréder are both already significant players in the world of connected lighting. Schréder’s Owlet control system is used in cities including Paris and San José, while Philips’ CityTouch system is used in more than 250 cities including London, Toronto, Buenos Aires and Singapore, and the latest generation of its Lux Award-winning Iridium streetlight can even connect to mobile phone networks to communicate wirelessly.

The Humble Lamppost project is led by Graham Colclough of Urban DNA, a smart cities advisory firm. Colclough admits that the target of 10 million smart streetlights by 2017 is ‘hugely ambitious’, but says he is ‘pleasantly surprised at the uptake of new lighting across cities and the interest in it’.

Colclough sees upgrading streetlights as an ideal place to start establishing a market for ‘smart city’ technology, because it’s relatively straightforward, the energy savings are compelling, and it’s easy for politicians and the public to see and understand the benefits.

‘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 your tackling the lighting, that’s the smart part.’

In fact, those cities that have recently upgraded to LED, without taking the chance to introduce intelligence, may have missed a trick. Colclough says: ‘I look at lots of cities that have just gone LED and I think, what a shame.’

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