Smarter than the average lamppost

Connected lampposts offer more than cost savings

Want a weather update, real-time air pollution status, or are you just trying to find that elusive parking space? It’s simple…ask the lamppost!

Smart street lighting allows operators to control city lighting remotely
Smart street lighting allows operators to control city lighting remotely (Photo:

A planet with millions of lights

As we move towards Smart Cities, technology is being built into buildings, transport and other infrastructure, to make cities function more efficiently. With full access to power and located ideally for communications modules, video surveillance, or information kiosks, it was only a matter of time before lampposts became a part of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Lighting is a vital part of any city. It ensures road safety and increases the personal safety of populations, as people move about the city day and night. Authorities must provide this core public service, which comes at the great cost of purchasing, installing, running and maintaining. However, innovative street lighting management systems are addressing these issues. With integrated connected devices and intuitive web-based applications, they can provide a high level of flexibility to meet the different lighting needs in cities at any time.

The global number of street lights is expected to grow from 304 to 325 million by 2025, according to a report by the Northeast Group. Fortunately, public outdoor lighting is undergoing change and being replaced with LED (light-emitting diodes) lighting, which lasts longer, consumes up to 90% less energy compared with other light sources, and reduces maintenance costs.

Standards make smart things smarter

We use smart devices in many daily activities, including communication, buildings, transport, healthcare, shopping, entertainment and banking. A number of IEC technical committees (TCs) and subcommittees (SCs) produce International Standards, which address different aspects of smart technologies.

The IoT continues to develop at a pace as more devices become connected. Anything smart relies on information and communications technology (ICT). Linked to this is the need to ensure connected devices and systems are secure and data is protected. This is particularly important for key city infrastructure, such as energy provision, transport and lighting, because breaches or breakdowns could have significant implications for example on public safety.

IEC takes cybersecurity very seriously and carries out a vast number of standardization activities in this field. For example, ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 27, a Subcommittee of the Joint Technical Committee set up by the IEC and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), works specifically on IT methods, techniques and guidelines to address both security and privacy aspects.

ISO/IEC JTC 1/Working Group (WG) 10 is dedicated to the IoT, developing foundational International Standards in this area. It identifies standardization gaps and monitors ongoing IoT regulatory, market, business and technology requirements.

IEC Conformity Assessment Schemes test products and services to ensure they conform to IEC International Standards. The Conformity Assessment Board (CAB) WG 17 investigates the market need and timeframe for CA services (global certification schemes) for products, services, personnel and integrated systems in the area of cyber security.

Concerning smart lighting, IEC TC 34 produces International Standards for the reliability, performance and safety of lighting, including LED-based systems used in smart lighting. The TC covers electric lamps, controlgear, luminaires and more. It also follows the rapid technological developments, which require lighting to be interoperable with other equipment, for example control devices used in smart appliances.

Finally, authorities must make their cities as energy efficient and environmentally friendly as possible, in line with policies and regulations. IEC TC 34 applies IEC Guide 109, which takes environmental issues into account during the development and maintenance of Standards.

Finally, technology sees the light

More companies are offering smart public lighting management systems which give operators a real-time overview of city lighting at any time. This can be viewed using standard web browsers, via an existing mobile network. These web applications analyze the system, facilitate planning and maintenance work.

Since the lights are individually connected to the lighting management system, operators can easily see if they are on and thanks to GPS, identify their exact location. Lighting can be set to automatically dim when no motion is detected, or pre-set for example, to dim a business district that is less populated at night. It also allows light output to be increased during a determined timeframe, such as the run up to Christmas, when people tend to shop more after work. Last-minute changes can be made at the click of a mouse, accommodating the constantly changing needs of cities.

Will LEDs really last as long as they say?

The growing demand for LED technology brings a greater need to ensure that its electronic components, parts and assemblies are of the highest quality and reliability. Consumers expect their initial investment in the more expensive LED lighting to pay off in the long term.

IECQ, the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components, has developed the IECQ Scheme for LED Lighting, to test and assess the quality of electronic components and assemblies used in the production of LED lamps and drivers against IEC International Standards. This means manufacturers, suppliers and consumers can be confident that the products they sell or buy have been independently verified and meet all requirements and specifications.

From humble light to illuminating assistant

Taking things a step further, networked lampposts can do far more than light the way.

Many cities around the world are already trialling projects, which are adding diverse functions to the once humble provider of light. Like other smart technology, lampposts can communicate with other devices to gather and transmit specific local or more general city information.

They can suggest the quickest travel routes or the most populated ones for those who don’t fancy walking alone at night; give pollution updates for a particular street, help drivers locate that elusive free parking place, provide Wi-Fi and events updates or allow electric vehicles to recharge.

Sensors enable smart lighting

None of this would be possible without sensors, which are a key part of the interconnected world of IoT. They monitor ambient light, facilitate touch functions, measure temperature, motion and direction. The work of IEC TC 47: Semiconductor devices, and IEC SC 47F: Microelectromechanical systems, ensures that sensors and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) work reliably and efficiently wherever they are used.

So how does a lamppost find a free parking space? Again it comes down to sensors, which are placed on the floor of parking spaces to monitor whether they are free or not. Data units collect the information and send it over the mobile network to the city server infrastructure. The information is then conveyed to the lamppost network and displayed on the nearest one, which guides drivers to the free spots.

How bright does the future look?

Many cities are already benefiting from more efficient, less costly smart street lighting. In the report Smart street lighting by Navigant Research, global street lighting revenue is expected to be worth USD 2,3 billion by 2023. However, there is a way to go before connected lampposts will become useful street assistants. Still in the early stages, the way these projects deliver this information will decide whether city dwellers adopt this technology on a broad scale.

But the innovations keep coming and the role of lampposts keeps expanding. For example, a private public project in Los Angeles is enabling the funding of networked street lighting, by leasing out wireless technology in the lampposts to wireless providers. As well as improving the city’s lighting, it will also enhance the existing wireless network, for which the data demand continues to rise.

IEC International Standards cover many different aspects of smart lighting and the IECQ Scheme for LED Lighting ensures that products and systems meet these Standards.