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LED lighting enables intelligent city infrastructure

Henry Eng, President and CEO GE Lighting, Asia, and Ian Killick, Manager GE Lighting, Australia and New Zealand, are basking a little in the glow of GE having just completed relighting The City of Sydney’s streets and parks with state-of-the-art LED fixtures. A mere 6,500 light fittings—changed!

The City council, thrilled that 90% of its constituency have approved the new ambience, is also already reaping greater than anticipated benefits in terms of reductions in energy use. And much lower carbon emissions take it a big leap closer to its goal of a 70% greener city by 2030.

Other municipalities are looking green with envy—or perhaps that’s just their skin tone as shown by the old street lights they’re using. Old forms of lighting can put a strange cast on the world, compared to LED’s true colour rendering and even coverage.

The new light fittings also turn a bunch of old poles into infrastructure that offers an enhanced standard of city living. Bring on the future as GE invites software developers to invent applications for sensor-enabled LEDs, on GE’s Predix development platform. They’ll help ease gnarly traffic problems, find you a parking spot and alert you to dangerous weather conditions. It’s a brilliant prospect…

GEreports: Are there echoes of GE’s founder, Thomas Edison, in the new role GE envisages for lighting in smart-city infrastructure?

Henry: Well it’s certainly good to see lighting becoming part of the limelight again. GE is a 130-year-plus business, and fundamentally we were a lamp-distribution-type business. With this major transformation in lighting technology to LED, we have gone through a commercial transformation to better serve the customer.

GEreports: Can you give us an example?

Henry: One of the things we’ve realised in talking to a lot of our clients, many of which are governments and municipalities, is that lighting is a huge drain on their budget because of the cost of electricity. LED technology is very much suited to helping with that. And the technology now is proven; it’s giving clients the energy savings that they require. We are in the end phase of finishing lighting the entire City of Sydney, and the expectation that the City government has had for the LED transformation has far exceeded its energy savings requirement of 40%—now it’s at just above 47%.

Because the LED system is so much more reliable than the old lamp-type fixtures, the City of Sydney has also seen a significant decrease in maintenance requirements. And the comments we get are that the quality of light has become so much better where we’ve changed to LED systems.

The City of Sydney has been a great showcase for us in making the LED conversion. It’s the first major conversion of an entire city here in Australia. As a result, the three energy companies in New South Wales—Endeavour, Ausgrid and Essential—have got together as part of Networks NSW and they have put out a tender to retrofit all of the lighting here in New South Wales over a period of five to 10 years.

GEreports: How has GE been working behind the scenes to connect lighting to other improvements in urban life?

Henry: With this infrastructure in place, you now have a platform where the City can gather an enormous amount of data, through sensors and through the application of software, and that’s what we see as the future of LED street lighting. It’s what we call “Imagination at work”.

Right now GE Lighting has two technology platforms. One is called LightGrid, a wireless control system. This allows any user to turn lights on, turn them off, to dim the light, to understand and manage the energy usage of the lights. This platform is already in deployment in San Diego in the US and in other municipalities around the world.

Then the future is our Intelligent Environments platform, which is a software-based platform that integrates the fixture and the sensors with software built on the Predix application.

In the future, imagine that every street light gives the City the capability to monitor traffic, real-time live traffic, so it can make decisions relative to the traffic patterns in the city.

It allows cities like San Diego to have environmental sensors in the fixtures; to be able to monitor the environmental condition, the air quality, in each of the areas within the city.

And it even goes so far as looking at parking availability within the city. One of the things we realise is that a lot of the traffic in cities is just circling around looking for parking. So having something with a sensing capability to identify where the open parking spots are will (1) hopefully alleviate the traffic flow, and (2) provide the people who are looking for parking spots an ability to find a spot without having to continually circle.

GEreports: Are GE’s LED light fixtures installed with the sensors in place?

Henry: It varies depending on the municipality’s budget and what they want to achieve.

Ian: We’ve been encouraging our customers. We say, “Look, if you’re going to buy an LED light, even if you’re not ready to make the step to a smart system today, at least have an enabled fixture, ’cause then the next stage is a much smaller step than having to start again with it.”

GEreports: What are the sensors you’re looking at as standard?

Ian: You’ve got the radio transmitter that creates a radio signal so that all the lights are talking to each other. You’ve got GPS so you can see from the computer exactly where each light is, and whether it’s working. The other one is a photocell—the failsafe—which means should there be a major disaster and we lose power these lights are going to turn on when it gets dark. They’re the basics.

Henry: That node is part of our LightGrid system. It’s the outdoor lighting control. Building and adding other kinds of sensors to that system, and tying them to a very intelligent software platform, is the next generation that we’re developing.

GEreports: In what situations would you use light dimming?

Henry: GE does a lighting design for every street that’s getting LED lighting, so there’s no gap in the lighting coverage.

Once the lights are in, because the quality of the light is so much better than the existing technology, sometimes it’s perceived as too bright. In San Diego, the city director told us in a few cases they had calls from people who said, “Hey, can you dim down the light level? It’s blazing in my room.” With LightGrid they have the capability to remotely do that.

In the future, imagine that every street light gives the City the capability to monitor traffic, real-time live traffic, so it can make decisions relative to the traffic patterns in the city.

Ian: The City already installs more light than it has to by the standards, and by having these controls it can actually now start to decide, “Do we want to be over-lighting all the time, or do we just do it for events?” And a lot of cities are now looking at the hours between midnight and, say, 5 in the morning, and asking whether they need as much light then as they do between 6 and 10 in the evening, and starting to adjust lighting and make even greater savings accordingly.

There are people playing with the concept of sensor-driven street lighting, a little like what you have on people’s properties now, when lights come on in response to someone entering the property. LED lets you do that. So you’ve got a new housing estate, for instance, and the idea is when someone drives onto the estate the street lights in front of them come on, and go off behind them.

That’s quite small scale, but if you move to a smart-city model where you can actually monitor traffic movements, the amount of traffic you have can determine the amount of light you have to have. At the moment lighting authorities have to estimate when they can turn the lights down when there’s not so much traffic. But with a smart system, they can monitor in real time that there are now only 1000 cars per hour as opposed to 10,000, so the requirement for lighting drops a category in response to actual traffic levels.

Henry: In the old iconic lighting business, we didn’t have any capability to make those changes in the system. Now lighting is truly becoming a part of the intelligent infrastructure of the city, tying in the analytics to the Industrial Internet to be able to control, monitor and enable our customers to best utilise those assets.

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