STREET LIGHTS – HOW COUNCILS CAN ENSURE THEY’RE IN CONTROL

  • 17th December 2017 at 12:00PM
  • Written by Manish Jethwa, CTO & Head of Product at Yotta
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Whenever I think of street lights, my mind conjures up those NASA images of the Earth captured from outer space – the glittering illuminations of cityscapes, pictured at night against the dark blue and black of land and sea. These are beautiful images but they also highlight a serious issue for the planet: the problem of light pollution. I was interested to read Professor Kevin Gaston from the University of Exeter explaining his views on the subject in a recent interview with BBC News:

“Usually, when we think of how humanity messes with the environment,” he said. “It’s a costly thing to fix or reverse. For light, it’s just a case of directing it where we need it and not wasting it where we don’t.”

That’s certainly part of the problem, but in my view, it is also just as much about having the right amount of light when you need it. Both these issues can be resolved at a local level through smarter lighting solutions.

Modern street lights are typically made up of many LEDs. These can be controlled independently to provide a more uniform lighting pattern in the areas where that is required. The latest technology also makes controlling street lights a more agile and flexible process. Today, lights can often be turned on automatically– if they are connected to the right sensors – in anticipation of when they might be required in the future.

Visualisation Driving Better Light Control

Cutting-edge visualisation techniques can help councils monitor their environment and see the real picture of how the lighting is impacting the local area at any time of day or night. The ability to see the real picture here is key.

It is a common feature of asset management systems to have the locations of street lights plotted in a map view but to make accurate and informed decisions, it is beneficial that stakeholders within a local authority have a clear real-time view of all their street lights and how they impact on the local environment.

The latest technology offers the potential to store in-depth data about each lamp in its database, including information, for example, about the precise orientation of the light it is, as well as information about whether the lamp is halogen or LED.  The most modern street lights today consist of multiple LEDS, each one of which can be controlled independently to give a more uniform lighting pattern in the areas where it is required.

All that information together enhances the view provided to users. That in turn helps to inform debate at the local authority as to whether to dim lights at night, for example, to save money and energy and reduce light pollution, or whether, based on high footfall figures, it makes sense to brighten the lights in a given area over night.

Instant Action

Councils today can also potentially exercise real time control over their street lighting estate. In other words, when they are connected to the right sensors, lights can be turned on immediately in anticipation of when they might be required. In other words, they could potentially be kept dimmed most of the time during the night and then, prompted by a sensor, light up on the approach of a motorist, cyclist or pedestrian.

This illustrates the point that visualisation has the potential to enable council users to deliver a better street lighting service to their residents while saving on money and energy at the same time. It also helps illustrate the importance not just of directing light where it is needed but also having the right amount when it is needed. With the latest street lighting technology, local authorities have at their disposal greater power to control their street lights: to dim them when they aren’t required, or to turn them up when they are.

These innovations benefit the councils themselves, of course, in terms of reducing costs and driving operational efficiencies but they also bring wider social and environmental benefits by cutting light pollution, minimising energy use and improving public safety. We are clearly on the cusp of a new smarter street lighting age.