However, the desire to move a nation (or region or city) higher up the value chain cannot be carried out as a single project. Authorities have to apply a long-term vision, and then put in place the programmes and initiatives that are aimed at achieving their objectives. Beyond just looking at cost, cities need to look at what value these investments will bring.
This makes the transition toward becoming a Smart City more of a journey with a travel guide, rather than a definite set of projects with fixed budgets and timeframes.
There are low hanging fruit that cities can take advantage of. To see the possibilities, it is important to know where the typical cities of today are burning money in their daily operations; and tackling those challenges can improve operational efficiencies and provide dramatic cost savings.
The easiest place where authorities can start is with street lighting, which can fall into one of two categories: either there is none, but the city would love to install it, or they have existing lighting, but it doesn’t cover all areas and the infrastructure is expensive to operate and maintain.
Significant energy cost savings
The first change is fairly straightforward, the electricity utility can simply replace old fluorescent bulbs for new LED ones, which use less power and last longer with less maintenance required.
However, the ability for streetlights to be part of an intelligent network, just like any other piece of network equipment is capable of – via the copper wire-based electricity network coupled with modern wide area narrow band NB-IoT control communications, is where the real advantages lie for city authorities or utility companies.
Combining connectivity and sensors enable smart lights, which can measure ambient lighting and use motion sensors to turn lights on and off as needed, such as when people or vehicles pass by a particular area. This can help municipalities save up to 80% on lighting energy costs as compared to using traditional street lights, and allow them to free up resources for other improvements.
Having connected street lights and a city-wide communications network means that city authorities also no longer have to worry about routine inspections to see which lights need replacing. As they are connected to a central control system, smart street lights can report when and why they fail, helping cities realise up to a 90% savings in maintenance and service costs.
Enabling new services, improving public safety
Connected street lights can do more than just save money for a municipality; it gives them the opportunity to use the same network to enable additional services, including WiFi connectivity for local businesses and residents.
Similarly, the infrastructure can be used for a wide variety of smart city services, such as using motion sensors to identify open parking spaces, using live location information at bus stops to improve the residents’ commute. When combined with other smart meters, city authorities can even shift to getting automatic usage reporting for electricity, gas and water being delivered along a particular street.
Utilities can even enter new markets, such as the provision of charging services for the growing number of electric vehicles. This can be as simple as installing a built in power socket on the street light pole at the same time as traditional lights are being replaced with LEDs and motion sensors are being installed.
There are many intangible benefits beyond the cost savings or new revenue that a municipality might stand to benefit from. Improved communication capabilities help enhance emergency response and utility support, while research shows that good street lighting helps reduce crime by up to 20%.
Access to smart infrastructure and city-wide WiFi not only improves the quality of life for residents, but also impacts positively on business prospects and property values
Doing nothing not an option
How much cities need to invest in getting a smart lighting project started depends on the types of existing street lights and the cost of the replacements. It is not a simple formula, and engineers will be required to produce a formal plan.
Once the core communications network is installed and the smart street light poles deployed, additional smart infrastructure or services can be added in a phased approach. Upgrades can also be carried out suburb by suburb rather than the entire city at once.
Experience with such initiatives around the world have shown they typical return on investment to be between three and five years, with the shortest being two years, and the longest being seven years.
However, cities cannot afford to not invest for the future. They can clearly see how much they are spending today on street lighting and project their future requirements accordingly. Certainly, if they do nothing, the existing street lighting will continue to burn money that they could have saved on.