A guiding light for smart city illumination

All over the world, future-oriented cities are replacing conventional public lighting systems with LED-powered smart lighting technology. With growing public and private sector demand for greater energy efficiency and lower costs, the advantages of smart LED systems are rapidly making them the illumination of choice for urban areas across the globe. URBAN HUB explores the story of this revolution in urban lighting, how it is already playing out on the streets where we live, and where smart LED lighting might lead us in the future.

Using fewer resources for bigger change – What makes the world go around? Innovative technology. And in mobility, building, energy and manufacturing, especially green innovations are changing how people interact with and shape their environment.

Published on 17.07.2015

Lighting up the darkness

Since the invention of fire, a burning light has offered humans assurance, simply by helping us feel more protected and making us more mobile at night. Today, large-scale public nighttime lighting gives us many other practical benefits, including social and psychological security. Cities are also made more attractive because streets, squares, parks, and buildings are illuminated at night.

As attractive as it is, urban lighting has traditionally been defined by the constraints of cost and function. Despite that, urban planners have long pondered more holistic approaches, incorporating a range of criteria: from reducing light pollution of the night sky and the disruption of nocturnal animal habitats, to artistic and aesthetic ideas about how lighting can more pleasantly affect the people who encounter it. But it is only recently that technological advancements have allowed these dreams to become reality.

The world from space
Asia from space
USA from space
Europe from space

Making a better nightlight

Seen from space at night, urban conglomerations twinkle with thousands of seemingly identical points of lights. In fact, however, the lights are not identical. A growing number are LED.

Light-emitting diodes (LED) have more in common with your tablet computer than with traditional light bulbs. These solid-state semiconductors – although more expensive than traditional bulbs – last at least three times longer, emit at least twice as much light, and cost roughly half as much to operate. All of that has made them increasingly attractive to governments and companies seeking to cut their energy bills and related maintenance costs. It also fits well with the growing desire of consumers for more sustainable solutions. And it helps planners make a bottom-line case for realizing their urban visions.

Lighting manufacturers have taken notice. They see that the days of relatively wasteful, traditional bulbs are numbered, and have dedicated their energies to developing new LED solutions. Global giants like Philips, General Electric, Osram and Panasonic are researching, developing and marketing highly creative applications of LED lighting. A number of progressive cities are their customers and are embarking on massive retrofit programs.

Los Angeles lighting

LED is trending

LED is already being successfully deployed on a wide scale around the world:

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, the city is in the midst of replacing the majority of the 125,000 existing streetlights with new LED luminaires.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, an LED-lighting system will change the color of bus lanes during rush hour, turning them into bike lanes.

In Amsterdam, The Netherlands, large-scale LED lighting implementation is being used as a gateway to a smart-grid initiative aimed at linking up to 50 billion objects in an Internet of Things.

In Paris, France, LED traffic lights are being installed that will digitally network to improve traffic flows, while LED street lighting will automatically detect when a street light needs replacing.

In Jamshedpur, India, LED is expected to reduce energy consumption for streetlights by 54%.

In New York City, USA, a USD 76 million retrofit of street lighting with LED will reduce lighting energy costs by 35% by 2019.

In Los Angeles, USA, the first phase of a LED retrofit of over 140,000 luminaires brought down streetlight energy use from 190 million to 110 million kilowatt-hours.

Smart LED lighting projects

These energy savings and other benefits of LED are only the beginning, as great potential also lies, for example, in the ability to turn LED-powered streetlights into localized smart hubs.

The possibilities are nearly limitless. Because LED lights are actually semiconductors, they can be easily linked to cameras, sensors, microprocessors and wireless radios. The spectrum of applications is immense, ranging from allowing LED lights to be individually monitored and adjusted, to using them to transmit site-specific data on weather, traffic, air quality, noise levels, etc.

Lighting the way to tomorrow

Combining energy efficiency and cost effectiveness with smart functionality and versatility, LED offers something for everyone. And since every light bulb is both an independent hub and a digital link, LED is on course to revolutionize the urban night.

Imagine buildings changing colors and artistic design throughout the night, or bike paths that illuminate as you ride on them. Imagine nighttime emergency vehicles being directed by flashing streetlights to more quickly reach their destination. Imagine traffic flows at rush hour managed by data collected from every light post in the city, or real-time alerts of gas leaks or toxic chemical spills.

With LED, these and a thousand other ingenious solutions are merely a matter of time, and will help make planning the urban future that much easier, effective, aesthetic, safe – and more fun.


Gallery image of earth globe: Black Marble – Asia and Australia by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center under licence CC BY 2.0

Gallery images of Asia, Australia and Europe: Earth’s City Lights 1994 by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center under licence CC BY 2.0