Intelligent LEDs Add Functionality and Value

by | Jan 7, 2016

Philips-SmartPole1_11The move to replace legacy lighting with LEDs is one of the decade’s most important and well documented steps toward energy efficiency. The next innovation is upon us: Vendors are boosting the benefits of the LED themselves – and introducing new capabilities to the overall platforms — by adding intelligence.

Phillip Smallwood, the Director of Research for Pennwell’s LED and Lighting Group, said that despite the great deal of attention it has generated, LEDs represent only 6 percent of the worldwide installed base of lights. He sees the move to add intelligence as a part of the same ongoing and still nascent lighting revolution, not as a distinct new phase.

Smallwood likened the move from static to intelligent lighting to a less dramatic version of the coming of the iPhone. Before Apple’s innovation, people used their phones almost solely to communicate. The iPhone ushered in an era in which texts and conversations only are a part of many tasks that smartphones support.

At the end of the day, he said, those looking at smart lighting have to be savvy. “The connectivity doesn’t work for all apps the same way,” Smallwood said. “If someone is just looking for energy efficiency, they might not need connected lights. They could just install LEDs and save a lot of money. It is about what they really are looking for. [Smart LEDs] are good for increasing productivity, tracking certain products, tracking employees through facility…These are all things that connected lighting can do.”

Intelligent LEDs figures to be a big issue at the Stategies in Light conference sthat Pennwell is running in Santa Clara, CA during the first three days of March.

Vendors – buoyed by the shift to IPv6 and the astronomical amount of IP addresses it makes available – are taking advantage. Early last month, Silver Spring Networks unveiled Starfish, an IPv6-based IoT platform that it says will provide “commercial enterprises, cities, utilities, and developers” with services reliable enough to comply with service level agreements (SLAs). Lighting, the company said in the press release, is a big element of the service set that will be delivered.

For vendors, the attraction is that lights are ubiquitous. Silver Spring announced in October that Starfish – which will add connectivity for existing Silver Spring customers as well as new ones –is teaming with Acuity to develop “intelligent light platforms for utilities, cities and large campus operators.”

Royal Philips made a similar announcement in November. The company said that the City of Los Angeles will deploy 100 Philips SmartPoles, which are connected LED street lights that have fully integrated LTE communications technology. That connectivity is being provided by Ericsson.

Obviously, the idea is to eventually move beyond the 100 devices. The deal, according to Philips, is an expansion of an existing relationship with the city. The press release says that earlier in 2015 Los Angeles used the vendor’s CityTouch technology to become the first city in North America to monitor and control street lights.

In September, Chicago issued a request for proposals for smart lighting. The RFI called for LED plans that would “[p]otentially utilize Chicago’s lighting infrastructure to expand the City’s fiber optic network allowing for the modernization of streetlight controls and the expansion of other City of Chicago digital technologies.”

A project from Telensa in the U.K. is a good illustration of what is possible. Last month, the company — which is in the smart city sector — said that it is working with project management and construction firm Skanska and LED vendor Urbis Schréder to provide 55,000 smart LEDs to more than 1,000 square miles in Gloucestershire.

Telensa’s PLANet central management system will adjust lighting as needed and report on problems. The press release says that the platform can act as “a communications hub for sensors such as traffic radar, to connect new control applications such as smart parking, or integrating lighting-based analytics with other smart city systems.”

In other words, the idea is to use the change out of legacy lights to make other services – with both municipal and revenue producing capabilities – possible. Responses to the RFP were due in November.

The idea is that we are at a unique point in history. There is great motivation to usher in an era of lower power and longer lasting street lights. Adding intelligence will make those lights even more efficient and longer lasting. From there, it’s an easy jump to using the infrastructure for value-added tasks, such as hosting next-generation small cell technology to supplement LTE capacity and provide needed and in some cases lucrative services.

Indeed, the advent of smart lighting is a whole new ballgame. “There are multiple implications — in terms of the potential value the right system can provide, the people who should be involved in the purchasing process, and a re-education of the buyers that they are no longer buying the cheapest commodity (fluorescent tubes), but critical business systems,” Digital Lumens’ Allison Parker told Energy Manager Today. “This also means that IT strategists should be thinking about how to integrate the lighting system with other systems of record, and how to leverage the data to extract maximum business value. Lastly, the data from these new systems makes it possible for companies to document progress towards Corporate Sustainability and CSR goals with precision and accuracy as those reports become more commonplace.”

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