Intelligent LED lighting seems like a smart idea. So why aren't more cities making the switch?

Wed, 2014-01-22 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

Glasgow, Scotland has seen the light. In its march toward becoming a smart city, the council announced late last year that it will replace 10,000 sodium street lights with light-emitting diodes (LEDs). And it's not stopping there.

Glasgow will also run pilots to determine the effects of equipping some of those LED streetlights with intelligent sensors that will allow them to adjust to environmental changes, for instance, increasing traffic. The intelligent controls will also enable the city to control the lights remotely. We already told you how the smart streetlights will also help illuminate crime on the streets of Glasgow.

The European Commission believes intelligent LED lighting can lead to energy savings as high as 50% to 70%, according to a story in the UK Guardian.

Yet at a recent roundtable on the future of city lighting hosted by the Guardian and GE Lighting it was revealed that only 10% of new public streetlights being installed are LED-based.

What's the hold up? While price has been a barrier in the past, the Guardian cites McKinsey research indicating the cost of LEDs has been dropping 30% a year -- and efficiency rates and life-span of LEDs is moving in the opposite direction.

Some argue the technology is changing too fast, making cities hesitant to jump in. Yet the Guardian piece quotes Iain Watson, director of energy efficiency for the Green Investment Bank, saying the savings in energy and maintenance costs that cities can realize today are so great that waiting doesn't make financial sense.

There are also social benefits to promote that go beyond lighting, noted Ersel Oymak, who is innovations technology manager at Cisco, which is working with Glasgow on its smart city initiative. (Cisco is a Councl Lead Partner.)

Oymak talked about studies demonstrating that hospital patients recover better and students achieve more in school if exposed to lighting conditions that adapt to their needs.

"We need to raise awareness in local authorities so that they grasp this is the sustainable and strategic thing to do," Oymak said.

More on this topic:

Smart street lighting: Why falling LED prices and rising efficiencies aren't enough