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Blogs / John Horn / Why Modern Cities Should Consider Smart Lighting

Why Modern Cities Should Consider Smart Lighting

In an age of smartphones, ubiquitous configuration, and eco-consciousness, traditional city lighting shines like a beacon from the 19th century, begging for an update.

Across all realms of modern life, “always on” has been replaced by “just in time,” and this techno-cultural change is just one reason cities should begin embracing a simpler, less wasteful, and more elegant option: smart lights.

The Unbearable Brightness

Today’s citizens are sensitive to the increasing amount of light pollution produced by cities. A study by the National Institutes of Health found that over-lighting causes distraction glare while driving, has detrimental ecological effects, and disrupts natural sleep cycles. If you’ve ever tossed and turned at night because of a buzzing, blinding streetlight outside your window, I’m sure you can relate. 

To top it off, a whopping 80 percent of the U.S. population can no longer see the Milky Way at night because of light pollution. Traditional lighting is causing undeniable quality-of-life issues for citizens, but beyond that, it’s also putting an unnecessary financial strain on local governments.

Each lumen of light cast on an empty street at night represents excess spending. An always-on lighting infrastructure results in exceedingly high energy costs, and because bulbs burn out at a faster rate, materials and maintenance costs also soar.

Shed Some Light on a Smarter Solution

Cities of all sizes across the globe are focused on reducing greenhouse gases and creating smaller environmental footprints. Installing smart LED lighting is an easy way to take big strides toward achieving this goal. 

Smart LED streetlights can cut a city’s energy usage by up to 70 percent. Further, whereas traditional high-pressure sodium bulbs last for two to five years, LED bulbs only need to be replaced every 15 to 20 years. These perks have led a handful of cities — such as Houston — to convert hundreds of thousands of streetlights into smart LEDs. 

The island of Aruba has also made a hearty investment in smart technology. It aims to convert each and every one of its streetlights by 2017 as part of an overall plan to be free of fossil fuels by 2020. Each year, the island reinvests the millions of dollars it’s saving into its under-served regions, illustrating the indirect societal benefits smart lighting can provide.

This is just one piece of the puzzle, though. Smart lighting can do much more than save money and energy by turning on and off based on a street’s current activity.

Smart lights can also, for example, produce on-demand emergency lighting. In the event of a natural disaster, streetlights can instantly illuminate the best (or only) path citizens have to safety. It takes hours of manual intervention to accomplish this task when dealing with traditional lighting infrastructures.

The Road to Conversion

While this may all sound great, municipal budgets are tight, and getting buy-in for such a project takes a bit of planning and proactive problem-solving.

Here are three steps that will jump-start your smart lighting initiative:

1. Assess where you currently are. Before change can happen, cities must assess their current lighting situations. Are you using high-pressure sodium bulbs, or have you already adopted LED lighting? Are your lights hardwired, or are they controllable in real time? What greenhouse emissions are they responsible for, and what would the replacement costs be?

After analyzing your current lighting situation, you can zero in on your most urgent opportunities for change.

2. Identify your options. Once you understand your current lighting situation, it’s time to shop around for smart lighting solutions that fit the city’s capabilities. Turnkey solutions may have higher costs, but custom builds have enhanced capabilities. The trade-offs are important to understand before committing to a purchase.

3. Bring citizens into the fold before implementation. All the planning in the world won’t matter if you and your citizens aren’t on the same page. Report the findings from all of your research, be transparent about the costs of installing a new lighting system, and clearly explain why smart lights will ultimately benefit all parties. 

Throughout this process, you may realize a majority of constituents are more concerned about a different ongoing situation in the city that has nothing to do with light pollution or excess energy spending. If that’s the case, be flexible. You may want to delay your smart lighting initiative until that more pressing issue is addressed.

Throughout recent history, buzzing, flickering, always-on streetlights have been a mainstay in America. Today, however, smart lights provide an opportunity for cities to stop burning excess energy, wasting money, and annoying their citizens.

If you haven’t already begun researching smart lighting, do so today. The benefits are quite illuminating.


John Horn joined Ingenu after serving as president of RacoWireless, a leading provider of machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity solutions. He led the company to record growth and multiple awards for its accomplishments, including recognition as the “Most Innovative Company” and “Entrepreneurial Company of the Year.” Before joining RacoWireless, Horn was a leader at T-Mobile for more than nine years. At T-Mobile, he developed and managed indirect distribution for its California launch, the largest launch in wireless history. During his last six years at T-Mobile, he focused specifically on developing the company’s M2M program and go-to-market strategy. He also helped T-Mobile earn recognition as the market leader for M2M services.