Smart lights

August 18th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Wellington wants to be the first city in the southern hemisphere with street lights that track runaway dogs, flash when someone is in danger and dim when there is no one around.

A city council committee will this week consider whether to upgrade the capital’s 18,000 street lights with brighter LED bulbs and digital technology that interacts with smartphones, tablet computers and GPS satellites.

They would also be fitted with infra-red sensors so they can dim to about 10 per cent of full power when no-one is around and illuminate whenever someone walks by.

Paul Glennie, the city council’s team leader of strategic planning, said all sorts of services could be delivered once the capital’s street lights were all “talking to each other” across a wireless connection.

Wellingtonians could use their smartphones or tablets to tap into the lights and track how far away a rubbish truck was or see which lamppost their microchipped dog was sniffing around.

Motorists could be directed to available parking spaces via their GPS devices.

City officials could also adjust light levels via their smart-devices or a text message whenever heavy rain or snow hit the city, or when emergency services required.

“It could be that street lights actually flash outside a property that has called for an ambulance,” Glennie said.

LED lights use less power but produce better light, and illuminate to 100 per cent without the need for a warm-up period.

That means there would be no danger to public safety but energy use could drop by up to 95 per cent, Glennie said.

“Currently we leave the lights on all night whether there’s people around or not. But if we can turn them down when no one is around then no one should really be affected.”

Creating the southern hemisphere’s first “smart” light network could cost between $10 million and $20m but save capital ratepayers about $2.1m each year in energy savings.

Sounds a good investment to me.

22 Responses to “Smart lights”

  1. mjw (629 comments) says:

    That sounds exceptionally worthwhile.

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  2. PaulL (6,060 comments) says:

    Hmm. $10-20M for a potential payback of $2M per annum. Start off by assuming those numbers are right, so a payback of 5-10 years. Not bad but not brilliant. But we also know that the first pass estimates are usually out by at least a factor of two – so if it cost $20M and saved $1M per annum and had maintenance costs of $1M per annum, then in fact the payback would be zero.

    My guess is that this is a really bad idea. But if they went part way – say, when light bulbs blow we replace them with LEDs – then I bet that has a great payback. The smart light bit….hmmm. Bet that breaks.

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  3. muggins (5,122 comments) says:

    Yeah, sounds good to me as well.

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  4. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    Good idea, however given their unique qualities, I can imagine they will become the target of vandals and the less desirable among us, and end up costing a lot to maintain.

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  5. Peter (2,095 comments) says:

    The Wellington City council has come up with a good idea.


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  6. sHr0oMaN (39 comments) says:

    This smells ripe for hacking.

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  7. Lance (3,829 comments) says:

    I am a techno fan, indeed it is my career.
    But I would suggest a little caution here.
    First more technology = more things to go wrong and higher cost and therefore higher maintenance costs.
    Also power used at night is very cheap (to industrial scale users), there is presently poor off peak management so saving power at night is not that cost effective for now.
    I would also like to know how an LED light could track a dog? Usually a microchip reader is very close range and expensive. Sounds pie-in-the-sky to me.

    LEDs are efficient but so too are sodium lamps (or mercury vapour) that they use now. They don’t use incandescent lights in street lamps so the savings will not be that different.

    I therefore suspect this is not a value proposition, rather well managed spin from a company wanting to sell products (which they are preferably entitled to do).

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  8. david (2,348 comments) says:

    “Believe nothing of what you read and only half of what you see.”
    This is a Council bureaucrat’s wet dream, ripe for a budget blowout (maybe a city rewiring to ensure stable power supply or somesuch) and value delivery a fraction of that which is projected.
    Councils have shat in their own nests with past cockups and examples of complete wastage and disregard for the value of ratepayer’s hard earned (tax paid) financial resources.
    Wellington would be better off sponsoring a small centre like Levin or Carterton to make the change and see if the results bear out the promise before doing a whole city on the smell of a promise as exciting as it might sound.

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  9. Komata (1,768 comments) says:

    An interesting idea certainly, but what came to mind after reading tha article was a line from Little Red Riding Hood; the one where the wolf replies, after ‘Red comments on its ‘Great big eyes’ ‘All the better to see you with’.

    It’s only a small step from ‘tracking dogs and directing cars into parking spaces’ to tracking people deemed ‘undesirable’ by ‘those in control’ and directing law enforcement agencies to apprehend them…

    Trojan Horses come in many different guises. In Wellington, they may well be disguised as utility poles.

    Ironically, the suggestion is made in the name of ‘improved security’; but one has to wonder ‘security’ for whom…?

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  10. Tarquin North (1,060 comments) says:

    That’s nothing! I’m told even state houses have chandeliers in Auckland!

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  11. marcw (385 comments) says:

    The current LED lamps in use in Christchurch traffic signals already use technology that dims them at night, and brightens them in daylight to make them more visible. Not sure that throwing another $20million at them will get much more reduction in running costs.

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  12. Jack5 (9,299 comments) says:

    LED traffic lights that burn brighter in the ambient light of day have been in cities for quite a while. Some sort of light detector is attached to gauge the ambient light.

    After the Christchurch quakes, I would give priority over Wellington’s planned lights, or at lest supplement them with, standby battery packs that would run them in some sort of automatic sequence for say, two hours.

    Christchurch’s traffic lights went out in the big quake, causing traffic to back up for hours. Many people abandoned their cars and walked out to the suburbs. People who stayed with their cars could take up to four or five hours to get home. More seriously, the snarl up slowed emergency traffic and helpers headed for the worst damage.

    I hope a big quake never hits Wellington, but if it does two-hour battery back-up in traffic lights with automatic sequences to keep traffic moving, would be a huge help.

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  13. wreck1080 (5,020 comments) says:

    Great, less demand for power meaning power prices should not rise so quickly or even fall!!!! (cumulative effect of powered devices becoming more efficient).

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  14. Nigel Kearney (1,992 comments) says:

    If a group of people stood under selected street lights at night and all waved their arms at exactly the same time, how many people would you need to spell out ‘WHY ARE MY RATES SO HIGH?’

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  15. labrator (2,468 comments) says:

    Christchurch’s traffic lights went out in the big quake, causing traffic to back up for hours.

    We already have the solution for that. They’re called roundabouts. Councils love traffic lights because they involve expenditure and they get to control people. Given the choice between allowing constituents to exercise freewill and telling them what to do councils will take the control option every time.

    I agree with earlier statements that the vast majority of the stated benefits are pipedreams. I can already image the lawsuit where someone dies and the council gets blamed for flashing a light outside the wrong house misleading the ambulance. Or how about the woman who is attacked because the IR sensors didn’t detect her and meant she walked in the, almost, dark at night?

    LED lights are a no brainer, all the rest seems very far fetched considering that these outdoor lights have to be incredibly resistant to survive Wellington’s weather.

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  16. Lance (3,829 comments) says:


    Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. Power saving at night is all but a waste of time as there is plenty of power available at night (hydro keeps draining, steam generators keep spinning) and infrastructure (power grid) needs to be upgraded / maintained.

    These would be much better if they saved more power at peak load times and helped even out the loads across the national grid. Unfortunately they don’t.

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  17. RRM (12,581 comments) says:

    Sounds a good investment to me.

    Really? Sounds like a good way to spend twenty million dollars on something that gathers information that is hardly worth having, IMHO…

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  18. Colville (3,123 comments) says:

    Sounds like a wish list with a very scant chance of a slight saving to me.

    If this was a private company looking to spend this $20 Mil, it wouldnt get past a first glance before the plan hit the bin.

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  19. Hamish_NZ (46 comments) says:

    I believe Dunedin has already started this in the warehouse precinct, where a lot of old warehouses are being converted to apartments lately. The LED’s lights with sensors similar to what Wellington is going with will then be rolled out across the city as part of the street light renewal program. I think that means it should be more cost effective without replacing perfectly good lights with new tech just because.
    LED’s last longer and use less power, so I guess it makes sense that there are cost savings over time. And the purchase cost seems to be dropping pretty rapidly too.

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  20. V (1,592 comments) says:

    Backs to the wall. Ratepayers about to receive a pumping.

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  21. Deane Jessep (77 comments) says:

    Your a dim and miserable lot. Why don’t we go back to gas lamps? They provide both the mood to fit your tone, and burn a type of energy that will piss of the greens. Win win.

    And when your done on the poorly lit far right stumbling round with the far left why don’t you meet me back here in the middle. Where we can actually look at the facts before ranting on something that might prevent rapes and make the city more efficient several different ways.

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  22. pappito (35 comments) says:

    The idea is good, making street lights more efficient also good.

    Put aside all the emergency-call-flashing and dog-following wizardry and focus on the lighting. Leds are extremely efficient comparing to the sodium- or mecury vapor light sources. What I can’t see in the article is the life expectancy of a LED streetlight as LEDs are producing less and less light as the time goes along and after approx. 30k hours it goes down to 80%. A sodium lamp’s life span is about 30k hours (please correct me if I’m wrong) in ideal circumstances, an LED light at this time reaches approx 85% of its originally produced lumens. Probably it is not a major factor.

    Although the LED lights are giving 120lumens/watt, the high pressure sodium vapor lamps are doing 60lumens/watt.

    Power saving at night is not a bad thing, just think about the winter nights, when the lights are on at 5pm to 8am, i would say low energy street lights running from 5 till 10 is a big saving and could ease up the grid at peak time a bit.

    The best way would be to run a pilot in one suburb, or couple of streets and see how it goes for a year or two, do the maths before spending the 20mil. And a pilot would give some sort of estimation for the maintenance costs as well.

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