Craig DiLouie, LC, CLCP recently had the opportunity to interview James Benson, GM Global Marketing – Current, powered by GE, Intelligent Cities for an article about smart cities for Electrical Contractor Magazine.
DiLouie: What is the concept of the smart city? What are the basic capabilities and benefits?
Benson: A smart city is a place where digital infrastructure reduces energy use, improves efficiencies and creates new benefits for residents. Cities around the world are investigating the integration of intelligent infrastructure to address challenges posed by increasing population, elevated resource demands and environmental challenges. At the same time, they are looking into how to add convenience to the lives of residents. Capabilities of a smart city are limitless, and oftentimes cities can work with any of a wide variety of application developers to deliver better asset management, service delivery, citizen safety or municipal operations. Once the city has the physical infrastructure and open/scalable digital framework in place, the sky is the limit with regard to what their smart city can achieve.
DiLouie: Any documented outcomes based on demonstration projects?
Benson: Cities such as San Diego, CA; Schenectady, NY; Cleveland, OH; and others are finding benefits from intelligent city upgrades already, from parking improvements to gunshot detection to street lighting optimization. While most smart cities are still in the early stages of development, outcomes of pilot projects have included or are expected to include higher parking enforcement income, reductions in gun violence, faster emergency response and improved traffic flow, among other benefits.
DiLouie: How do lighting and controls serve as the backbone of the smart city?
Benson: Lighting and controls are ideal components of digital city infrastructure for several reasons. Lighting fixtures are ubiquitous and offer a unique vantage point, they are already wired to receive power from the grid and are non-intrusive. This makes them an ideal choice to embed additional smarts (sensors, edge analytics, edge storage and communication). Embedding sensors and software enables existing lights to collect, analyze and communicate data to the cloud, eliminating the need for new infrastructure. Smart light fixtures used in tandem with an open, secure, compliant Industrial Internet software platform can enable the cities to provide a digital infrastructure that can be used to solve various problems related to parking, traffic, pollution, crime, bridging the Digital Divide, and so forth.
DiLouie: What are the basic elements of the lighting control system?
Benson: Lighting control systems are able to provide the following functionalities:
• Remote monitoring of street lights – Using a web application with any device connected to the Internet, such as a laptop, tablet, etc.
• Fail-safe, long-life photocell functionality – This ensures the lights turn on during sunset when the ambient light level drops below a certain threshold, and turn off during sunrise when the ambient light level is above a certain threshold.
• Control – Ability to turn lights on/off or dim either individually or in groups.
• Utility-grade metering – This allows city personnel to know exactly how much energy is being used or saved by individual streetlights.
• Geolocation-based fault alerts – This allows operations and maintenance personnel to monitor the health of the system and know the exact location of failure events, such as a light turned on during daylight, and take the necessary corrective action.
• Remote upgradability – This gives the ability to upgrade software inside the lighting controls nodes “over the air” without the need to physically access the node to add new features.
DiLouie: Please describe GE’s solution. What equipment is used? How do devices communicate and manage the flow of data? Where does the data go? Who operates the system and views the data, and how?
Benson: Current, powered by GE, offers the following products and solutions to enable smart cities:
• LightGrid™ Outdoor Wireless Control Systems are what allows lighting control, remote monitoring of streetlight performance/status, utility-grade energy metering and PS mapping of streetlights.
• GE’s Web Application for Lighting Controls allows authorized users such as city officials, operations and maintenance personnel to log in to the LightGrid web application using any Internet-enabled device to remotely monitor and control the street lights.
• Evolve™ IQ Intelligent LED Fixtures feature an energy-efficient LED fixture combined with sensors, an onboard computer, solid state storage and a communications module to enable the streetlight to essentially see, hear, feel, collect, analyze and communicate data to the Predix cloud platform.
• Predix™, GE’s cloud-based open-source platform for the Industrial Internet is designed and optimized for secure connectivity and analytics at scale—in the cloud and on the edge.
DiLouie: What’s a notable example of a smart city scheme in action?
Benson: The City of San Diego was one of the earliest adopters of Evolve LED street light fixtures equipped with the LightGrid Outdoor Wireless Control System. Responding to surveys of more than 100 residents and five key stakeholder groups overseeing city maintenance assessments, approximately 3,000 high-pressure sodium lamps were replaced with LEDs. As a result, citizens are now exposed to far more visually pleasing light, and the city is saving upward of $245,000 per year with the more efficient fixtures. As dimming schedule features are utilized through LightGrid’s adaptive controls, savings is expected to further increase.
LightGrid technology also empowers city officials to move toward a metered rate for street lights versus a flat-rate tariff from the local utility company. Because of the positive results, San Diego will soon add lighting controls to 600 existing induction and other LED street lights in the city. You can read more about San Diego’s experience here.
DiLouie: A smart city goes far beyond LED lighting and centralized control. Please identify as many capabilities as possible that can be realized with a citywide lighting and sensor network. What sensors are required? At what point is custom software required, and who provides that?
Benson: GE’s open-source Predix platform makes it simpler for developers to continually create new applications using the data captured through the citywide sensor network. The types of sensors include video (optical), audio and environment (ambient light, temperature, humidity, pressure, vibration, air quality, etc.).
Performing analytics either at the edge device or in the cloud using the data that is captured, a variety of new smart city applications can be developed, or existing applications can be enhanced to create more value-added benefits such as:
• Gunshot Detection –¬ Many gunshots are not reported today to law enforcement authorities. In most cases, by the time law enforcement officers reach the gunshot location, there is very little information available that can aid their investigation. With audio sensors using advanced audio analytics and triangulation techniques, the Intelligent LED fixtures can monitor and detect a gunshot location and immediately send notification to the relevant authorities. The solution can be further enhanced by capturing video and image data of the neighborhood around the gunshot event using the cameras in intelligent LED fixtures.
• Parking – Intelligent parking sensors can be used to alleviate traffic in the city by helping drivers find parking spots more efficiently. An estimated 30 percent of traffic in a city is caused by drivers searching for parking spots. Additionally, reducing congestion can increase retail sales and improve air quality. Intelligent LED fixtures equipped with sensors (primarily cameras) can also be installed to monitor parking spots. Using advanced video analytics, the sensors can help detect vacant parking spots and identify parking violations. Authorities can be notified of violations with pictures to aid them in issuing citations. Vacant parking spot information can also be shared with nearby commuters to aid them in finding parking spots quickly.
• Public Safety – Intelligent LED Fixtures equipped with video sensors can increase the safety of citizens by capturing real-time information about objects such as cars and pedestrians crossing the street. Availability of video or images on demand can be valuable in understanding the root cause of accidents, aiding with criminal or civil disturbance investigations, and more. While improving lighting is a good first step by providing better visibility of the roads and sidewalks, pedestrian safety can further be improved by generating early warning signals for drivers. Additionally, intelligent LED fixtures equipped with sensors (primarily cameras) can be installed in the vicinity of pedestrian crosswalks. Using advanced video analytics, the fixtures can monitor and detect pedestrians crossing the road and immediately send notification to nearby vehicles.
Illegal Dumping – The dumping of any waste material on public or private property without appropriate permits endangers public health and decreases surrounding property values. Intelligent LED fixtures equipped with sensors (primarily cameras) can be installed in the vicinity of dump sites and the fixtures can monitor and detect illegal dumping activity using advanced video analytics. The relevant information can be recorded in the form of images, video streams and/or audio, and it can be made available to relevant authorities to take necessary corrective action.
Traffic – Intelligent LED fixtures can also help with managing traffic—improving citizens’ quality of life by reducing the amount of time they spend in traffic and looking for a parking space. Intelligent LED Fixtures equipped with sensors can be installed to monitor traffic flow, and this information, along with other structured and unstructured data from sources such as Twitter feeds, Facebook or The Weather Channel, can be analyzed to provide guidance to commuters and to authorities who can take steps to reduce traffic congestion. This is especially useful for emergency response vehicles.
Snow Removal – As winters continue to worsen, resources (both in terms of manpower and money) will have to be optimized for efficient deployment of snow plows. Intelligent LED fixtures equipped with sensors can be installed to monitor snow accumulation. Using advanced video analytics, GPS mapping and temperature-sensing to estimate the amount of snow accumulation in each location, relevant authorities can dispatch resources intelligently to high-traffic areas and emergency-response locations that are in dire need of salting and snow removal.
Air Quality Monitoring – Intelligent LED fixtures can be equipped with sensors to monitor environmental parameters such as temperature, CO2, humidity, pollen, UV rays, etc. This information can be mapped using GPS and can be made available to relevant authorities and citizens to help them decide things like whether to avoid traveling to certain regions.
Garbage Pickup – Intelligent LED fixtures equipped with sensors can be installed to monitor the status of garbage bins. Once the bins are full, the system can provide information to the relevant authorities to schedule a pickup. In addition, for garbage trucks that are en route, the system can provide guidance on the best path to take to minimize commute time and number of trips.
Public Wi-Fi® – Wi-Fi technology serves as a foundation for creating a connected city. Intelligent LED fixtures with integral Wi-Fi access points can help enhance city services, reduce the Digital Divide, and delight citizens.
DiLouie: How do electrical contractors play in this space? What can they provide, and what do they need to do in order to gain this business?
Benson: Interconnected streetlights may sound complex, but choosing the right controls solution can significantly simplify the contractors’ job. Installation of lighting control nodes is fairly simple—thanks to ANSI standards, the node plugs into the fixture receptacle. No additional wiring is required. Choosing a lighting control solution such as LightGrid that has an auto-commissioning feature will avoid the hassle of barcode scanning and other on-field programming due to the GPS chip in each node. Once the installation is complete, contractors can also maintain the system, thanks to features such as geolocation-based asset management and real-time geolocation-based fault alerts.
In order to gain more business around intelligent streetlights, contractors should learn the features and benefits of the system, become proficient in operating the system, and then actively promote their system-related expertise to end customers.
DiLouie: If sold through distribution, what can electrical distributors do to generate additional sales in this category?
Benson: Since electrical distributors are already selling LED fixtures, the next step is to start promoting lighting control offerings, such as LightGrid. They should promote LightGrid not only because the system can be used to remotely monitor and control street and area lights, but also because LightGrid systems enable measurement of actual energy consumption by the lights, generate real-time fault alerts (such as daytime lamp illumination), and enable geolocation-based asset management. This will generate additional sales for the distributors and also provide the opportunity to offer additional value-added services to end customers.
DiLouie: What approach should system planners (e.g., electrical engineers) take to design an appropriate system for their city? Any common pitfalls?
Benson: With a traditional street lighting system, planners have to worry mainly about physical asset deployment and electrical loading. With intelligent fixtures, they must also consider the requirements for reliable communications, whether wire-line or wireless. Noisy power lines, for example, can impact having a reliable power line communication. Occlusions and frequency of transmission, alternatively, can impact having reliable wireless communication.
A common pit fall is the availability of power 24/7 to the light pole. Intelligent streetlights with embedded sensors, edge analytics and communications need power during the day to collect, analyze and transmit data, and shutdown of power to the network is problematic.
DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about lighting and controls for smart cities, what would it be?
Benson: Digital infrastructure is a key to enable smart city applications. Lighting plays a critical role in creating this digital infrastructure.
DiLouie: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this topic?
Benson: LED conversion is a no-brainer due to the proven energy savings compared to conventional lighting. Cities can make use of this opportunity and deploy intelligent LED fixtures by adding sensors, edge analytics and communications capability to the LED fixture. This, along with an open digital platform, will enable cities to provide a digital infrastructure that can be used to solve the various problems impacting the city, from parking and traffic to pollution and crime.