Authored by Denise Pucilowski, the Director of Innovation for Intelligent Cities at Current, powered by GE.
I spend a lot of time talking to city leaders from around the globe, listening to their stories, challenges and hopes. Their cities may have different interests and needs, but they all have a desire to use technology to help achieve their goals. But just as there are many forms and definitions of intelligence, there are many processes and technologies that can be labeled “smart.” While most of these definitions are correct, there’s a big difference between a city utilizing smart lighting technology versus one that is a living smart city.
Too often, I see cities install a smart lighting solution and then believe the journey toward becoming an intelligent city is complete. They’ve fallen victim to smart washing, which is the idea that low bandwidth use cases or individual smart devices are the equivalent of connected networks and sensors that can act as a source of information about what’s happening in your city. They’re operating under the idea that basic monitoring and metering counts as smart city infrastructure. Although smart lighting has its place and advantages, it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to solving a city’s challenges with smarter infrastructure.
What’s the Difference?
Most smart lighting is limited to just lighting. Those lights may be equipped with remote lighting controls, energy-efficient bulbs and basic metering capabilities, and they may contribute to public safety by maintaining proper light levels, but they typically lack the ability to communicate sizable data like live video streams, promote economic opportunities or otherwise collect and monetize data. True intelligent cities capture and apply pertinent data. For example, Navigant’s “Smart City Leaderboard” required providers of smart city technology to meet certain criteria. These specifications included the ability to “support cities across multiple operational and infrastructure issues (notably energy, water, buildings, transportation, and government),” making smart city technology distinct from smart lighting, which has relatively low bandwidth that isn’t suitable for transmitting large streams of data.
This is not to say smart lighting isn’t a valuable option; it can be a huge boon to communities. It offers almost immediate benefits in terms of energy and maintenance savings and greenhouse gas reduction. For some cities, the metering capabilities and asset management resources presented via smart lighting, in addition to the energy savings, is enough. Not to mention, these fixtures can easily be updated to include data-capturing nodes and sensors, and the cost savings associated with smart lights could even pay for the nodes.
When cities who previously thought of smart lighting as a bona fide smart city solution are faced with the truth, they are also forced to answer a tough question: In what areas do you want your city to be intelligent? If the answer is lighting and energy metering, then smart lighting is a good option. But if the answer is traffic optimization, improved public safety and economic opportunities, then your city needs more.
Preparing for the Smart City of Tomorrow
Smart infrastructure has the potential to make cities better places to live, work and play. But if you give in to smart washing, you’re missing out the infrastructure required for a smart city. We’re not saying don’t monitor streetlights and perform basic metering. We’re saying do more. Transforming existing infrastructure into a sensor-enabled network helps cities collect data that makes a difference. A true smart city can evolve with the times and provide insight into much more than utilities.
Do you want better asset management of lighting resources and metering capabilities? Or is your main goal to collect data and apply it to improve the quality of life in your community? Both are admirable goals—and both involve smart technology—but only one is a true smart city. With Current, you can accomplish both goals and take advantage of aesthetically pleasing sensors that can continuously adapt to new use cases, data streams and more.
In my time at Current, I’ve seen many municipalities evolve their idea of smart cities from lighting to a connected, data-driven IoT system. They’ve proven that, with the right partners and guidance, any city can upgrade its infrastructure and embark on the path toward becoming an intelligent city.
Want to learn more? See how Current by GE is empowering cities.