With urban areas across the globe striving to become smarter, street lighting – and the infrastructure that supports it – is under increasing scrutiny from local bodies concerned with cutting costs, conserving energy and providing an environment that’s more attractive to residents. Many also face the prospect of replacing old and inefficient lighting systems. Patricia Moore reports.
Innovations are changing the way urban areas are lit. The most significant of these changes, says Techlight’s Kevin Brookbank, is the evolution of light-emitting diodes or LEDs. “Innovation [in street lighting] starts with the whole idea of using LEDs instead of discharge lamps. We’ve been looking at LEDs for probably 20 years now, but it’s only in the past five or so things have really taken off. It’s at the stage now where LED is the logical way to go.”
The advantages of LED street lighting have been well documented. They come on almost immediately and have a longer lifetime than high-pressure sodium meaning greater energy efficiency and economy. They have better colour and visibility. They can be trimmed as required. They can be solar or wind powered. And – a plus in these windy, shaky islands – they can withstand shock and vibration.
The technology continues to evolve with ongoing development in both production efficiencies in existing LEDs and the introduction of new, larger LEDs with more power or lumens per luminaire.
Jeff Richardson, Betacom product manager, says this is leading to innovation in higher-end applications such as sports lighting, Cat V applications and boost lighting for tunnels.
“Most local authorities will have started replacing the lower-end Cat P type luminaires and these latest innovations will provide local authorities with the opportunity to replace all lighting from streets to stadiums, with LED that reduces energy and maintenance costs.”
To those in local government involved in choosing lighting systems, it may seem innovation continues to flourish, but Kevin says this is not necessarily the case.
“We’re seeing not so much innovation, as different ways of manufacturing an LED light. The improvements we’re seeing now are smaller than they were a year ago which were smaller than two years ago. They may be about using less power to do the same job or just new luminaire casing, but if they cost more they’re not going to go forward.
“That’s why it’s important for decision makers in local bodies – or the consultants they hire – to really understand what’s going to last and be cost-effective. Lack of research when buying is a fundamental problem.”
The savings through implementation of LED lighting are eye-watering. Los Angeles, where 150,000 LED streetlights have been installed, estimates a saving of US$8 million annually. New York, which aims to be fully switched over to LED street lighting this year, is looking to save over US$14 million.
And, on a road near you, in a move initiated by NZTA, high-pressure sodium lights, some 370,000 across the country, are being switched to LED with estimated savings of around $10 million in annual operational costs. In addition, by integrating with data-gathering sensors, innovative new-generation LEDs are providing opportunities for councils to generate extra revenue and attain smart city status.
As Jeff Richardson says, “along with IoT [the internet of things], the space traditionally used for lighting within the city can now be used for a wide range of applications”.
The aim is connecting people with their environments, he says. “A single pole and light system, such as Shuffle, can also provide options such as wifi, video surveillance, emergency signalling, chargers for electric vehicles, and speaker systems.”
Indeed, street lighting is no longer just about the lights. In today’s cityscapes, lighting is both functional and decorative – and is appearing in a diverse range of environments. Projects handled by lighting specialists ECC have largely been in the area of urban beautification, particularly shared spaces – pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle, slow speed streets – with a high emphasis on visual comfort, says client manager Owen Thomas.
“This is achieved using a mixture of cool (4000K) and warm (3000K) white colour temperatures and a range of different optics, from street to wide and narrow flood chips on board (COB), to reduce glare. Using LED improves performance, reduces maintenance and provides full compatibility with the lighting control system.”
Owen says while the AS/NZS 1158 Lighting Standard defines categories for pedestrian and vehicular areas there’s no specific category for shared spaces.
“This means working closely with specialised electrical engineers and landscape architects to create a ‘share with care’ environment to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and other users.”
Locally, one of the more innovative lighting projects, and the first of its kind in New Zealand, is the hot pink Lightpath Te Ara I Whiti, the $18 million cycleway connecting Auckland’s Upper Queen and Quay Streets, where 300 programmable LED lights create interactive displays when the cycleway is used by pedestrians or cyclists.
Chris Chin, of project partner GHD, says the lighting on the cycleway is a standout feature; an elegant and sustainable lighting solution ensuring the safety and security of users and presenting an impressive sight at night.
While phrases like “a revolution in lighting” are often used, it has to be noted that the world is not converting to LED at the speed of light. Last year it was estimated that, of the world’s four billion local authority street lights, only 12 percent are LED and less than two percent are connected.
Kevin Brookbank suggests New Zealand could be about a quarter of the way through the conversion process. “Not every council has been able to do it; not every council wanted to, but NZTA has provided an initiative with extra funding to speed the process.”
It’s not about waiting for the next big thing, he says. “In five years’ time there will be something better than we have now. In 20 years who knows what might be around? It’s about local bodies moving with the times or missing the opportunity to make savings now.”
• Patricia Moore is a freelance writer. email@example.com
This article was first published in the March 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.