The humble lamppost rarely receives much attention. But with billions in energy savings up for grabs, cities across Europe are starting to see how switching to smart lighting is a bright idea.

Street lights can now be transformed into intelligent machines that adapt to movement, weather conditions and even shine brighter during periods of heightened criminal activity.

While the initial cost of installing smart street lighting technology can be significant, so too are the long-term savings that can be achieved through reduced energy expenditure.

Local governments in the European Union spent about €7.6 billion on powering public street lights in 2015. It’s estimated these bills could be slashed by up to 70% – saving €5.3 billion per year – if local authorities were to invest in energy efficient smart lighting.

Accelerated savings

Intelligent street lights, connected by a network, can cost up to €8,000 each, an outlay that authorities have been able to recover over a period of around five years through energy savings.

Now, using software we have developed at Tata Consultancy Services’ Digital Software & Solutions Group, that period can be cut back to two years through the use of machine learning and predictive analytics.

TCS’ cloud-based Intelligent Urban Exchange (IUX) system can be used to set separate targets for each area. The target might be energy saving in one area and crime reduction in another. Lights also react to events in real time such as increased traffic, footfall or high levels of city light pollution.

IUX responsive lighting means energy is being used when it’s needed and saved when it isn’t.

While upgrading conventional street lights to LED lighting can cut costs by up to 50%, IUX can deliver an additional 15% to 25% in savings.

Springboard to a smart city

We have a unique window of opportunity to take advantage of smart lighting. In Europe, so far only a handful of cities have installed intelligent lighting. However, the European Commission has pledged to help fund a project to set-up 10 million smart street lamps around cities in the EU by 2025.

And energy savings aren’t the only aim.

Local authorities are increasingly keen to use data to make their cities ‘smart’ – reacting to demand so that services can be delivered more efficiently. Water systems, traffic management and public transport are all areas where smart technology can bring better services and deliver cost savings.

Smart lighting is a key smart city building block. By 2020, it’s estimated that 10% of all smart cities will use street lamps as the backbone of their smart city wide area networks.

A billion-dollar opportunity

Over the next 10 years, 280.2 million LED street lights will be added across 125 countries, reaching a penetration rate of 89% by 2026.

That represents a $69.5 billion market opportunity over the next decade, with $12.6 billion invested in smart networked street lights from 2016 to 2026.

Urban planners need to understand that the time to switch to LED lighting is also the time to switch to smart lighting. LED is an important step, but smart lighting offers so much more.

By investing in intelligent street lighting smart cities can deliver a range of key benefits – cutting costs, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and helping to protect their citizens’ quality of life.