Making the Business Case for Smart Lighting

By Michael Tschirret, Marketing Communications Manager for Smart Cities, Sensus

Where technology is concerned, we’ve gotten used to quantum leaps in efficiency, affordability and enjoyment. The cassette tape (I’m dating myself here) gave way to the Compact Disc, which ultimately yielded to the supremacy of the .MP3 file format. That brick-sized device that made wireless phone calls morphed into the full-fledged phenomenon known as the iPhone, which some people consider to be the most important invention since the advent of the Internet. (For my money, I’d argue that the Palm Pilot was more influential. But I digress.)

So when your daily commute takes you past streetlights that look like they were around when Hall and Oates were at the top of the charts, you have to wonder: “How hard is it to replace these old lights with modern fixtures and bright LED bulbs? And are they even smart streetlights, or just utilizing simple photocells?” You may not be thinking exactly that, but the differences in lighting deployed by various municipalities is stark, depending where you reside. Personally, I live in a fairly modern subdivision that has dated light fixtures, HPS (High Pressure Sodium) bulbs, and photocells which seem to burn out with regularity.

So why isn’t smart lighting ubiquitous? After all, the return on investment can be staggeringly fast, depending on the number of lights being deployed.

It’s not an easy question, but the most basic answer boils down to this: it depends who owns the lights. Either the city you live in owns the lighting fixtures, or they are owned by the IOU (Investor Owned Utility).  Whoever owns the lights is responsible for their cost and maintenance, and thus has an incentive to improve them. But cities and utilities have very different goals for their ‘customers’ and thus may not be aligned on the value of smart lighting.  For example, my city owns its light poles. But my IOU owns the light fixtures. Getting both of those players on the same page must be difficult, given LED bulbs and smart lighting controls are not widespread. And that is a shame, because the benefits to consumers are many. Here are just a few:

  • Increased energy conservation
  • Improved asset management
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Enhanced public safety
  • Better customer service
  • Boosted economic development

How, then, can cities and utilities work together to create a compelling business case to positively impact their citizens? Let’s look at a few ways to start:

  • Go beyond the bulb: When most people think about smart lighting, they begin with upgrading their bulbs to LED, which is a good start. With today’s standard NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) sockets in nearly all fixtures, anyone can install the lighting control module with a simple twist of the wrist. The key takeaway here is this: to really make the business case, you need to install lighting control at a minimum. In fact, studies have shown that simply retrofitting fixtures with LEDs actually extends the payback period due to future deployment costs (an average truck roll costs $100 — that’s an expensive light bulb to change.) Hence, all the more incentive to upgrade your bulbs and install controls simultaneously.
  • Light poles are valuable real estate: If you own both your light poles and fixtures, your path to savings is clear. But even if you don’t own the fixtures, there’s nothing to prevent you from giving your utility access to them. It creates a true partnership where both parties can benefit. Further, there is no limit to the number of sensors that can be mounted on these poles to monitor and measure things like air quality, traffic and road conditions, gunshot detection and many more.
  • Upgrade your grid: Today, electrical systems can access real-time data, which allows for better grid management and faster response times. The right lighting control solution, such as Sensus’ VantagePoint®, can monitor voltage levels, outages, and overall power quality which means fast alarming–and even faster dispatch for happier customers. The humble lighting control module is actually a meter…who knew?
  • Think safety: Streetlights help us to see clearly and feel safer, to be sure. But smart lighting offers even greater benefits. First responders can utilize streetlights that flash or brighten in the proximity of a crime or emergency, and that functionality can easily be triggered remotely. The statistics around crime reduction are significant regardless of where you live.
  • Go green: Smart and sustainability go hand in hand; we all know that LED bulbs drive down costs and extend the life of your assets. But in addition to reducing energy consumption, you can also minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Streetlights consume a large part of a city’s utility budget, and that doesn’t even take into account “dayburners”—lights permanently stuck in an “on” state because the photocell failed at night. Gone are the days where you have two choices (on and off) for lighting brightness, too: today’s LEDs can be dimmed in as little as ten degree increments, further saving you money and cutting carbon dioxide emissions. Smart, indeed.
  • Campuses are joining the smart revolution: It’s not just cities that are getting smart about lighting. College and industrial campuses can also benefit for the reasons listed above. Fact: when surveyed, nearly 70% of all parents responded that campus safety was a deciding factor in choosing a school.

The above are just a few ways that smart lighting can become pervasive wherever you may reside. Attend a city council meeting or town hall. Call your utility. And ask the right questions, such as:

  • Who is included in your smart lighting ecosystem?
  • What other smart city initiatives are complementary to smart lighting?
  • Do you own your streetlights?
  • Who makes decisions and manages budgets?

There’s no end to the ways you can affect change—not only benefiting you, but the planet as well. For more information, check out the Sensus Smart Lighting ROI Calculator. And if you’d like a deeper dive, we also offer a companion eBook on the subject.



Michael Tschirret is a Marketing Communications Manager at Sensus. He is responsible for all outbound marketing, campaigns and events involving Smart Cities, Smart Lighting and the Internet of Things (IoT). Entering his fourth year at Sensus, Michael previously supported marketing efforts for the FlexNet Communications network.

Prior to Sensus, Michael was the Marketing Communications Manager for Wireless and Fiber Optic test and measurement solutions at Viavi. He has over 20 years of wireless and communication network expertise, to include product marketing and business development positions at Nortel and Agilent Technologies.

Michael holds a B.S. degree from the Florida State University, and an M.S. in Urban Planning from Virginia Tech.