Driving Innovation

In Chicago’s Western Suburbs, the Street Lights Are Smart Enough to Phone Home

August 4, 2016

The communities of Bensenville and Lombard are much like proud parents when it comes to their new smart LED street lights: their babies can ‘talk’, they’re bright, (and good looking, too), they’ve got long lives ahead of them, and they’re even saving the family money to boot.

These new kids on the block are part of two proof-of-concept projects being rolled out by ComEd in order to demonstrate in a real-world environment the array of benefits that can result when cities switch to digital, energy-saving technologies.

At its core, the LED “guts” of a smart streetlight deliver greater energy efficiency and cost savings by consuming as little as one-third of the energy compared to the high pressure sodium and mercury vapor streetlights they replace. They also last up to one and a half times as long and offer better quality of light.

But smart streetlights take LED benefits a giant step beyond by leveraging digital technologies. Like smart meters, the lights tap into a wireless network that allows for two-way communication with grid operators. This “talking” ability enables Bensenville and Lombard communities to work with ComEd to easily adjust the daily scheduling of lights and enables the lights to take the initiative and essentially phone home to notify operators when they need maintenance or replacement.

So far, approximately 750 ComEd-owned fixtures have been replaced with smart streetlights, which will leverage the advanced communications network already being installed by ComEd as part of its ongoing installation of about 4 million smart meters throughout northern Illinois. ComEd owns and maintains approximately 175,000 streetlights in its service territory.

“The short-term benefits of replacing the aged infrastructure combined with the long-term benefits of energy savings made this a win-win project for Bensenville,” says Joseph Caracci, director of Bensenville’s Public Works. “We’ve experienced a greater level of reliability and response since the program started, and we’re excited about the potential.”

The smart LED light fixtures deployed in the projects were provided by General Electric’s new energy business – Current, powered by GE – which focuses on advanced energy-saving technologies including smart LEDs, solar, energy storage, onsite power generation, and electric vehicles. Current is already working with other cities around the globe, from Schenectady, N.Y., to Tianjin, China, to explore and customize the benefits of its intelligent lighting. Cities are already upgrading to LED lighting for cost savings alone (LEDs can save up to 50 percent of energy used by traditional lighting), and adding connectivity can open the door to further efficiency and other intelligent outcomes in the future.

“Current is working with partners like ComEd to help cities improve efficiencies and unlock new outcomes through energy efficient LEDs,” says RJ Darling, general manager, North American Roadway at Current. “Cities like Bensenville and Lombard are realizing that adding connectivity to existing infrastructure is a valuable move that can give city managers better perspective and control to save energy and address future challenges.”

ComEd and Current have also partnered on the project to test the fixtures and smart control nodes and measure performance both in the near and long-term. The Will Group, a Chicago-based lighting technology company, performed surveying and fixture assembly for these proof-of-concept projects.

“Our partnership with ComEd is increasing energy efficiency and cutting costs,” says Carl Goldsmith, director of Public Works for the Village of Lombard. “Importantly, it’s also demonstrating how smart street light technology can be leveraged in brand new ways to improve safety and enhance the quality of life here in Lombard.”