Smart street lights could help municipalities save money

The Idea Bits business incubator by Draugiem Group, a group of IT companies in Latvia, has produced the Idea Lights street lighting technology, which adapts lighting to traffic intensity and turns conventional lights into smart ones. The solution has become particularly relevant today, as the energy crisis is forcing everyone to think about not wasting resources.

The idea for it came from the co-owner of Draugiem Group Agris Tamanis, who like the head of Idea Lights Toms Stālmans lives in Cēsis, a small town in Latvia. They had a discussion together about how the street lighting near their homes could be smarter. The solution itself was longer in the making because of the pandemic: it is harder to develop controllers using video calls than in person. Nevertheless, the original pilot project took place in Summer 2021. 50 devices were installed in Cēsis. The system helped reduce power consumption by 46%, compared to the period prior to this. The company now has more than 15 clients. The interest has been growing particularly rapidly since March, this year.

Smart street lighting has been around for a while, but it is only now that it is becoming relevant. According to Stālmans, similar early solutions were incredibly expensive. So, back then, you could talk about how they were modern and led to less power consumption, but the overall costs were still higher. ‘Technologies have advanced since, and mobile communication is even more accessible. These solutions have finally achieved economic feasibility,’ Stālmans said.

You don’t need well-lit streets everywhere

Without traffic, a street does not need full lighting, or the amount of electricity it consumes. A street lit using Idea Lights consumes only 40% of the amount of power used by full lighting. At the same time, the street has enough lighting to ensure order and safety.

‘The street does not go dark: the lighting is just turned down. It goes back up as soon as it detects the slightest motion, such as a cyclist entering the area,’ Stālmans said.

The brightness of lighting provided in that case depends on the settings determined by the local government. In other words, the lighting can switch on for the entire street, or in its individual sections. You can also set the nearest light to turn on at 100% power, and the ones that come after it, at 90% and 80%, respectively. “As a result, you get a pleasant feeling of having everything lit up in front of you, while the lighting behind you gradually fades. The light does not go up rapidly,’ he explained.

Every lamp post has a sensor, and every 30 to 50 lights have a SIM card. All the lamps communicate with one another and know what each of them needs to do. The Idea Lights technology uses the 4G network, and it could be switched to 5G in the future.

Economic benefits expected

All this means that lighting costs significantly less money. Idea Lights estimates show that as much as 60% can be saved. Because of this, the solution is enjoying a soaring amount of interest, which has reached its peak. It does not come as a surprise, as street lighting is a major expense position for local governments. Many of them have already contacted Idea Lights. At the same time, sodium lamps have been replaced with LED ones in a lot of municipalities, with the belief being that no more savings can be achieved. According to Stālmans, the transition to LED lights can reduce costs by 70 to 80%. But this type of lighting still consumes electricity, and in larger cities, this adds up.

‘Very often, lights stay on without any good reason at all! We can save a lot if we equip these lights with motion sensors and assign a role to every lighting unit in the chain, with a further 40–60% reduction in costs. If the municipality had sodium lamps before, the total savings could be as high as 90 to 95%,’ Stālmans said.

According to Stālmans the benefits are not only economic. It results in consuming less electricity on a global scale, which is good for everyone, including the planet. Such smart lighting helps reduce light pollution, a very serious problem in cities.

Another benefit is that this generates statistics about the life of the city. For example, there might be neighbourhoods where everyone is at home by 9 PM, and for the rest of the night, the lighting should only be at 80%. Information about malfunction is also immediately visible. It used to be the case that a person had to go and check that the lights were working once they switched on. It might be a very easy task in a smaller town, but Riga, for example, has more than 50 thousand lighting units. ‘We can do the same thing digitally. And you can monitor the individual consumption of every lamp,’ Stālmans said.

Using the principles of ESCO contracts

According to Stālmans, if a municipal government works with Idea Lights, the company replaces the lighting at its own expense, with no additional investments required from the municipality. The fee for the company’s services is the savings generated from the difference between the current and the previous power bills. Such collaboration usually continues for a couple of years, and once the contract ends, and the company earns for its services, the municipality starts enjoying the benefits of the savings. These contracts are referred to as ESCO contracts. Idea Lights plans to offer smart ESCO contracts, with the contract not only expiring after a certain period, but once it reaches a specific contract amount. This means that municipalities will feel the economic benefit sooner, and not three and a half, four or five years later.

All Draugiem Group companies focus on exports, and Idea Lights is no exception. ‘We knew from day one that we would also offer our solution abroad. Latvia has been a sandbox for us. This is where we developed and tested our best solution, and then offered it abroad,’ he said. The company has already begun negotiations with potential clients in the Nordics, Italy, and Germany.

This article first appeared in Baltic Business Quarterly, published every three months by the German-Baltic Chamber of Commerce (AHK) and is reproduced by kind permission.

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