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LED Lighting: The Unintended Effects in Public Lighting

One of the most fascinating aspects of many technologies is the way they transform the world in ways completely unanticipated by their developers. The Internet, for example, was originally conceived in the late 1960s by the Advanced Research Projects Agency to allow researchers across the US to access the limited number of university mainframe computers, no matter how great the distance between the researcher and the mainframe. It's unlikely any of the pioneering architects envisaged booking their holidays, checking the weather forecast, or using any of the other online capabilities we take for granted today.

Another perfect example of this phenomenon is lighting.

If you think about it, a lot of the power used to light streets and other public spaces is wasted. Streetlamps burn at full power even if the moon or ambient light from nearby shops is so bright that the street lights are barely needed. Fly at night, and the outlines of every city shine bright from street lamps, even when the streets are completely empty. Until now, the choices available to civic lighting departments were limited to what time in the evening the lamps should be turned on and what time in the morning they should be turned off. It's not much different from the 19th century, when the lamplighters would set off at the appointed time to light the gas lamps of Victorian London.

Two things are coming together to change this. One is the availability of high-power white LED lights (100 W or more), and the other is smart LED control chips. LED streetlamps are the preferred choice for all new public lighting projects, because they provide more lumens/Watt than previous lighting technologies, and they are increasingly being retrofitted to municipal lighting infrastructures for the same reason. This is yet another example of the phenomenon I mentioned at the start. The original market for LEDs was replacing high-voltage incandescent or neon lamps as indicators in electronic equipment operating at below 12 V, and you could get them in any color you liked, as long as it was red.

The luminous efficiency of LED lights ensures their position as the technology of choice for public lighting, but it is not their only benefit. Unlike all previous lighting technologies except for incandescent lamps, which have long been ruled out on the grounds of efficiency and lifetime, LEDs are dimmable. Of course, in itself, an LED lamp is just as dumb as any other light source, and that is where the smart power control comes in.

The combination of dimmable LED lights, smart power control chips, and sensors, all integrated into a smart municipal lighting system, will redefine the public lighting paradigm. It will liberate municipal lighting departments from the simple ON-OFF constraint they have always operated under and allow them to ask an entirely new question: How much light do we want here at any particular time? And it will allow them to automate the multiple answers to this question.

My imagination fills with potential scenarios. A few strategically placed ambient light sensors could provide input signals that make the street lights adjust dynamically to ambient conditions, including gradually turning the lights up as the sun sets or gradually dimming them as the sun rises, reducing the brightness of the lamps if there is bright moonlight or snow on the ground, or turning the lights on, even in the middle of the day, if there is heavy rainfall or fog. In some areas, you would want to keep the street lighting on all night, but in others, it would be safe enough to dim the lights or turn off every second lamp. All these options are coming available for the first time and will ultimately save energy and increase safety.

I can't help but wonder if these were the the original goals of the teams designing these next-generation power controllers? Can you comment on other technologies that had effects that were unanticipated?

62 comments on “LED Lighting: The Unintended Effects in Public Lighting

  1. geek
    July 28, 2014

     

    “A few strategically placed ambient light sensors could provide input signals that make the street lights adjust dynamically to ambient conditions”

     

    @Luca: That seems to be a very useful idea and not something that's technically very difficult to implement. I really wonder why it has not been worked upon. It would really result in considerable power savings. Particularly in countries where power shortage is common, this can be an effective solution.

  2. lucadifalco
    July 28, 2014

    In the past, cost would have made this prohibitive. The beauty of the current sensor technology and the IoT is that the infrastructure and backbone of the system already exists and simply requires entrepreneurs and innovators to plug in, without having to reinvent the sensors and connectivity that would earlier have been too difficult to develop. With sensors and connectivity so pervasive in everyday life, much of the common, hard work has already been done, overall costs have gone down dramatically, and innovators can focus on the areas where they can add real value.

  3. samicksha
    July 28, 2014

    I recently learned about new style of wafers composed of gallium-nitride-on-silicon is being used to produce white LEDs using 200-mm silicon wafers. Any experiences or views on same.

  4. geek
    July 28, 2014

    “With sensors and connectivity so pervasive in everyday life, much of the common, hard work has already been done, overall costs have gone down dramatically, and innovators can focus on the areas where they can add real value”

    @lucadifalco: I agree with this. I think the most significant development has been the fact that there's very little need to reinvent the wheel. The technology keeps getting specialized and the name of the game is integration of different parts together to create something new. No company these days is looking to make everything themselves.

  5. Netcrawl
    July 29, 2014

    @tzubair I agree with you, what we're really need here is an intelligent, networked public lighting infrastructure that can contribute and enhance the “livability” of cities and municipalities. Switching to LED alone won't solve the problem and not enough to meet energy consumption and cost reduction target, adaptive operable lighting solutions are needed to solve current problem.

    Tthe reality is cities are complex entities where inefficiencies arise beacuse the systems are simply not interconnected or there's no proper way of communication to one another. 

  6. Netcrawl
    July 29, 2014

    @tzubair sensors enable the city to generate information or data about the public infrastructures' usage and condition, all the data gathered can be analyzed and processed to provide and deliver new services for the cities and public. A sensor could enable lighting controls by local authorities, so that lightings could adapt to changing weather conditions. Lightings could be swicthed on when its cloudy or raining, or be combined to provide better visibility and dynamic routing during emergency situations- like directing emergency services in a specific location. 

  7. Myled
    July 30, 2014

    Luca, if LEDs are using foe streetlight, the energy consumption level can be reduced considerably, when compare with sodium vapor lamps. Another thing is LEDs are more ecco friendly too.

  8. Myled
    July 30, 2014

    “A few strategically placed ambient light sensors could provide input signals that make the street lights adjust dynamically to ambient conditions, including gradually turning the lights up as the sun sets or gradually dimming them as the sun rises, reducing the brightness of the lamps if there is bright moonlight or snow on the ground, or turning the lights on, even in the middle of the day, if there is heavy rainfall or fog.”

    Luca, now also street lights are fitted with such sensors for making it ON and OFF using the sensors. But auto adjust for brightness is a new concept and it may help to maintain the street with same brightness throughout dark situation.

  9. SunitaT
    July 30, 2014

    All these options are coming available for the first time and will ultimately save energy and increase safety.

    @Luca, I totally agree with you. I am curious to know if such system is already implemented or is it still in nascent stage ? I am sure impelementation of such systems will help save energy.

  10. SunitaT
    July 30, 2014

    now also street lights are fitted with such sensors for making it ON and OFF using the sensors. 

    @Myanalog, In India street lights are still controlled manually. We still dont use sensors to automatically ON/OFF street lights. I am sure if we implement such automations then we can definitely save energy.

  11. SunitaT
    July 30, 2014

    @Myanalog, I totally agree with you that LEDs re more eco friendly. Infact Department of Energy study confirms that LEDs are most environmental friendly. Study says that LED lamps have a slight environmental edge over compact fluorescent lamps and a significantly lower environmental impact than incandescent lighting over the lifetime of the products.

  12. SunitaT
    July 30, 2014

    sensors enable the city to generate information or data about the public infrastructures' usage and condition

    @Netcrawl, I agree with you that sensors enable they city to generate lot of information about the public infrastrcutre but we need to have the capability to infer things from so much of raw data. This is why we need to have lot of data scientists who can process this raw data and infer things.

  13. SunitaT
    July 30, 2014

    Switching to LED alone won't solve the problem and not enough to meet energy consumption and cost reduction target, adaptive operable lighting solutions are needed to solve current problem.

    @Netcrawl, I agree with you that switching to LED is not the olnly solution. But  nonetheless LEDs definitely saves energy compared to CFL and incandescent. We will require lot more time to implement adaptive operatble lighting solutions so just shifting to LED is definitely good beginning.

  14. SunitaT
    July 30, 2014

    That seems to be a very useful idea and not something that's technically very difficult to implement. I really wonder why it has not been worked upon.

    @tzubair, I agree with you. I think its not just about collecting raw data but we need to have the capability to process that raw data. Once we have such analytical capability I am sure we will use more such sensors to gather data.

  15. NATRON
    July 30, 2014

    Streetlights—auto dimming?
    Not so much. What really would help is motion sensors. Come 3am when the drunks and delivery trucks have all gone home, the lights could turn off…granted the occasional urban rat might briefly turn them back on, but still…

  16. Myled
    July 31, 2014

    “In India street lights are still controlled manually. We still dont use sensors to automatically ON/OFF street lights. I am sure if we implement such automations then we can definitely save energy.”

    sunitaT0, but I had seen the same sensor based street light in Delhi and Bangalore.

  17. Myled
    July 31, 2014

    “I totally agree with you that LEDs re more eco friendly. Infact Department of Energy study confirms that LEDs are most environmental friendly. Study says that LED lamps have a slight environmental edge over compact fluorescent lamps and a significantly lower environmental impact than incandescent lighting over the lifetime of the products.”

    SunitaT0, yes those are some of the advantages of LEDs, but bit costlier too.

  18. chirshadblog
    July 31, 2014

    @Myanalog: What sort of an affect does it carry ? 

  19. chirshadblog
    July 31, 2014

    @Myanalog: Well in most of the 3rd world countries it happens. Even in my country the same process is happening and we are quite used to it now. 

  20. chirshadblog
    July 31, 2014

    @Natrong: Well there are risks involved in any scenario but we do need to evaluate them carefully 

  21. chirshadblog
    July 31, 2014

    @Sunita: Yes it's a good start but for how long do you want to get stucked in the initial stages is the question. 

  22. chirshadblog
    July 31, 2014

    @Sunita: Exactly, as long as you have data then you do not need to worry. All you need is a good analyst and a good analysis tool to get the data turned towards information

  23. samicksha
    July 31, 2014

    @Myanalog: I guess even in India now maximum of newly build street lights are sensor based keeping manual intervention minimum.

  24. SunitaT
    July 31, 2014

     I guess even in India now maximum of newly build street lights are sensor based keeping manual intervention minimum.

    @samicksha, I think only in urban india such sytems are in place whereas in villages such systems are operated manually. I am sure such automative solutions will be implemented across all over india eventually.

  25. SunitaT
    July 31, 2014

    All you need is a good analyst and a good analysis tool to get the data turned towards information

    @chrirshadblog, I agree with you. But then its very important that we have good tools and data scientists who can crunch the data and comeup with proper inferences else collecting such huge abmount of data will be of very less use.

  26. SunitaT
    July 31, 2014

    Yes it's a good start but for how long do you want to get stucked in the initial stages is the question.

    @chirshadblog, True. No body would like to get stuck in initial stages but then we need lot of planning and investment to move to the next stage. Once we have done proper planning and once we have proper tools i think we should definitely start implementing those ideas.

  27. SunitaT
    July 31, 2014

    What really would help is motion sensors

    @NATRON0, that is a good idea but then big question is do you want to turn on the immediate lights or do you want to turn on the lights which are far away also. For example when a person is moving he would want lights to be siwitched on so that it act as a guide.

  28. SunitaT
    July 31, 2014

    sunitaT0, but I had seen the same sensor based street light in Delhi and Bangalore.

    @Myanalog, I think such systems are implemented only in selected Metro cities. In other cities and rural areas I have seen local residents manually switching on/off the stree lights. 

  29. SunitaT
    July 31, 2014

    SunitaT0, yes those are some of the advantages of LEDs, but bit costlier too.

    @Myanalog, I agree with you. LEDs are very costly compared to other types of lights but in the longer run its cost effective because they have higher efficiency.

  30. Sachin
    July 31, 2014

    @Natrono, going for motion sensors as opposed to light sensors may sound like a much more effective solution at first glance but in reality, the picture could be quite different. In my opinion, a more effective solution would be a combination of the two in one setting where the LED streetlight has got both motion and light sensors.

  31. Sachin
    July 31, 2014

    I think the issue here is not to come up with and install a simple ON/OFF mechanism for the street lights as this would be counterproductive in most urban areas and a human being could do that easily enough for half the cost. It should be more of a sensitive system that either dims or brightens the light depending on the environment. And one of the main problems in using such a sensor lies in its calibration.

  32. geek
    July 31, 2014

    “I think its not just about collecting raw data but we need to have the capability to process that raw data. Once we have such analytical capability”

    @SunitaT0: I don't think there's a lot of data that would need to be collected and stored in this case. You're looking to measure the light through sensors and accordingly adjust the intensity of the lights installed. There isn't any real reason to store and process a large amount of data.

  33. geek
    July 31, 2014

    “sensors enable the city to generate information or data about the public infrastructures' usage and condition, all the data gathered can be analyzed and processed to provide and deliver new services for the cities and public”

    @Netcrawl: You're right. Apart from controlling the lights on a real-time basis, they can also collect data on how much time each light was turned on and if there are any faults in the system they can be reported immidiately. This is one added advantage of having sensors I guess.

  34. NATRON
    July 31, 2014

    As a first guess I would set the light field to accommodate the size that would relate to the local speed limit. This would provide sufficient local light, and possibly also help enforce the speed limit.

  35. NATRON
    July 31, 2014

    Another often unremarked issue with a mass deployment of high power LED's is that they will increase the demand for 'rare earth' minerals which are necessary for their manufacture, and are almost exclusively sourced from China; and China will undoubtedly become more political about providing them!a

  36. yalanand
    July 31, 2014

    Thanks for the information regarding stree lighting. It is true that in big metropolitan cities there's not a good way of managing street lighting and results in energy wastage. I think electric lights should be fitted with motion sensors so as to switch off when the motion sensors do not detect any pedestrian or vehicles.

  37. yalanand
    July 31, 2014

    @NATRONO, Truly said. Power electric lighting systems need rare earth elements for their manufacture. I think there should a board of companies overseeing the chinese provisions for providing rare earth elements. If they go polical about it then it would have to be sourced from elsewhere.

  38. yalanand
    July 31, 2014

    @Tzubair: Or, we can have a smart connected grid with the use of IOT networking architectures so as to work on real time data and create better switching times of lighting systems without creating much overhead, but the only problem is the data costs that are related with the IOT integration.

  39. yalanand
    July 31, 2014

    @SunitaT0: You are right. There is a need to collect data that is both real time and stock piled data over a usage history as well. The examination of both stockpiled history log data and real time data is necessary to get working models in lighting systems without any problmes (that may be sensor related or smart connectivity related).

  40. NATRON
    July 31, 2014

    The problem with that is that there is almost no other 'elsewhere'…the only other mining operation for this kind of thing as far as I know is in the desert southwest near Trona, California…

  41. Myled
    August 4, 2014

    “I think such systems are implemented only in selected Metro cities. In other cities and rural areas I have seen local residents manually switching on/off the stree lights. “

    SunitaT0, you may be right. but I think solar based streetlights are based on such sensor automation.

  42. Myled
    August 4, 2014

    “I guess even in India now maximum of newly build street lights are sensor based keeping manual intervention minimum.”

    Samicksha, all most all solar based street lamps belongs to self automated. Actually most of the public work departments are trying to minimize the manpower by making things automated.

  43. Myled
    August 4, 2014

    “Well in most of the 3rd world countries it happens. Even in my country the same process is happening and we are quite used to it now. “

    Chris, the main thing is in most of the countries all such street lights or public lights are get connected to renewable energy sources. So then can have a big saving from grid energy; which can be diverted for residential and industrial purposes.

  44. Myled
    August 4, 2014

    “What sort of an affect does it carry ?”

    Chris, its costlier when compare with sodium vapor lamps.

  45. etnapowers
    August 4, 2014

    “the outlines of every city shine bright from street lamps, even when the streets are completely empty”

     

    That's true, a sensor net to detect the presence of vehicles and people in a street might enable the streetlights only when needed and turning them off when empty, this would save a lot of energy.

  46. Myled
    August 7, 2014

    “I agree with you. LEDs are very costly compared to other types of lights but in the longer run its cost effective because they have higher efficiency.”

    SunitaTO, peoples will always look for initial cost. But the fact is on long run it's very cost effective by accounting the life and energy consumption.

  47. PCR
    August 7, 2014

    Very true tzubair, this is the high time to go for energy serving solutions in order to have an higher effectivty. This will be a great solution for that. 

  48. PCR
    August 7, 2014

    Yes lucadifalco, it's only a one time investment but I believe that the outcome of that investment will be much higher than stuck with the current situation. 

  49. Davidled
    August 8, 2014

    I think that LED use direct current, and that other module inside LED circuit converting alternating current into direct current might be required including the dimming controller of electronics. In the analog viewpoint, first, heatsink size and location could be considered depending on power and design of lamp. Second, smart LED driver might be developed for any advanced LED lighting to minimize the lighting pollution in the public street lighting.

  50. PCR
    August 8, 2014

    Exactly Netcrawl, it will never work only by changing the one aspect, to get maximum out of it, it should comes from the peoples heart and it should be change from the attitude.  

  51. PCR
    August 8, 2014

    Myanalog, life time is also a major factor hear which is higher than the others. 

  52. PCR
    August 8, 2014

    “In India street lights are still controlled manually”

    SunitaT0, by only changing manual in to automatic controlee system will save much energy than you thought.

  53. PCR
    August 8, 2014

    Yes chirshadblog. You are right sometimes it is worth taking the risk than going ahead with existing system

  54. Davidled
    August 8, 2014

    His comments said that we need to evaluate carefully. Please provide the example for cases which engineer needs to take a risk. Taking a risk also might require the cost and the time of manpower.  

  55. fasmicro
    August 9, 2014

    >> “I agree with you. LEDs are very costly compared to other types of lights but in the longer run its cost effective because they have higher efficiency.”

    Buy it because you like it and not because of the cost. It is like spending more on hybrid at say $20,000 and hoping you will spend that much on gas over the life of that car. Just buy it because you want it and take away the cost justification.

  56. fasmicro
    August 9, 2014

    >> “In India street lights are still controlled manually”

    It will probably cost more mechanically to change the system than simply swapping electric bulbs. It is part of the infrastructure dilemma where there are people with no lights in their homes while there are street lights blasting when there is no one using them. Smart technology is the future.

  57. Myled
    August 13, 2014

    “life time is also a major factor hear which is higher than the others. “

    Ranasinghe, yes those parameters are meant only for peoples looking for quality products. Normally LED lights have a better life time than fluorescent and CFL lamps.

  58. Myled
    August 20, 2014

    “Buy it because you like it and not because of the cost. It is like spending more on hybrid at say $20,000 and hoping you will spend that much on gas over the life of that car. Just buy it because you want it and take away the cost justification.”

    Fasmicro, yes cost justification is an important factor. Service or benifict has to be justified for the cost

  59. RedDerek
    August 20, 2014

    I do agree that adding the ability to adjust to ambient light such as the moon is useful. I actually enjoy walking without light with a full moon – it is amazing how far one can actually see; and in Mexico, drivers do not use their headlights since it actually ruins night vision.

    I would go even further and have sensors detect someone walking. The lights could be at a low level to save energy, yet be bright enough to see what is up ahead. Then as a person walks into the “zone” of the light, it brightens up to ensure ample lighting to see where one is walking. Then dims out as they leave. This can be integrated with the next lamp to ensure constant lighting as one walks down the street.

    It can eliminate car traffic detection by use of direction and speed.

    This would help police track criminals as they run down a vacant street as well. Imagine from the air, the helicopter just has to follow the brightening and dimming of street lights!

  60. Myled
    August 25, 2014

    “I do agree that adding the ability to adjust to ambient light such as the moon is useful. I actually enjoy walking without light with a full moon – it is amazing how far one can actually see; and in Mexico, drivers do not use their headlights since it actually ruins night vision.”

    RedDerk, that's means night visions are clear like day ling in Mexico. Good

  61. vandamme
    December 2, 2014

    I think you are confusing LEDs with magnets used in DC motors. LEDs are mostly silicon with traces of dopants. Power supplies are common materials also.

  62. vandamme
    December 2, 2014

    Most municipal lights here already have individual ambient light detectors. They are wired into the power grid, not a separate lighting circuit. This saves wiring, but would be a problem for carrier-based communication with individual lights.

    The next opportunity for smart lighting is industrial, commercial and other private lighting. huge amounts of parking lots and empty areas are lighted full power without regard to occupancy, ambient lighting, or real need.  

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