Silver Spring Networks wants to expand its reach into streetlights, traffic lights and other end nodes beyond the smart meter -- and now it’s got the City of Lights to connect.
On Thursday, the Redwood City, Calif.-based wireless networking provider announced that it’s moving from pilot project to citywide deployment of a wireless canopy to connect streetlights and traffics signals across Paris. It’s a significant expansion for a partnership started two years ago with EVESA, the consortium that controls public lighting networks in the French capital.
It’s not the biggest streetlight networking project for Silver Spring -- that title goes to its 500,000-streetlight networking project with utility Florida Power & Light, one of its earliest customers. But it’s likely the biggest yet in terms of cities that are turning to the company to help connect devices outside its roots as a smart meter and smart grid networking provider.
Those projects include a 20,000-streetlight deployment in Copenhagen, a demonstration project in Glasgow, and an 800-streetlight pilot for Silver Spring utility customer Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. Most of these projects focus on installing new LED streetlights, which offer big energy saving and long life spans compared to older high-pressure sodium and metal halide streetlights.
But in Paris, the focus was on establishing better control over existing lights, as part of the city’s goal to reduce its overall lighting energy consumption by 30 percent from 2004 levels by 2020 without sacrificing the city’s signature nighttime charm.
“When you’re thinking about applying smart technologies to a city like Paris, it’s a really different environment than if you were doing it in a brand-new city in China,” Eric Dresselhuys, Silver Spring’s executive vice president of global sales, said. “This is a city that puts a lot of value on preserving the aesthetics, the look and the feel, and the livability of the city.”
At the same time, EVESA wanted to be able to detect faulty or burned-out lights quickly, adjust lighting schedules on a seasonal basis, and use wireless signals to reach both above-ground and underground control cabinets that control strings of streetlights, he said.
“Each of these control points is also a meter, built-in,” he noted. “It will monitor the electricity usage at each device, which can help with preventative maintenance,” as well as track the city’s progress toward its energy-saving goals.
EVESA, a consortium named after participating companies ETDE, Vinci Energies, Satelec and Aximum, was formed in 2011 to carry out Paris’ ambitious lighting-efficiency project, at a cost estimated to fall between €500 million and €700 million ($650 million to $900 million). Dresselhuys declined to say how much Silver Spring would be paid for its expanded work in the city, though it’s sure to be a relatively tiny fraction of the project's overall budget.
EVESA was already a partner with streetlight management software vendor Streetlight.Vision when Silver Spring started its Paris pilot in 2013. Silver Spring bought Streetlight.Vision last year, cementing its relationship with the city’s lighting overhaul. It’s also working with partner LED Roadways on many of its projects.
At the same time, Silver Spring has been expanding beyond streetlights into more ambitious “smart city” projects. Last month it announced plans to cover the southwest U.K. city of Bristol with a wireless network, as part of a city research program into the viability of networking smart parking meters, traffic congestion sensors, safety cameras, air quality sensors and other such devices.
“Based on our experiences in Copenhagen, Bristol, Glasgow and places like this, you’re going to see people very interested in doing traffic controls [and] environmental monitoring,” Dresselhuys said. “You could imagine public safety coming into the mix,” with streetlights that can strobe on and off to guide police or ambulances to the scene of crimes or accidents.
These are the same kinds of smart city visions being promoted by other smart meter contenders like Itron, Sensus and Landis+Gyr, as well as companies like Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, and a host of other would-be providers of technology platforms for the “internet of things.”
Of course, there’s a big difference between pilot projects to prove that lots of citywide devices can be embedded with wireless connectivity and processing power, and finding ways to make this kind of infrastructure investment actually pay off in the long run.
Streetlights are an obvious starting point for city networks of this kind, with economic and efficiency benefits that can justify the upfront costs. They’re also pretty much everywhere in the city, making them useful jumping-off points for connecting all manner of other devices. Just when we'll see the smart city network make the leap from lights to the rest of the potentially connected cityscape is still an open question.