Illuminating Engineering Society’s Street and Area Lighting Conference Recap

Posted by CJ Boguszewski | on September 18, 2014 on the Silver Spring Networks corporate blog … reposted here.

Did you know that the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) is the oldest and largest educational and scientific society in North America devoted to lighting? Since 1906 (!!), the IES has sought to improve the lighted environment by bringing together those with lighting knowledge, and by translating that knowledge into actions that benefit the public.

Pretty spiffy stuff.

And here in North America, that’s about 60,000,000 street lights. We estimate that half of those are utility owned and operated, and the remainder are a mix of privately held, or run by concessions, municipalities, or energy service companies. So all the entities have a broad range of influence over a very large number of light fixtures that illuminate our everyday lives.

What struck me most from the IES Street and Area Lighting Conference (SALC) is how the rapidly accelerating pace of change is striking this venerable, century-plus-old institution’s members, which has traditionally been a mix of lighting industry veterans, utility personnel, manufacturers and agents. Now in 2014 and during the age of rapid technological advancement, this industry is undergoing a larger transformation, with LEDs and control systems dominating much of the conversation at the show.

The lighting industry is at a particularly disruptive point in its existence. The light emitting diodes, or LEDs, about which we all hear so much, last much longer than their predecessor high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. Equally crucial, the LEDs use less energy. Longer lasting, less energy — that’s a no-brainer, if the price is right.

The price is falling rapidly. At the show, we saw more than a few LED vendors, whose price-per-fixture certainly indicates this is becoming “no-brainer” territory.

So — what’s the other mega-trend?

It has to do with the LEDs, in two respects. One, the LED can shift its light output up or down instantaneously (referred to as dimming) through a command to the fixture’s driver. Two, the LEDs are often fitted with a place to interface a control system to that driver, either in the form of a control node inside the lamp’s ballast, or through a photocell.

Turns out photocell receptacles are somewhat ubiquitous in street lighting. Walking around the show and talking to vendors, it’s the plan to keep using photocells to control the fixtures turning on and off. And even more interestingly, the ANSI c136.41 sub-committee’s recommendations seem to be widely accepted regarding what that photocell receptacle should have as standard.

We’ve seen standards unlock value for more than a decade in our smart grid business. This one will also unlock control system value for cities around the world.

Why?

ANSI c136.41 specifies the dimming pins, a “7-pin receptacle,” becoming standard for all fixtures with a photocell. If the photocell on top of the fixture has 7 pins, it can talk to the lamp’s driver through either an analog (0–10V) or digital (DALI) signal, and dim the lamp, among other functions. More on those in another blog posting soon — I’ll tackle the topic of auto-provisioning and the value of it in the lighting space.

The consensus among attendees at SALC was that photocells provide a terrific place to interface a control system to a fixture — leaving aside those decorative fixtures you see in city centers for a moment and zeroing in on the shoe-box looking (or, as some like to say, cobra-headed) fixtures that are now beginning to line streets and highways.

The interest in controls was palpable. Looking at a sampling of the companies represented at Sunday’s controls workshop — which included city and state Department of Transport heads, public power and Investor-Owned Utility lighting leads, PUC members, luminaire and device vendors — it is evident that there is interest from a broad range of stakeholders.

And it’s easy to see why. For cities, street lights are costly, ageing infrastructure that consume up to 40% of a city’s budget. For utilities, they’re a maintenance headache. Smart public lighting networks offer more than a 10% reduction in street light energy consumption, and up to 25% lower overall system costs. Throw in the LEDs and you get up to 60% energy savings versus HIDs, with maintenance costs down by as much as 95%. Add in the capability to dim those LEDs with a carefully-chosen control system in a variety of scenarios, and you’re really talking about both a super-efficient lighting infrastructure, and the fabric into which further “smart city” applications can be woven. No wonder utilities, consultants, agents, and manufacturers want to know how to go about achieving these goals and unlocking these benefits.

Beyond the technology, the show was also great with lots of insightful daily sessions. An array of topics were presented, including understanding “the basics” of lighting, market and current issues, and case studies. And in keeping with “Nash-vegas,” Tuesday night culminated in the IES SALC Casino Night, with what looked like most of the 650+ attendees in attendance.

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