Electric streetlights made their debut in the late 19th century, first popping up in Europe and then in the U.S. Their purpose was pretty much the same as it is today—to illuminate roads and walkways and to keep potential robbers at bay. But one company in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has taken the streetlight to a previously unimagined energy-saving, crime-stopping level.
Don Lepard, CEO of Global Green Lighting, tells TakePart that the city was having a problem with crime in downtown’s Coolidge Park. “They were thinking about flooding the area with giant baseball-field type lights, but the Parks and Recreation Director didn’t want to destroy the ambience of this very historic park,” says Lepard.
“We approached them with the idea of putting in some very powerful, wirelessly-networked LED lights we’d developed that could operate at 25 percent of the existing power, provide light, and keep the ambience,” says Lepard. “But we would also be able to bring up the lights and flood the area quickly.”
Even more valuable from a law enforcement standpoint was that Lepard’s team was able to make the technology work from inside of a patrol car. “We started working with the city’s IT Director who had already put WiFi in all the policemen’s patrol cars,” says Lepard. “So we set it up where they could access the Internet, which accessed the cloud server we had, and from the cloud server we would send a signal back to a transmitter that had a 35-mile range. That transmitter would reach out and talk to each one of the lights individually, in groups, or the whole city—and it can happen in four seconds.”
This is an incredibly valuable safety tool for the police officers since they can bring the lights up to full power before they get out of their cars at night. “At the end of the day, we listened to our customer and kept adapting,” says Lepard. “We developed a utility certified meter, put it into the light, and then we gave the switch to the customer. In addition to the security measures, the city is conserving energy.”
Being able to measure energy savings was actually Lepard’s initial goal.
“We set out to look for a wireless AMI, an automatic meter infrastructure company, that had something we could adapt and put into the light,” he says. “We found Census, a company in Raleigh, North Carolina, and approached them with the idea of taking the power meters they were selling with wireless monitoring and putting them into the streetlights.”
“We spent 24 months working with their engineers, designing the software and hardware and when we were done we had a light that could actually measure power consumption and report that consumption back to a two-way communication system called a point-to-multipoint,” says Lepard. “One transmitter can speak to 35,000 lights if they’re in close enough proximity.”
“This also gave us a way to monitor the lights, and once you can communicate with the light and get data from it we could get an immediate notification if the light stopped working,” adds Lepard. “Then we thought, what if we put a switch in the light and we could turn the light off when it didn’t need to be on and save additional energy and also be able to dim it down and back up?”
“Along the way, a tornado went through Chattanooga and people said they couldn’t hear the warning system. So we added a feature to the design of the lights that allows them to flash either fast or slow and have two different types of alerts.”
Later, the city IT department asked about adding air quality sensors, so Lepard’s group went back and redesigned the light, making it a little bit bigger and putting a “power over ethernet” inside of it. “Basically you can use the power that’s going to the light to power this POE and it can power other devices that are attached to the light,” says Lepard.
He adds, “We can also tap into the city’s fiberoptics and bring it to the light which opens up a lot of possibilities. Now you can take the WiFi and, for example, put a high-definition video camera up there.”
In addition to the 27,000 lights that are being installed in Chattanooga, Lepard is working with the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to place lights on the University of Alabama campus where the flash alert will notify students of a campus lockdown. He also has requests for transmitters from 26 cities, which is about 500,000 lights.
Sounds like the future looks bright, energy-efficient—and a little bit safer.
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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com