The great outdoors 

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Smart lighting is perceived as a feature of the indoor experience, but now it’s set to break new ground outdoors. Martin Allcock, CP Electronics’ OEM sales manager, looks at how new technology is helping create the smart cities of tomorrow.

We are currently living in an age of ‘smart’ technology. Our TVs are connected to the internet; ovens, washing machines, dishwashers can all be controlled through Wi-Fi now, and smartphones are fast becoming the controls to everything. All this technology gives us greater command and better connectivity between the things in our lives, as well as helping reduce costs through increased efficiencies.

With such advantages, smart technologies have applications well beyond just the home. There’s increasing chatter around the notion of the ‘smart city network’, using sensors and connected systems to monitor everything from air pollution and noise through to traffic control.

Unsurprisingly, lighting has been identified as an important strand of the smart technology trend with sensors enabling buildings to respond to human presence, helping save money while also ensuring comfort and safety. 

Taking the indoors outdoors

Used to illuminate everything from parks, pathways and building perimeters to retail parks and warehouse bays, lighting offers a sense of security as well as acting as a deterrent to criminal activity.

However, as this lighting is typically left on during hours of darkness – even when nobody is around – the energy costs can be significant. It’s little wonder therefore that those under financial pressures – including local authorities and retailers – are looking to make savings without compromising security. 

Indeed, in April 2019, Hampshire County Council made the move to switch lights off on certain residential streets for three hours a night, between 1am and 4am, equating to £230,000 of energy cost savings per year.

Yet, by turning lights off on some streets and not others, it brings about security risks. Crime rates could potentially go up in the areas where lights have been switched off, and arguably, residents won’t feel as comfortable or as confident as before.

Smart outdoor lighting provides a timely solution, with recent advances meaning that outdoor lighting can be deployed more effectively and efficiently than before.

Connecting to multiple benefits 

As with indoor lighting solutions, outdoor solutions rely on clever controls including passive infrared sensors (PIRs) which can be added to luminaires. These detect movement and light up only when people are nearby.

They can be programmed to switch off, or to dim down when not needed. They can also be connected to each other and work in relay, using motion detection to detect movement and lighting up the luminaires in front of, above and behind the person, for comfort and safety reasons. Unlike conventional streetlights which can only be set to come on at specific times, digital sensors will react to light at dusk and dawn, making them more precise and efficient.

Importantly, information can be gathered and shared via building management systems to improve knowledge and performance. For the public, this means higher levels of safety and comfort. For owners, it means reduced energy costs and improved data gathering to drive further efficiencies in maintenance. 

While in basic terms the principles of outdoor lighting are similar to indoor systems, there are key differences – not least in the harsher outside environment, with dust and damp being key considerations. The new breed of smart lighting technology is addressing these issues with many sensors rated as IP66 and IK08, guaranteeing class-leading protection against impact and the ingress of water and dust. 

Of course, one of the most critical considerations for the owners and managers of outdoor lighting, whether it is the local authorities or private building owners and investors, is the return on investment. To this end, the solutions being specified and invested in need to be future-proofed, and not a passing trend, and the lighting industry has been working hard to meet this demand.

A new ‘plug and play’ standard 

One of the world’s most respected manufacturers, Signify – formerly Philips Lighting – has established a new industry standard for outdoor lighting control. Designed to pave the way to a smart city network, the SR driver accommodates technologies, components and gateways from SR partners such as CP Electronics, thereby increasing choice, minimising risk and ensuring a genuinely scalable approach for specifiers.

In the words of Dervan Alleyne, Signify’s OEM commercial director for the UK and Ireland, “If you’re using SR today, you’re future proofing for where the industry is heading, such as multiple sensing and the demand for data.”

At the heart of each system lies an SR certified driver, such as Philips’ own Xitanium digital SR LED driver. This is a version of DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface), the widely accepted standard for the lighting industry. This driver essentially powers each sensor in its network, eliminating the need for a wired supply for each one. 

The choice of sensor will be driven by the exact nature of the application and the desired benefits. For example, specifiers will need to consider whether the outdoor lighting or street lights operate as standalone units, or if they work together. Another factor is whether dimming is a requirement, or if they simply need to trigger when certain levels of light have been achieved.

Other key matters are the height of the luminaire, the radius of detection, and the previously mentioned resistance to environmental factors.

Thanks to the growing interest in smart cities, a wide range of externally rated sensors are already available, all compatible with SR drivers, each offering a range of performance parameters. It’s certain that innovation will continue to drive advances, giving investors and installers a wealth of choice.

Switching it up for smart cities

The fact is, the smart city is virtually here, and sensors will literally light the way forward. The key, as with all projects, is to ensure that when switching to new solutions, they deliver the benefits required at optimum cost in the area specified.

Lighting up the outdoors will require a unique approach each time, depending on the street or building in question. This will come down to factors such as footfall, costs, the needs of the people, whether it is a high-crime area, environmental issues, and budgets.

However, with the SR platform and a steadily increasing range of technologies, there is a solution that should fit most, if not all needs, that will take us into the next generation of connectivity.