Huge "Urban Playground" Experiments With the Future of Smart Lighting


By Maura Forrest

August 14, 2014

An industrial park in a suburb of Copenhagen is the unlikely site of the newest experiment in green street lighting. Twenty-five companies have signed up to install new, innovative streetlights along 9.2 kilometres of road in Albertslund, Denmark.

The lights will use a variety of technologies that reduce their energy demand. Some will dim automatically when it’s sunny. Others will brighten when people pass by at night.

“You can say that we are an instrument of the green transition,” said Flemming Madsen, the project’s manager, in an interview with New Scientist. “We have a huge urban playground.”

In September, the site will open to the public. Visitors from around the world will come to assess the potential for smart lighting in their own cities. And the lights will all be tested to find out which technologies are most environmentally friendly.

The project is part of Copenhagen’s ambitious plan to become carbon-neutral by 2025, which will include installing smart lights throughout the city.

Canada doesn’t yet have its own “urban playground” for alternative streetlights. But there are some projects underway that suggest a shift toward smart lighting here as well.

The country’s first light-emitting diode (LED) street lighting project was launched in the Vancouver community of Yaletown during the 2010 Olympics. The move was part of the city’s Greenest City Action Plan, which aims to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020.

Other LED street light programs are cropping up in cities across the country, including CalgaryMississauga, and communities across New Brunswick.

In 2011, the Canadian Urban Institute found that street lighting can account for up to 13 per cent of a municipality’s electricity use. And a 2012 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report estimated that installing LEDs across the United States could slash the energy used for lighting by 46 per cent by 2030, assuming price and performance targets are met. At current energy prices, that’s $30 billion in savings in 2030.  

Still, according to Robert Karlicek of the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center in New York, the future of smart lighting lies well beyond LED bulbs.

“Really smart street light systems are going to be much more about the sensors the street lights have, than the LEDs that happen to be in them,” he told New Scientist. “The technology is getting very mature very quickly.”

That’s why Copenhagen’s large-scale street lighting experiment may be a step in the right direction.