The City of Los Angeles is replacing all of its old sodium-vapor streetlights with smart LED versions that use less energy and save money. And, the resulting savings and excess power is being reinvested in new electric vehicle charging stations attached to the streetlight poles.

Over the past 7 years, the city has converted nearly 80% of its 215,000 streetlights to LED smart lights, at a cost of $57 million, as part of a smart city initiative. The ROI is a quick turnaround with the city saving nearly $9 million annually on energy costs with the lower-energy LED’s, said Ed Ebrahimian, director of the Bureau of Street Lighting for the City of Los Angeles.

“In addition to that, because we’ve done our LED conversion, we’ve reduced the load on our circuits. We’ve changed the fixtures and installed lower wattage fixtures. All of a sudden the load on our entire circuit is less. It gives us the ability to use the power for other purposes and we have started a new program of installing EV charging stations attached to street lighting poles,” he said.

The city will have installed 30 EV charging stations by the end of this week, and there are plans to install 50 to 100 more in the next 6-12 months. “Our goal is to populate the entire city of Los Angeles with these as much as we can in the coming years,” he said.

Smart streetlight poles to boost mobile phone coverage

Mobile phone coverage is also being improved as a result of the smart city initiative. Existing streetlight poles are being replaced with smartpoles. The city has already replaced 95 such poles during the past year, and approximately 500 additional poles will be installed during the next four years, Ebrahimian said.

The smartpoles include 4G LTE wireless technology, and improve cell phone usage in the densely populated city.

“We replace the entire pole and install a brand new pole which is a little big bigger, but has accommodation for small cells in the upper part of the pole where the arm of the fixture is located. Where the lower part of the street light is, there is a cabinet and there is room to install various equipment especially for cell phone carriers,” he explained.

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“What we’re doing is we’re working with the cell phone carriers and strengthening the entire cell phone coverage of Los Angeles. We’ve done it with one carrier and starting it with another carrier,” Ebrahimian said, declining to give specific carrier names. “We’re also strengthening the entire infrastructure that carries the small cells that gives us the signal for our smartphones.”

Each pole has room for two to three small cell compartments for one carrier, who leases the entire pole for $1,000 annually. If one pole is leased by one carrier, another pole could be installed nearby to accommodate a competing carrier, he said.

“There are 215,000 streetlights in the City of Los Angeles so there is a lot of opportunity,” said Ebrahimian. “The carrier pays for the installation of that pole through another vendor who provides the pole and the technology. And they pay us a lease for using that location.”

And it’s not just smart poles, smart lights and EV charging stations being installed. Once a city starts down the smart city pathway, other IoT opportunities surface.

“In addition to the smart poles we’re also working with other ideas. One thing that we’ve done is we’ve worked very closely with the gas company for installation of the communication devices for smart meters. They lease the right to install a communicator that works through cell phone technology. It goes directly to them. About 350 of those communicators have been installed and the lease for those are generating $500 to $1,000 per communicator annually,” he said.

The city plans to install 140 additional smart meters in the next 12 months, he said.

Dropping cost for streetlights

Smart streetlights are an easy entry point for many cities wanting to become smarter as the ROI makes it a simple decision for municipalities with the energy savings and options for annual leases from cell phone providers and more.

The price for the LED streetlights have dropped to the same cost as a traditional streetlight. When the program began, the lights were about $700 each. Now they are about $100 each for residential streetlights, and about $200-$220 for higher wattage streetlights on the freeways, Ebrahimian said.

The city is also installing solar panels on its smart lights, and selling the excess power back to the utility company’s grid. Thus far, 500 smart lights have solar panels, and more are planned. The streetlights are also capable of alerting the city when a fixture goes dark and needs to be replaced. Previously, the city had to wait until a citizen called to report a light being out, he said.

Also in the works are traffic sensors and parking sensors that monitor the flow of traffic, and give citizens information on available parking spots in busy areas of the city, he said.

Safety is another factor. In the areas with brighter LED lights, crime has dropped. In addition, cameras have been installed on some of the smart lights, through the Los Angeles Police Department.

“We are also looking at with these controls to see if we could connect the 911 calls to our street lights and blink them when there is an emergency. It’s something that is doable once we have deployed all this all over the city and once we’ve established a connection between 911 callers and the call center and our desktop control system,” he said.

Overall, the City of Los Angeles is taking steps to make the city’s infrastructure run more smoothly and give visitors and residents a better experience. It’s something other cities can learn from, by reading more at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Street Lighting Consortium.

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. The City of Los Angeles is saving approximately $9 million annually in energy costs after converting 80% of its 215,000 streetlights to LEDs.
  2. Over the past seven years, the cost of smart streetlights has dropped from $700 to as little as $100 for a residential streetlight. Reduced-energy LED streetlights provide brighter light to reduce crime, cameras can be installed in the lights, and they can be automated to alert the city when a light goes out.
  3. Smart poles are also being installed with 4G LTE small cell technology capabilities to improve cell phone coverage–and generate revenue for the city by renting the poles to cell carriers.

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