How Intelligent Infrastructure Can Provide Enhanced City Services

By Thomas Jackson, Climatec.

When pundits use the catch phrase “City of The Future,” they are often referring to a George Jetson world of flying cars, pizza delivery drones, and other futuristic ideas that are fun to postulate about at conferences, but hardly practical to implement in the reality of today’s budget-strapped cities. However, just because cars don’t fly yet doesn’t mean there isn’t a wealth of new technologies available which municipalities can and should be taking advantage of today.

For example, retrofitted street light infrastructure can do so much more than just illuminate our highways, streets, neighborhoods, and downtowns. They can alert us of traffic jams, provide WiFi connectivity, monitor air quality, track utility usage, locate parking spots, and more, all while saving significant energy and operation expenses, and potentially even generating new revenues streams for the city. No pizza delivery drone can match those features . . .

Advanced Metering Infrastructure

In the Los Angeles metro and surrounding areas, where Southern California Edison (SCE) provides the majority of utility services and owns 80%+ of the street lights (or around 800,000 poles), street lights traditionally eat up 50-60% or more of a city’s total electric bill. Many cities have already begun the process of purchasing their street lights/poles back from SCE, and are looking to retrofit them with LED technology. Partnering with private companies, such as Climatec Energy Solutions, and arranging bond financing through a Joint Powers Authority like the Independent Cities Finance Authority (ICFA) or municipal lease financing, cities can execute these types of infrastructure overhauls while creating a positive dollar impact back to the city’s General Fund.

The resulting upgrades save energy, reduce carbon footprint, and lower maintenance costs dramatically, sometimes by as much as 50-60%. Still, some cities have held out on retrofitting due to the fact that their street lights are unmetered, and the utility company has no specific rate structure for LED street lights. So far, this has meant that cities pay as much to run their new LED lights as they do to power their old High Pressure Sodium bulbs . . . but all that is rapidly changing.

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), developed by Paradox Engineering, allows cities to engage smart monitoring, control, and metering. By installing a small AMI device on top of newly retrofitted LED streetlights, cities can track exactly how much energy each light uses, plus provide sophisticated dimming strategies that could ultimately lead utilities to offer specific rate structures for dimmable LED street light networks. In addition, AMI technology allows for two-way communication with the streetlights via remote control (to allow dimming, on/off control, and even color changes), and machine-to-machine data transmission – effectively turning the city’s streetlights into a Smart Muni-Grid. Once a Smart Muni-Grid is established the limits to what it can do are bound only by our imagination. Just think of everything your smart phone can do with the right app, then expand that to the scale of a smart Muni-Grid.

The City of the Future . . . Today

By plugging creative third-party applications into the street light Muni-Grid, cities will be able to monitor air quality, detect traffic patterns, deliver WiFi to underserved customers, enhance cellular service, execute emergency alert systems, control traffic signals, and more. And it’s not too hard to imagine electric cars plugging into modified street lights to charge their batteries. Because the AMI can monitor how much energy each user is pulling from the grid, the city can bill the private user or company (such as a telecom company providing WiFi via the light post) for the energy used.

In addition to saving money on electricity and generating revenue through third-party applications, cities with these state-of-the-art services are more likely to attract innovative small businesses and see their downtown areas revitalized.

San Diego is in the process of implementing just this sort of smart Muni-Grid. Eighteen of the county’s cities and public agencies have teamed up to retrofit 60,000 street lights, saving 20 million kWh annually and stimulating $25 million in economic growth.  Also this year, the City of Los Angeles is celebrating the four-year anniversary of California’s most ambitious LED street light conversion project to date. Since replacing 114,067 high-pressure sodium street lights with LED technology, the city has seen over $5,325,000 in annual electricity savings.

In addition, as battery storage technologies ramp up commercial deployments, cities can further bolster their energy and cost savings by connecting their street light network to monitor solar PV generation and then leverage sophisticated Automated Demand Response (ADR) and Time of Day monitoring systems which would reduce KW peak demand charges (and KWH charges) by storing power when it’s inexpensive or off-peak, and then using the storage during expensive, peak demand intervals.

Learn More

Cities in Southern California now have a unique opportunity to buy back their street lights from SCE, with the potential to greatly reduce their cost of ownership, dramatically lower their energy consumption, and greatly improve the lighting aesthetics of their network, all while weaving together a low-power, open-architecture “Muni-Grid” network which can enable dozens of practical applications . . . today and in the future.


On June 26, 2014, advancements in street light technology will be explored, along with other topics in municipal sustainability, at a conference titled “MuniGrid: Infrastructure – Innovation – Implementation.” The event will take place at the California Science Center in Los Angeles and a Key Note Address will be given by the Matt Peterson, Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Los Angeles. The event will wrap up with a guided tour of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.  Register today at