The green revival of smart city street light poles

The green revival of smart city street light poles manufacture

Richard Cooper, Global Chief Technology Officer, Public Sector and Smart Cities, Nokia discusses the role of street poles in today's smart cities.

Most of us have probably never thought about the street lights and telephone poles that adorn our cities, other than illuminating our roads at night. But as smart cities work to meet their sustainability goals, they see the humble street pole as one of the heroes helping them achieve their green goals.

The world's smartest cities are working to help us live in a more sustainable way. The world's population is migrating to cities, and tight land resources are forcing cities to increase density and reduce their environmental impact. This means a near-constant upgrade of urban infrastructure; therefore, city authorities are always looking for new innovative services, especially in sectors that directly affect sustainability, such as utilities and public transport. This is where digital street poles come into play.

In addition to its impact on global climate change, air pollution from internal combustion engines (ICE) is imposing huge health costs on local residents and causing damage to urban buildings. As a result, cities are also keen to embrace and support the migration to electric vehicles (EVs), especially autonomous EVs and shuttles, as urban rail transit and buses electrify. They have the potential to revolutionize urban transportation systems, improving well-being, reducing healthcare costs, and ultimately eliminating other damaging effects of smog and particulate matter.

To support EVs, some cities have even banned ICE vehicles in city centers, while others have offered incentives for EVs, such as free parking and cheaper permits. However, if EV adoption is to be successful, cities will also need to strengthen the charging infrastructure in the city center. Suburban EV charging is often the responsibility of homeowners, who typically use driveways and garages to charge at night. In city centres, however, municipalities often have to be involved in providing charging infrastructure on the roadside, as residents cannot park off-street. This is where utility poles show their potential.

Although there is already electricity to street poles, it is sometimes not enough to support electric vehicle charging. In order to provide enough power to the poles economically, bundling other services can help offset the investment costs. For example, if a city doesn't upgrade from sodium vapor lamps to LED street lights, the conversion can be done with an EV charger for a small additional cost.

If charging utility poles involves digging streets, bundling fiber-optic cables into the installation helps cover some of the cost by simultaneously expanding broadband access. Other ancillary services that can be bundled with utility poles to pay for include using small radios on the poles to extend cell coverage and local Wi-Fi. The city could also use utility poles for CCTV and IoT sensors.

Expanding coverage is especially important for 5G radios that use higher spectrum, such as millimeter wave. These higher-frequency millimeter-wave radio waves don't travel long distances or penetrate buildings, but they can be used to add new applications in public spaces. One of the use cases for high-performance 5G connectivity is to support autonomous bus shuttles, such as the current trials between Gare de Lyon and Austerlitz in Paris. Street poles are great for adding additional radio access and avoiding the cost of using custom poles for a 5G radio access network.

IoT sensors and cameras on utility poles can also be used to provide real-time traffic analysis and modeling to help manage congestion and inform citizens, tourists and public safety agencies. Scene and audio analysis can be used to create models of normal usage patterns using machine learning. Analytics software can alert authorities when anomalies occur that could indicate a vehicular or pedestrian accident on the street. Sensors mounted on poles can also be used to monitor air quality in order to inform citizens and implement Low Emission Zones (LEZs).

Another cost-sharing benefit that cities can pursue is partnering with local power companies. Street chargers can also draw power from parked vehicles (if the owner agrees). In this way, the huge battery capacity of the city's EV fleet can be harnessed to smooth the grid's demand curve during periods of peak usage. This means lower costs for fuel-based power generation facilities and backup storage to address the intermittency issues associated with renewable energy.

There have been many early efforts to provide pole-based EV charging in cities as diverse as London, Los Angeles, New York and Toronto. Espoo, Finland, is currently running a pilot project for a self-driving shuttle that uses a 5G network with radio stations mounted on street poles. It also uses utility poles to monitor air quality and weather, provides video surveillance at bus stops and pedestrian crossings, and contributes to urban maintenance optimization, energy storage and smart lighting.

Another pilot in Leuven, Belgium, is part of its overall sustainability and carbon neutrality program. Power poles use LED smart lighting to reduce electricity consumption, provide 5G-ready radio access, charge electric vehicles and host a variety of sensors that will be an integral part of future urban services. In addition, the city of Le Havre is building a solar power generation and storage system to power its smart poles and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which will also take advantage of the local 5G network.

There is now a push to adopt electric vehicles as nearly every major government looks for ways to meet its Paris COP21 climate commitments. Cities face the challenge of addressing charging for citizens who do not have access to street and charging capabilities. Street poles are a promising method of charging, but the cost can be better shared with other services such as smart lighting conversions, radio coverage, fiber optic cable extensions, and smart city services using IoT sensors, cameras, and audio sensors. As part of a larger smart city initiative, humble street poles can become digital and power hubs for sustainable next-generation urban services.