Is This the Future of City Lighting?

June 5, 2017

A new municipal LED lighting control system, connected to the Internet of Things, lets city officials change quality and quantity of light in a public space from a mobile device. The energy savings is the least of it, says Ken Taillon, SEH lighting services manager. 

With a brighter, longer-lasting lamp and lower cost, LED lights have become the go-to for both household use and for government and commercial properties. At a consumer level, products already exist that let homeowners dim and change the color of their lights. Commercial-grade lighting for municipalities hadn’t advanced that far — until now. 

City leaders in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, in collaboration with tech company Echelon and SEH Lighting Services Manager Ken Taillon, have successfully developed and tested a new lighting control system that gives City staff lighting flexibility previously unavailable. 

“One of the things we’re looking at throughout our lighting systems, in all of our buildings and all of our parks is the use of LEDs,” says Mark Burch, city engineer and public works director for the City of White Bear Lake. “Ken came with the idea of varying the colors and varying the wattage in the lights, and that interested us a lot.”

The result has far-reaching applications for cities looking for better, safer, more efficient lighting. 

Watch this LED lamp cycle through various color temperatures and brightnesses. This same technology, called a "tuneable white" system, has been applied throughout a downtown park in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

How the municipal LED lighting system works

The system, developed on the grounds of a popular public park in White Bear Lake, includes 17 custom-designed lights controlled by two separate, but complementary, control capabilities. The capabilities combine to allow cities to adjust color and light levels based on a pre-programmed schedule, sensor inputs, weather data delivered with the help of IBM Watson. Or remotely. 

Part one: changes brightness and quality of light on the fly

One part of the system controls both brightness and quality of light. Called a “tuneable white” system, a city can fine tune lighting to the dynamic needs of a public space. With this system, you can quickly alternate between safe, bright white light and comfortable, soothing yellow light, says Taillon. 

For instance, lights at the park can better accommodate a nighttime concert. The lights can be brighter while people are finding seats, then dimmed, softened and made warmer during a concert. Finally, they can be made bright white again after the concert, when attendees need to find their way back to their cars.

Part two: adapts to real-time weather conditions all by itself

The second innovation of the control system automatically optimizes light levels, colors and schedules based on changing weather. Connected to the Internet of Things via IBM Watson, the lights can be pre-programmed to adapt automatically to weather changes, such as a brighter level and a warmer color during a snow storm to minimize glare or a cooler, blueish color during thunderstorms to improve visibility. 

“When it’s foggy out, we can tell the light to do one thing. When it’s raining, another,” says Taillon, adding, “This feature will help us learn more about how real-time adjustment of LED lighting improves the safety and experience for occupants, and delivers new benefits for the city.”

Why? For safety and ambiance

This lighting innovation will allow city leaders to respond to the reality that, depending on circumstances, some light is better than others. Cooler light is better for safety. Warmer light can be better for ambiance.

Specifically, 4000K and higher lighting temperatures are ideal for:

  • High-risk areas such as intersections, on/off ramps, parking lots and dark alleys
  • Emergency scenes and first responders
  • Commercial areas with signage

3000K and lower lighting temperatures are ideal for:

  • Delicate nighttime illumination
  • Historic and residential neighborhoods
  • Natural environments such as forests, parks and sanctuaries

The safety benefits of such a system are backed by research, which shows that cooler light inhibits your body’s production of melatonin, making you more alert. The cooler light is critical when driving, especially in poor conditions. 

The bottom line

The result is a lighting system that takes advantage of all the benefits of LEDs — public safety improvements, sustainability, reduced operating maintenance costs — while enhancing comfort and quality of life for area residents and businesses.

“We’re looking forward to being able to make the experience more interesting here in downtown White Bear,” says Burch. 

When can others get a similar system? While this system in White Bear Lake was custom made, it should be available for wider use in the very near future, says Taillon.

See the system in action with this video, from Echelon, which takes you to the scene of the project.

This project has been awarded an Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) Illumination Award of Merit for its contribution to lighting design.

About the Expert

Ken Taillon

Ken Taillon is a lighting services manager who helps cities design better, safer, more efficient lighting.
Contact Ken

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