10 Ways to build a smarter streetlight

Within 30 years, cities will house nearly 70% of the world’s population. In the smarter cities, the Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructures will deliver wide ranging services.[1]

Smart city services become more efficient and valuable as data is shared between many functions. The functions include transportation, public safety, utilities, messaging, traffic control, event management, weather updates, and more. To be useful to a passing motorist or strolling pedestrian, the data for public services must be collected in real-time, processed through the IoT, then promptly communicated at the same location.

Collecting the data will require a variety of sensors. Varied output devices will communicate the results. That could be a massive design challenge. Fortunately, many of those sensors and output devices can be built into streetlights.

Solar power

Solar street lights

Solar powered streetlights remove the requirement for fossil fuel derived electricity and the associated emissions as well as the need for underground trenching and wiring. When powering LED light bulbs, typically 80% more efficient than traditional High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps, significantly more clean electricity is available to power sensors and two-way communication devices.

Solar panels are a popular feature on new and upgraded streetlights. Over the next five years, annual sales growth is expected to average 16.9%.[2]

IoT and Ethernet connections

When lampposts become IoT endpoints, sensors can be added and upgraded as smart city systems become more powerful, supporting more functions.

Beyond data transfer, Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) technology can deliver current at different power levels, supporting many devices.

Traffic monitoring

Street light cameras

Streetlight-mounted cameras can immediately provide useful information: showing where parking is available, observing congested traffic, and reporting accidents at intersections. Radar sensors can measure traffic speed and then update traffic control systems. This information improves traffic flow through real-time adjustments to traffic light timing and the display of warning messages on road signs[3]

Public safety support

The same cameras that watch traffic can provide images to public safety systems. Miles away from the streetlight, automated systems may recognize the license plate of a stolen vehicle, enabling timely response.

The information could save lives. A late-night jogger on a quiet sidewalk would never be more than a few strides away from direct communication with medical or public safety dispatchers.

Environmental condition alerts

Street lights in pollution

Small, inexpensive sensors can capture temperature and humidity for weather reporting while monitoring streets for flooding. In communities where air quality is a concern, other sensors can count particulates and measure gas concentrations.

Construction notices

Demand for more data centers has grown as smarter cities rely more on data and multinational corporations rely more on cloud services. Hong Kong currently has 8.2 million square feet of data center space, with another 1.21 million square feet planned or under construction.[4]


With IoT connectivity, lampposts could receive as well as display information. Speaking through an embedded smart device, a pedestrian would not need a smart phone to ask for directions, distances, or operating hours.

News and events

A high-resolution panel can display themed decorations for holidays and local festivals. At other times, public notices or community news might be posted.

Electric vehicle charging

Electric vehicle charging

As renewable energy drives fossil-fuel vehicles toward extinction, a significant number of electric vehicle charging stations will be required. Streetlight charger installations would deliver an essential utility to neighborhoods with limited off-street parking.

Public Wi-Fi access

Another essential utility, Wi-Fi, could be brought to every street. Depending on the size of the city and number of available providers, one or more licensed companies could support a citywide network.

[1] SmartCitiesDive.com – Turning everyday streetlights into smart city superstars
[2] MaterialsPost.com – Global Solar Street Lights Market Report
[3] WEForum.com – The EU wants to create 10 million smart lampposts
[4] EU-SmartCities.eu – Humble Lamppost project

Alexa Stone
LEED AP, Sustainable Facility Professional, Envision Sustainability Professional - - Alexa has more than 25 years of experience in sustainable and Smart Cities development. Her strategic planning work has served local, state, and federal government, higher education, and private industry. Alexa founded ecoPreserve in 2009 as a team of 3 and has grown the company to over a dozen of the brightest sustainability and project management professionals in the industry.
Alexa Stone


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