Q&A: talking smart lighting and net-zero with SSE

17 August 2020 (Last Updated August 19th, 2020 16:15)

SSE Enterprise's innovative Mayflower Central Management System is a smart lighting service used by more than 30 different local authorities across the UK, controlling almost half a million streetlights. Director of strategy and digital services at SSE Enterprise's distributed energy business, Stephen Stead, spoke to us about saving energy, the IoT capabilities of the service, and its role during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Q&A: talking smart lighting and net-zero with SSE
Director of strategy and digital services at SSE Enterprise’s distributed energy business, Stephen Stead

Yoana Cholteeva (YC):  What is a modern lighting digital service and why is it so important right now?

Stephen Stead (SS): There’s a number of layers to that. When the lights are on you have the ability to remotely dim them. As more local authorities move to LED lights, energy consumption costs reduce due to the low power consumption of LEDs.  However, the street light is still the largest consumer of energy of the local authority, so it’s still significant. Cost is important, but carbon is equally important as the growing focus is the drive to net-zero emissions. So, if by smarter control we can reduce the carbon footprint of the local authority, then that’s of significant value.

YC: How does it work and how widely is SSE’s Smart lighting digital service used?

SS: In terms of IoT, we connect remote sensors and devices to a central management system. Each streetlighting luminaire incorporates a socket that can either be used with a photocell to use light levels to control lighting or a smart Mayflower Node allowing full remote control of light output. At the moment, the Mayflower lighting Nodes create what is termed a Zigbee mesh network, which links to a cellular gateway. The Zigbee network is self-healing and takes advantage of low-powered communication.

We’re also introducing an additional communication and control technology including LoRaWAN (long range). LoRa is used by a lot of smart city deployments. It enables communication by allowing pockets of information to be sent via the LoRa network at a low cost. This added capability will prove extremely useful to smart city adopters and enhance data collection providing valuable insight informing decision-makers within a local authority.

YC: When it comes to energy use, how much energy does the service save?

SS: Energy saving is dependent on a number of variables, including the time the light is on, level of light output, type of light source, and dimming regime. It should be made clear that the lighting policy is the responsibility of the local authority, as they have also got a duty of care to drivers and the safety of pedestrians.

We are currently developing camera technology that collects data linked to people and traffic movement. This data can be used to supplement existing information to further inform policy regarding lighting control, and thus affecting energy and carbon expenditure.

YC: How could the Smart lighting digital service be further developed in the future. Do you have any predictions for it?

SS: The first thing we’re doing is getting additional methods for communicating which allows us to connect to a lot more sensors and devices. So, for example, we can have sensors into the home that support people with assisted living. If you think social care of the ageing population is a key issue for local authorities, anywhere up to 80% of their budget goes for social care. A lot of that relates to people who should be in care at home. So, if from your streetlight you can connect to sensors in the home, and use these to allow others to provide a service to monitor a relative with dementia or whatever it may be, that helps local authorities cut costs and gives people peace of mind about relatives or people in their care.

We’re also deploying air quality sensors around high vulnerability areas, such as schools and parks. For the first instance, we take a measure of the level of air quality, insight from the data collected can then inform the local Highways and Environmental teams leading to the possible diversion of traffic through advanced directional signs.

We can help with other things such as road surface temperature and gritting, as councils look for efficiency gains, given the spend during Covid-19. Not all roads freeze at the same time and just because one area of the road is frozen doesn’t mean another also is. So, basically, with sensors or camera monitoring we would track the gradients of the road and its temperature so a gritting service will be sent out to the right location at the right time, rather than a “grit all roads” policy. Financial savings can be significant.

Similarly, we can deploy low-cost sensor technology into the drains network to monitor dispersed water levels and therefore have a more informed approach to maintenance activities. The service is automated via a gully monitoring application linked to communication devices such as mobile phones and tablets. The overall effect of employing such technology will result in increased savings and efficiency for the local authority.