'Smart' lamps could turn Wellington all-a-twinkle

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 05:00 20/06/2014

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Wellington

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Wellington at night could someday twinkle, as smart streetlights turn themselves on and off as required, saving costs as well as the planet.

Wellington City Council is looking at making its road lighting smarter, more efficient and cheaper - and lamps that brighten and dim based on conditions are one option.

Councillors could draw inspiration from two Victoria University students, Genna Boyle and Erik Zydervelt, now in Paris - otherwise known as the City of Lights - pitching their idea for cities without unnecessary lights to an international eco-competition.

The proposed system from the recent science graduates would replace Wellington's sodium and mercury bulbs with highly efficient Led versions, powered by solar energy. Each lamp on urban to suburban streets would be rigged with motion detectors, allowing it to gradually fade and turn off if there were no people or vehicles around in need of it.

The "smart" lamps would be connected wirelessly, so if one detected movement the surrounding bulbs would light up as well, ensuring people would be constantly surrounded by light, 21-year-old Boyle said.

"If you were standing up at the top of Mt Vic, you'd be able to see where people were and what was going on. The city would kind of sparkle on and off, essentially, with the lights."

Wellington wouldn't be the only thing twinkling - the night sky would be far more spectacular with such a network in place, Zydervelt said.

"The streetlights produce a huge amount of light pollution."

The pair admitted there would have to be a large upfront investment, but zero running costs and low maintenance costs. The bill for retrofitting Wellington City's 18,000 bulbs could reach $15 million - even without pricey solar power. But with a $2.5m annual bill for the city's street lights, the council also thinks the potential savings make it well worth evaluating.

Strategic planning leader Paul Glennie said Led bulbs were already being used to replace older equipment. Lamps around Courtenay Place would be upgraded in the next month or two.

Today's smart streetlights - as well as brightening and fading as needed - could also send emails to the council when they broke, he said. The investment in such technology would soon be presented to councillors for consideration.

Solar power could be used in off-the-grid areas, but the technology was thought too expensive for urban areas, Glennie said.

Boyle and Zydervelt, who presented their idea in Paris overnight, are in the running to receive a round-the-world trip from Go Green In The City competition sponsor Schneider Electric.

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- The Dominion Post

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