By Timothy B. Freeman

Georgia Power

Atlanta, GA

Guest Blogger

Utility companies are increasingly facing budget challenges, and competition for available budget dollars due to the changing environment.. So, it is logical that when they talk about adding street lighting controls, leveraging their existing advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) sounds great on paper.. In practice, though, this can create multiple challenges for the implementation of network lighting controls (aka smart controls).  It’s sort of like those commercials showing a pickup truck towing a railway train; It’s certainly possible, but probably not a great idea.

While the vendors say they can add streetlighting controls to their existing networks, there are many considerations which potentially create delays, increase cost, and create operational complexity, for example:

  • The seemingly compelling argument is that because the utility already has an existing AMI network, adding streetlights to the currently deployed network  saves money by leveraging an existing asset and creates a very small burden on the AMI network resources. The network is in place and it works so the utility saves the cost of deploying new gateways for street lighting. The issue is that AMI networks are the “cash register” for utilities; anything that could impact revenue collection must undergo rigorous and lengthy testing to prove it won’t impact the meter reading and billing in any way.  AMI networks are generally not set up for managing streetlight controls.
  • Does a dedicated network for streetlighting controls create additional capital investment?  Maybe… but  There will be costs for retrofitting an existing AMI network, depending on the structure and topology of the existing network. However, the typical capital cost of deploying a dedicated street light control network infrastructure could be as low as $2.00 – $3.00 per light fixture one time cost. This is a very small percentage of the overall cost of a lighting controls system.  An AMI network accommodating streetlighting can easily require potentially expensive adjustments to each gateway as well as AMI and streetlighting endpoint, bringing the costs in line or even exceeding the costs of a dedicated streetlight gateway.
  • AMI providers are in business to sell metering networks. Metering, rather than streetlighting, is their core business. That means when the utility wants or needs to add more streetlights, adjust the networks and do other streetlight-relevant work, those issues likely won’t be a top priority for the network vendors or the utility AMI group itself which is relying on AMI data for the bulk of the company’s revenue.
  • With shared networks, the network quality inevitably suffers. If the network is nearly maxed out for AMI, adding in streetlights typically forces the utility to either purchase additional hardware or suffer additional latency to accommodate the new units that have joined the network that were not there previously.
  • Future expandability.  A dedicated street lighting control network allows for the future possibility of adding closely related smart cities appliances and applications to the system without impacting AMI infrastructure.
  • The final point is integration and support. Streetlight network operators using existing an AMI network frequently must make queries through the utility’s AMI group for issues such as increasing the brightness on streetlights, make changes to the streetlight configuration and more. It essentially ties the hands of the streetlight operators when AMI networks are used for streetlight operation. With a dedicated streetlight network, the operators can make changes and monitor the system as needed without waiting for permission or assistance from another group.

Utilities that make the choice of a dedicated streetlighting control system ultimately end up with a more functional, robust system at little or no extra cost, and without the complexities of affecting existing AMI operations. The deployment can typically be done more rapidly than deployment on existing AMI networks, and the end users have a better overall experience.

About Timothy Freeman

Timothy Freeman has 23 years of electric utility experience in Meter Data Management, Engineering, Training, and Outdoor Lighting. Tim holds a degree in Business Administration and Computer Science which enabled him to begin his career as an Analyst over two decades ago.

Tim is a subject matter expert for metering in general, billing of interval data, register read billing, and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) integration.

Most recently, in the world of outdoor lighting, at Georgia Power Co., Tim is the Networked Lighting Controls (NLC) Tech Team Supervisor. He is responsible for the two-way communication and availability of data from the NLC to and from the Southern Company network.