August 5, 2010
Austin Energy Streetlights to Communicate Wirelessly
Austin Energy will soon be able to turn its 70,000 streetlights on and off with a flip of a switch. New photocells that can communicate wirelessly are projected to be installed on all the streetlights by 2014. The new devices annually will potentially save $340,000 in electricity and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by almost 200 tons by enabling Austin Energy to control when the lights turn on and off.
The Austin City Council today (Aug. 5) approved the $6 million streetlight monitoring system pending the success of the pilot. The first phase will be installed on 3,800 streetlights by the end of this summer. Austin Energy will be able to monitor and control the streetlights by receiving data every hour from the wireless devices through a Web-based communication system.
The information will enhance the efficiency and prolong the life of the entire streetlight system. For example, Austin Energy will know immediately when lights have stayed on during the day due to a malfunction and can turn the lights off remotely until a crew is dispatched to fix the problem. Austin Energy estimates that it will save more than 158,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually, the equivalent used by 13 average-sized homes in Austin year-round, by quickly identifying the malfunctioning lights and turning them off.
The Utility also will save another 200,000 kWh annually, the equivalent used by 16 homes each year, by remotely timing the streetlights so they don’t turn on too early at dusk or turn off too late at dawn. Currently, the existing photocells turn on and off when they sense darkness and light but the system is imprecise. The new system has been used successfully by several cities throughout the country to increase energy efficiency and reduce costs including College Station, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Glendale, Arizona.
Other efficiencies will be gained throughout the Austin area including reductions in calls to Austin’s 3-1-1 system by residents reporting streetlights malfunctioning and elimination of patrols at night by streetlight crews to spot malfunctioning lights. The data also will include information about the wattage use of each lamp as well as voltage and current. This information will assist Austin Energy in determining that a light soon may malfunction and to start troubleshooting the cause based on the information.
When the new photocells are installed and when crews make repairs to streetlights, information about each streetlight will be bar coded into handheld communication devices carried by the crews. The information will include, for example, type of pole and type of lamp and wattage. The information will be downloaded into the Web-based communication system. When a light malfunctions, crews will know in advance what materials to take before they arrive on the scene, improving efficiency and speeding restoration.
The project is another enhancement in the development of Austin Energy’s self-reporting smart grid.