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How LED roadway lighting can help eliminate dark highways

As roadway lighting advances via connected lighting and LED technology, the infrastructure remains in a slower transition period leading to dark highways. We spoke with Jay Sachetti, senior marketing manager, connected communities at Eaton’s lighting division, to learn how LEDs can help eliminate dark highways.

What causes dark highways, and why is this a prevalent issue? 

JS: Typically, there are two main problems that cause dark highways to creep into the picture. 

The first problem stems from the current state of infrastructure in many locations. Highway lighting systems commonly have power systems underground. When there’s an issue that needs to be fixed, like a downed light or power failure, it’s difficult to reach and can be intensive to fix. 

The second problem is specific to HID lighting, which typically has a three-year lifespan and requires more maintenance than LEDs as well as a significant maintenance crew. Most Departments of Transportation (DOTs) do batch relamping, where lamps are replaced at the same time in batches in a rotated sequence, to allow for a more strategic maintenance strategy. This is in contrast to spot replacements that occur in a longer maintenance route to identify and repair individual failures. 

Because these systems work on a more reactive basis and require larger maintenance crews and attention, dark highways become an issue as lamp failures occur outside of a batch cycle and before spot replacement crews can respond.

How can LEDs help eliminate dark highways? 

JS: In contrast to HID technology, LED-based solutions typically have a much longer life cycle of more than 10 years on average. In an LED luminaire, the driver or power supply is more likely to eventually fail — not the LED. The LED itself is stable enough to be built into the luminaire and doesn’t burn out like traditional lamps, so when a replacement is needed, typically the driver or power supply is what’s being replaced.

DOTs can still execute batch-style replacements, but instead of rotating batches every three years, they can perform maintenance and replace LED drivers on much longer cycles.

How can asset management help with dark highways, and how do LEDs play a role?

JS: Currently, DOTs or utilities are trying to get a good grasp on what they have deployed and who is maintaining and owning what. Keeping this organized can be complex. For example, the evolution of infrastructure development and technology solutions for maintaining a database of existing luminaires has made it easy to underestimate how many luminaires you have to retrofit for LEDs. Manually tracking this data is time-consuming, expensive and complicated. 

When connectivity through software and GPS tracking technology is activated, and every luminaire is equipped with a GPS chip or location awareness, spot maintenance on roadway lighting becomes much easier to execute. Failure detection combined with asset management makes it simple to pinpoint exactly what has failed and where it is located. 

Not only can DOTs locate luminaires more easily with this technology, but they can also move toward a preventive and predictive maintenance model by tracking the number of hours a lamp has been utilized. Expected maintenance intervals can be set; for example, after 50,000 hours, the driver needs to be replaced on a certain luminaire. This creates a more strategic and systematic approach to roadway lighting maintenance.  

What does the future of roadway lighting look like?

JS: The future is closer than you think. Even now, roadway lighting paired with connected lighting technology is making life easier for DOTs to track assets. Typically, with manual data entry or dated systems, it’s hard to track and keep a consistent record of luminaires. Now, luminaires will communicate data points with a connected node, removing the need for manual data entry. 

The data points being pulled aren’t limited to the number of hours a luminaire has been used. Sensors on the luminaires will have the ability to report on noise levels, motion and weather, and could even include cameras. If you want to see what’s on the road, you have to be up high, and the height of light poles is perfect. With the ubiquity of coverage and height that roadway lighting provides, it is a powerful source for data capturing and reporting.

Through LED technology, asset tracking, data collection and strategic implementation, roadway lighting is beginning to look a lot brighter.