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Graham Colclough: ‘We must learn how to change the market with something relatively easy like smart lighting’

Graham Colclough represents the Humble Lamppost initiative which is working towards the setting up of an open affordable component-based city lighting solution. The goal is 10 million Smart Lampposts across EU Cities. 


Could you describe your initiative in a few words?

The “Humble Lamppost” initiative is about ensuring that cities act wisely and install smart services on lighting infrastructure when they retrofit LED bulbs, rather than upgrade to LEDs only and then use the cost of ‘sending the crew out again’ as an excuse for inaction on ‘smart’!

And not just do that in a few cities, we seek to build some real scale momentum for what is a rather obvious ‘quick win’ and put 10 million smart lampposts in EU cities – a bold goal!

If we can’t get this relatively easy smart city ambition done, what chances have we got when we tackle something more complicated?!

The business case is hugely compelling: a 50%+ saving on energy costs, and maintenance costs. So why not use that financial incentive to develop a modern solution that includes both lighting and smart services – that might include air quality, traffic or parking monitoring, flood sensing, eV charging, WiFi and the like.  The lighting system in a city is an ideal ‘mesh network’ that can be exploited to deliver a host of other services.

Lampposts are hardly the defining feature of a city (although I’m sure there will be many a lighting engineer who will disagree with me!). So why would a city design, procure, and operate their smart lighting system in isolation, when a collaborative trans-EU approach could deliver a market that would excite industry to try much harder on innovation, pace and price.

And the scope and scale of the need and opportunity is huge. 75% of the 60-90 million lampposts across EU cities are more than 25 years old. We spend €3 billion on energy bills for street lighting. We could save 50-70% of that – and similar proportion in maintenance costs. That’s nearing €2 billion with GHG reductions equivalent to removing 2.6 million cars from our roads.


What strategies will help cities to operate more efficient lighting systems?

Even with such a comparatively simple service there are always ‘bumps in the road’ to getting things done.

One challenge comes when a lighting engineer is asked to invest to put additional equipment on his or her assets that will deliver gains in other service areas (like health, environment, and retail) that are outside their particular ‘silo’ and to be frank, also often harder to demonstrate than pure light savings. That is often used as an excuse for inaction rather than the opportunity to really explore new forms of value.

And it’s not just city staff that can be the barrier here – indeed often the city staff want to explore new forms of value, however, funders (internal or external) are the block. A 50% RoI for energy is compelling. The value of better air quality (or reduced other forms of risk) is hard to argue against on principle, yet can be hard to justify to bankers.

The way around this for some cities is to pilot a few ‘smart’ solutions. A better way would be for cities to group together and learn faster from each other; collaborate more; and present a significant volume of common demand to the market. Citiers should also focus more attention to assessing and measuring / forecasting value.

It is also very worthwhile engaging from the ‘top of the office’ in cities (politically and/or cross-departmentally) so that there is some leadership bravado in doing a ‘smart’ implementation for a city – remembering that a well-structured combined LED/smart initiative is a lot less risky than many other smart opportunities. And it can be a great early step for cities to build confidence for their smart journey.


Which stakeholders are you targeting to deliver the initiative?

We must bring together a breadth of stakeholders to build the foundations of success.

The basics involve aggregating demand (cities) to provide volumes to de-risk investment by lenders and excite industry; bring various industry players from a variety of segments together (both large and SMEs); and align these two with the vital (often missing) ingredient of funders. Most importantly, we should not leave the engagement of the funders to the end, when the ‘smart deal’ can look complex and confusing. Insights from the financial community can help construct business models that will incentivise demand aggregation, support the ‘de-risking’ of solutions, and take away up-front investment that can be a barrier for cities.

Bringing these three parties – demand, supply, and money – together in the right way and at the right time is crucial.


What is the status of Humble Lamppost Initiative right now?

The Humble Lamppost initiative was launched in December 2014. That felt good at the time, and the idea of forming a number of city-clusters (groups of cities that would agree to collaborate to develop a local aligned market) that would then network across Europe (to share learning, tools, templates etc) and help influence international funders and industry, was fully supported at the time. However, the EIP in general and this initiative, in particular, has struggled to move from the idea stage to programme delivery. That takes resources and management. 

However, this EIP “Quick Win” is still one that warrants a jolly good push for all the reasons noted. So we are making a second concerted push. This time, it involves engaging the senior leadership of a handful of city-clusters and lenders.

Making changes to the demand side first has been our strategy from the start, and I believe it is the right one. Getting supply too far ahead risks disappointment for industry as demand would remain fragmented and slow to respond. That said, there is a significant building of momentum from industry, across several EU countries, including both the traditional big lighting suppliers, the SME community, and indeed some new entrants – such as  automotive companies, telcos, media and advertising companies that see the ‘smart’ potential from the new services and the data that can be collected.


How will your initiative contribute to the achievement of the EIP Goals?

I have always distilled the EIP goals into six key words: Scale, Pace, & Impact through Common solutions; an Integrated approach, and Collaboration. the Humble Lamppost hits all six!


What are the next steps needed for the success of the initiative?

We will take a clear step forward in the first quarter of 2016 with the bringing together of a handful of pathfinder city-clusters and funders; and if we fail in this regard woe upon us … but it won’t be for lack of trying!  (That would probably lead to a continued supplier push, with all the downside challenges that that model comes with).

We must learn how to change the market with something relatively easy such as  smart lighting, otherwise there will be much blood on the carpet when we struggle with big things!

I’m banking on success this time around! The ‘Humble’ Lamppost will leap forward and become a lot less humble and a lot more impactful!