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Peduto Administration Wants To Get Rid Of 'Dumb' Street Lights

10th Street Bridge

The Peduto administration wants to connect all of Pittsburgh’s roughly 40,000 street lights to the internet, which it says will save money and energy.

Most of the city’s streetlights are high-power sodium bulbs, designed to turn on automatically when there’s a lack of sunlight. The technology is more than 60 years old.

“This is what I call a dumb street light,” said Alex Pazuchanics, an assistant director in the department of mobility and infrastructure.

It's 5:00 pm, so most street lights in the area are off, but Pazuchanics gestures to one that glows dandelion yellow. This particular lamp sits under the Liberty Avenue Bridge and doesn't get much sunlight, espeically when it's overcast.

These lamps waste energy, said Pazuchanics, which is why the city wants to connect street lights to the internet.

“It allows us to use technology to dim and brighten those lights as the need might arise,” he said.

Currently street lights are unmetered, meaning the city pays the same amount regardless of how much energy is used.

“By having that connection to the internet we’re going to be able to evaluate and actually meter that light,” said Pazuchanics. “We expect that there is savings as of result, just of knowing precisely how much energy is actually being used.”

To protect the smart lights from hackers, the city has partnered with Carnegie Mellon University. But Laura Meixell, assistant director in the city's department of innovation and preformance, wouldn't go into too much detail. 

"We are pretty confident ... that we can build a secure system," said Meixell. "We have vetted that technology ... to be able to understand that what we're getting is best in class."

Based on this update, and the fact all street lights will be outfitted with the more efficient LED bulbs, Pazuchanics estimated energy savings could as much as to 70 percent.

But because the plan to upgrade streetlights is part of Mayor Peduto's 2019 budget proposal, it still has to to be approved by City Council before it can be implemented.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah/Flickr

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.