Interviews, STARTUPS

Follow the light. Smart street lighting in Estonia

For ten years Estonia has been building a digital state. Even the president here is since long elected online. After elections were put in an e-format, intellectual street lighting seemed to be a logical next step. Two years ago smart street lights designed by Cityntel startup replaced customary street lights in the historic part of Tallinn. They are automatically adjusted depending on weather conditions and street traffic density. In an interview to Invest Foresight, Alar Võrk, Cityntel co-founder and CEO, explained what stalls the project’s further expanding and how fast energy saving solutions pay off in Europe.

– According to your profile on LinkedIn, you started a career with a sales manager. Alar, how did you end up in the street lighting? Why have you interested in this sphere?

– That’s true that I have been in sales most of my life. In the end, a sale is most important part of any business.  I have always looked at the topic which is interesting for me and could add value for my customers and as a person seeking something new has moved from one item to another after some time. One day a couple of years ago I met a few engineers with fantastic new communication technology and with an idea to use it to control street light operation. It sounded very logical as when looking at an empty street where all streetlights shine with full brightness you understand that it is not right. It is just waisting energy. So, I thought it is a brilliant idea, and it would help us to make the world a better place. So Cityntel was born.

– The passersby in New York might talk to a street light last autumn. It wasn’t a massive hallucination – as part of GE’s intelligent street lighting project, a demonstrator lamppost, equipped with a digital screen and speakers, surprised passers-by with the latest weather forecast and tourist information. What can Cityintel do?

– OK, here is a thing that there are two different items: an intelligent street light and (intelligent) lamp post with added services.  The street light control operates street luminaire: switches it on and off at the right time and adjusts its brightness. It is, of course, monitors the health of lamp and reports back failures and statistics. But, in general, it does not talk to people. However, smart street lights are an enabler for many other services, like the one you described. Traditionally street lights are switched on and off by switching power on and off centrally. It means that when street lights don’t work there is no electricity in the power cables installed inside the lamp post, e.g., most of the day. As those other services need to power up their devices like screen, speaker system, communication (GSM mainly) they just can’t work if there is no electricity available. What happens with smart street lights is that luminaires have an ability switch themselves on and off which means that power cables are powered 24/7.  So, now we can install such a services. As your question is what we can do then my answer is that we could do the same thing and also many others. However, we do see our role in enabling those services for other players in the market who have more knowledge and competence on it. For instance, we have a cooperation.

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