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HPE partner gridComm lights up smart cities

gridComm's smart lighting network ensures optimal lighting level and implements predictive maintenance.

GRIDCOMM was sparked to life in September 2012 by four founders, of whom Mike Holt is now the helmsman and chief executive.

The company was conceived, in essence, to provide solutions for an infrastructure malaise that is evident in cities all over the world: millions of megawatts of wasted electricity used to light city streets. The brains behind the startup decided almost six years ago that disruption was long overdue for city lighting.

"We had largely all worked together at Australian company Semitech Semiconductor where we developed intelligent semiconductor devices for smart energy management," said Mr Holt. "They were designed to transfer and manage data flow on noisy, high-voltage power lines. We saw an opportunity to use this capability that we developed, to build reliable smart energy systems. 

"So we started to focus on tweaking the technology we developed to control street lights and to create pan-city sensor networks."

Today, Singapore has become gridComm's headquarters - at startup hub BLOCK71 - the Ayer Rajah Industrial Estate incubator that The Economist dubbed "The world's most tightly packed startup ecosystem." gridComm has a team of eight kindred spirits in Singapore and another team of five in Shenzhen, China. "What gridComm does is solve an ongoing problem prevalent in several large cities.  There are roughly a billion street lights in cities around the world (400 million municipal lights and 600 million private-owned), and these lights tend to consume 40 per cent of a city's electricity budget." 

Mr Holt cites Singapore, as an example, which has approximately 120,000 street lights that use about S$2 million worth of electricity each month.  Such stratospheric costs can potentially be reduced by 50 per cent if street lighting is "intelligently" managed. "That means we want the street lighting level to automatically adjust based on the extent of lighting needed," he said. "The technology by gridComm enables this by creating a wireless network over a city's power lines. This network is used to control the street lighting levels via a software controlled from the city's command centre."

By incorporating gridComm's street-lighting control with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) data analytics into the command centre, gridComm enables a right mix of solutions - from the digital core to the intelligent edge - which allows it to control each street light individually and in real time. With HPE, gridComm is ensuring an always-on optimal lighting level. The smart lighting network solution also has predictive maintenance, sensing the health of each street light and scheduling replacements and repairs well in advance.

Here's an example of how gridComm's solutions drive cost savings for a city's government: A typical city has 100,000 street lights that use approximately S$24 million of electricity per year. The cost to adopt gridComm's smart lighting system is about S$130 per street light - total initial investment of upgrading all the lights in the city will run up to around S$13 million.

But with gridComm's smart lighting system in place, the city saves an estimated 50 per cent on lighting costs, or S$12 million a year.

"We started working with HPE in February 2017, when we were selected to be the first company to participate in HPE's InnovateNext programme," said Mr Holt.

"By working with HPE, we have made our street light platform more scalable and flexible for IoT device management. Our vision of data driving smart cities is in line with HPE's focus on managing and analysing data from core to edge.

"Our partnership with HPE data analytics has yielded a critical solution for street light control, smart city sensor integration and data analysis."

Where does gridComm hope to go from here? What other cost-saving gadgetry will it be cooking up in the foreseeable future?

"Street lights are just the beginning for gridComm. We aim to create a network that spans an entire city, and a holistic, future-proof foundation for an interconnected smart city.

"Our smart network will first be used to intelligently control and manage street lighting. Once deployed across a city, our network can be leveraged as a backbone for further smart city applications such as measuring weather, pollution and traffic across the city," said Mr Holt.

"Our connected smart sensors enable such functions because we already implemented a city-wide central nervous system. The wireless-augmented power line infrastructure paves the way for instant analytics of weather, pollution, parking and traffic data that can help cities to become smarter, and significantly more cost- and resource-efficient. "Beyond smart cities and street lighting control, gridComm also uses its network for smart facilities management and industrial automation control."

The cutting edge startup today is connecting and managing industrial machinery, as well as measuring and controlling building electricity use from air-conditioning, heating and lighting. By doing this, gridComm says it is helping industrial and facilities management customers save on costs.

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