February 17, 2021
Smart Lighting, the Gateway to Smart Cities
Eight years ago, a couple of business associates of mine asked me if I’d like to help form a company to help cities change out aging and inefficient streetlights to new, more efficient and environmentally friendly LED lights. My background was in finance and looking at the technology and the fact that most North American streetlights pre-dated Richard Nixon, it looked like a good business opportunity, so I was in, and RealTerm Energy was born. As the years went by, and we upgraded more and more cities, I was somewhat surprised but very encouraged at how many city councillors and staff cited the environmental benefits of the significant greenhouse gas reductions as a major justification for undertaking the their projects. The economics were, and still are easy – LEDs are now incredibly efficient and require very little maintenance, so paybacks were much shorter than other capital projects they usually undertake. However, actually doing something that has a positive impact on the environment, is a feeling that is shared and voiced aloud by just about everyone we work with now, as we continue to expand across North America. People are finally starting to get it. This is the only planet we have, and it’s going to take all of us to keep it livable.
In the 70’s, dire predictions about global warming and what the world would be like in 50 years first started circulating. Back then, forecasts of widespread drought, rampant forest fires, uninhabitable regions, melting ice-caps, rising sea levels and powerful hurricanes sounded bad, of course. But they also sounded so far off into the future, that with the innocence and arrogance of youth, we all figured that somebody would fix it before it gets too late.
Here we are today: droughts across Africa, Asia and the Middle East creating millions of refugees. Every year the fires in the Western US get larger, more frequent and deadlier. As I write this, the whole western part of the US is burning, so far displacing over half a million people and completely destroying dozens of towns and thousands of homes. The air quality index on the west coast today is reported at 10+, on a scale of zero to 10. It’s literally off the scale, meaning that breathing is actually hazardous to your health. It’s not just out west – remember last winter? Australia was basically on fire, as was Siberia. The Amazon still is burning. These fires release massive amounts of carbon back into the atmosphere, further exacerbating the problem. Temperatures this summer all over the world are breaking records, as they seem to do every year, as this has been the hottest decade since records have been kept. The largest ice-shelf in Greenland just broke off and much of the ice at both poles is melting at rates far faster than predicted only a decade ago. As I write this, five hurricanes are crossing the Atlantic, just weeks after the monster Hurricane Laura, one of two that simultaneously came up the Gulf of Mexico was described by a word I’ve never heard before: ‘unsurvivable’ to those not able to escape its path of destruction. These phenomena show no signs of abating.
While millions are directly affected by these catastrophes, many more aren’t, because they don’t see the fires and the floods at their own doorsteps. But climate refugees aren’t restricted to the developing world, or the evening news. There are many who are about to become casualties of climate change right here at home. Think about it – how much longer will insurance companies be expected to pay to rebuild the homes, schools, businesses and whole towns that keep getting destroyed before they just can’t, and won’t insure for fire and floods in those zones? Where will these communities go now to rebuild their lives?
We can no longer afford the innocence and arrogance of the young and inexperienced. The future of the only home we have is at stake. We’re now equipped with far better data as well our own experiences, to see that this is real and that the window to act, in our own best interest is closing, and quickly.
Energy efficiency is good business, but like all businesses, requires an investment. An investment means making a sacrifice today to either get a future benefit or ward off disaster. We can do both. All of us need to do what we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the investments in proven technologies that can help. For example, we need to accelerate the rate at which utilities adopt the widespread switch to LED lighting, even though it means reduced revenue in the short term. It will pay huge dividends over time. There are tens of millions of streetlights out there that could cut their consumption by about 70%, substantially reducing the global demand for electricity. The World Bank estimates that 20% of the world’s electricity use is consumed by lighting, and that by adopting more energy efficient technology, this number can fall to 7%. Cities and towns can cut their energy expenses in half, just by upgrading their lighting systems. It’s an easy win and an investment that has immediate financial rewards, as well as long term environmental benefits.
It’s immensely satisfying to me that virtually all of RealTerm Energy’s staff’s primary motivation for wanting to work with us is to make a positive impact on the environment, and we are, but we’re not stopping at lighting. We’ve recently incubated and launched our sister company, BrainBox AI that uses Artificial Intelligence to automate building heating and cooling systems that reduce a building’s energy consumption by up to 25%, without making any changes to the physical plant. It’s amazing technology, and we’re making an impact, but we all have to do more.
Energy efficiency is a good business, yes. But making an impact upon the environment goes beyond that…it’s essential. As I look back to that guy, almost 50 years ago that figured that someone else would fix the problem before it was too late, it ends up being me. It’s also you. It’s all of us in fact, because doing what we can now, as individuals and in our working lives to ward off the consequences of climate change is everyone’s business.
Kerry Wilson, Managing Director at RealTerm Energy
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