From Paris to Berlin, Schréder has lit some of the world’s most iconic cities - and the motorways that connect them. Smart solutions, where luminaires are controlled by a Central Management Systems (CMS), such as Schréder EXEDRA, offer an unprecedented level of control which enables energy savings, better asset management, and adaptive light levels. Much has been written about smart cities, but these solutions can also make great sense for smaller settlements too - such as Heiningen, in South-West Germany.
Heiningen (population: 5,000) is in Baden-Württemberg, at the base of the Swabian Alps. The authorities wanted a lighting solution that would use less energy, thus reducing their carbon footprint and saving citizens money as well. They also needed something adaptive: the town’s main road (L1217) is used as a diversion when the nearby A8 Autobahn is having problems, so it can experience surges in traffic volumes. Finally, Heiningen’s picturesque situation amidst rolling hills and mountains means it is home to a wide variety of insect life, which can be disrupted by harsh lighting, so they wanted a solution that was kind to flora and fauna.
Schréder 360 is a series where we hear from project owners and managers, end users and our own engineers about the genesis of innovative solutions, from coastlines to cities. In this edition, we’ll find out how big ideas can transform the way we light small towns.
A Mayor’s Vision, a Big Decision
“As part of our town centre redevelopment, we decided that we wanted a completely new lighting concept,” explains Heiningen’s Mayor Norbert Aufrecht. “Lighting can create a welcoming atmosphere in public spaces after dark.” In 2018, the town installed 49 YOA LED luminaires along its main road to reduce its energy consumption and its carbon footprint. The YOA luminaires cut costs by 50% and were highly appreciated by local residents: their refined design brings an elegant touch to the landscape.
The story could have ended here: a successful project, energy savings, happy citizens. But thanks to the forward-thinking attitude of Heiningen’s council and Schréder’s range of connected-ready solutions, it didn’t. “The next question was whether we wanted to include controllable and dimmable LED lighting technologies,” adds Aufrecht. “We didn’t want to be behind the curve, so we leapt at the chance.”
“After three years, they decided they wanted to get connected,” explains Jörg Richter, Smart Solutions Expert at Schréder Hyperion. Together, his team worked with Heiningen on a solution that tackled three key issues for the town. Safety, because of the traffic surges and pedestrians using the high street, energy savings and environmental protection for local wildlife. “We put these three topics together into a pilot project, a kind of Smart City Living Lab.”
Connected-Ready, a Decision for the Future
First came activating the smart system, which was remarkably easy due to an earlier decision to buy connected-ready luminaires. These were installed with a socket for a NEMA node, so activating them was a minute’s work.
Because of our hardware, the luminaires were already prepared, future-ready, with the RFID label on the NEMA socket, so when you put a controller on top, it’s auto-commissioning. The controller scans the RFID label, which then automatically transfers all the data to Schréder EXEDRA, so there’s no manual work that needs to be done.
This auto-commissioning and auto-inventory process saves both time and money. Schréder EXEDRA knew instantly that it was dealing with 49 YOA luminaires, their location, wattage, and so on. “Speaking as an administrator, I can say the retro-fitting was so hassle-free that I didn’t notice anything apart from a few video calls to discuss the project upstream,” says Aufrecht, although he did spot the cherry picker making its round from luminaire to luminaire to install the nodes. “During the commissioning phase, one or two luminaires failed to register at first, but that was quickly remedied and was nothing more than minor teething problems. In no time at all, everything was routine.”
The system was installed a couple of years after the initial lighting upgrade - with minimal fuss, because the authorities had invested in a connected-ready solution. “For a “normal” local or residential street, it makes sense to buy and install connected-ready lighting, and then, in a second step, complete the smart upgrade in line with requirements,” says Heiningen’s Mayor, Norbert Aufrecht. Futureproofing council spending is always a sensible decision, he adds.
It would be frustrating to have not paid a reasonable premium to make them connected-ready, only to find in a few years’ time that it would make sense to include them in a smart system, but connecting them is extremely expensive.
Many Partners, Light Work
With the CMS set up, the research project could begin. German Federal States, known as Bundesländer, have the right to make laws in many areas and Baden-Württemberg’s Nature Conservation Act 2020 aims to protect insect populations through measures including reducing light pollution. The State Ministry of Transport had offered EUR 75,000 in support for the project from the special programme to strengthen biodiversity.
The research brought together a range of partners: we worked together with the Technical University of Berlin, Urban Lighting Innovations, Netze BW, and Studio DL to create a smart lighting solution that reflects traffic volume in real-time. This means that during low-traffic periods, it can be turned down to protect the insects - without endangering traffic safety. At the same time, the animals can be observed and counted using an AI-based camera system, also developed by the partners.
One aspect being researched is the optimal way to measure traffic flows. Infra-red cameras have long been used to measure traffic levels, but Heiningen provides a perfect example to compare multiple methods. “It’s located between two motorways, one often has traffic jams, and Heiningen is the perfect alternative route,” explain’s Schréder’s Richter. “We thought, why don't we compare cloud data from various sources and real sensors.”
Traffic volume is recorded using traffic cameras, Bluetooth trackers, existing real-time traffic data and high-resolution microphones. The resulting data is processed in a so-called light management system, which then controls the dimming levels of the street lights. In this way, the light level is reduced in line with the reduced traffic volume. Pedestrian crossings are excluded from this, as these require higher illumination levels to ensure good visibility of pedestrians.
For example, the Bluetooth tracker can anonymously identify every Bluetooth device on the road. Another idea is to pick up the traffic data from the motorway and see how that affects flows in Heiningen. At the end, the project should provide interesting new data about the most cost-effective, accurate and reliable ways to measure traffic.
Understanding Insects, Improving Lighting for Us All
Elke Zimmer, Baden-Württemberg’s State Secretary in the Ministry of Transport is an enthusiastic supporter of the project. “Light pollution is increasingly a problem that needs to be addressed to protect biodiversity,” she said at the launch. “I'm looking forward to the findings from the project, which will show us to what extent street lighting can be made more insect-friendly by means of smart control."
Insects are attracted to artificial light sources and either perish at the luminaires themselves or circle around them until they are completely exhausted, leading to increased mortality. Lighting controlled by Schréder EXEDRA means that light levels can be reduced when traffic levels are low in order to protect insects. At the same time, a network of cameras with innovative “insect tracking” technology will allow researchers to observe and count animals and mini-beasts in the area.
One innovation in this study is the way insects are counted. Instead of traps mounted on the luminaires, there are special cameras and intelligent software that can reliably record insect activity and evaluate it with the help of artificial intelligence without changing light characteristics. “The AI doesn’t just say, there are seven flies and two moths on the screen. It knows it has already counted a fly, so it won’t count it again,” explains Richter. He adds that initial data from the first year of the project is soon to be analysed, with a report due during the summer.
The collaboration between Heiningen and science and industry partners has impressed experts, as well. The project won second place in the sustainability category of the Reallabore 2022 Innovation Award of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection.
The findings from this project are forward-looking for municipal street lighting. We are proud that this innovative, efficient and, above all, insect-protecting technology is being implemented in our municipality for the first time and that we are taking on a pioneering role nationwide.
Business as Usual: Dimming With Enthusiasm
The data will show how the insects reacted to the dimming, but residents and road users haven’t noticed a thing. “The fascinating thing is that no one has really noticed the reduced light levels,” notes the Mayor. “This is as positive as it is unremarkable, because it shows that you can reduce energy use without compromising safety, and without disadvantage to citizens.”
Heiningen may be small, but it is blazing a trail when it comes to smart lighting. “If nationally or even internationally the light pollution in every street in every town and every municipality can be significantly reduced, then everyone will have won - the people, the insects and the starry sky that can be seen again,” concludes Aufrecht. Deciding to fit connected-ready luminaires in cities, towns and villages of every size means planners keep their options open - no matter what the future holds.