Chicago launches smart lighting RFQ

After receiving 40 responses to an RFI in February, the city is looking to procure the upgrade of some 348,000 outdoor lights to LEDs.

The Chicago Infrastructure Trust has launched a request for qualifications from potential private partners in its quest to modernise the city's outdoor lighting network. 

The RFQ follows a request for information (RFI) that drew responses in February after plans to explore the benefits of the PPP model were first fielded in September 2015. Among the respondents to the RFI were consortia including a tie-up between Siemens, Parsons Brinkerhoff, Star America, Plenary and Aldridge Electric; a Philips Lighting group backed by Citibank; a Chinese and Midwestern team known as Tarsier; a team led by BMO Capital Markets and a ComEd team including the City of Chicago and GE Lighting.  

Silver Springs Networks, which recently won the right to modernise the 250,000-acre Regional Municipality of Halifax, Nova Scotia street lighting network appeared on both of the latter two teams' lists of participants.

Other participants in the RFI included several telecom operators including Verizon, Ericsson and Convergence Wireless and computer networking giant Cisco, suggesting that many companies see the procurement as an opportunity to integrate Internet of Things elements into the smart lighting programme. The infrastructure trust explicitly states, however, that all added elements to the existing plan that may arise in the request for proposals period will have to be self-sustaining and/or revenue generating since no additional money will be available.

An interview with BlackRock head of infrastructure debt Erik Savi last October during a discussion regarding the firm's participation in Detroit's smart lighting PPP indicated that there might be interest in involvement in the Chicago street lighting project. At the time, Savi said that part of what drew his team into the Detroit deal was that there were other states and municipalities looking to replicate the structure that was chosen for the Michigan project. He mentioned Chicago, Cleveland and the state of Arizona as potential markets.

To fund the project, city plans to leverage future cost savings from conversion to the more efficient LED bulbs from its current inventory of high pressure sodium lighting – LED lights are reportedly 50 to 75 percent more energy efficient than the bulbs they'll replace with three times the lifespan – along with “funding from other sources” that were unspecified in the RFQ documents. It was stated, however, that the project “is not intended to lead to the privatisation of the City's or Parks' operation and/or maintenance of Chicago's outdoor lighting systems”. The upgrade calls for replacement of roughly 348,000 light fixtures, or about 85 percent of the city's outdoor lights.

The smart lighting initiative is being spearheaded by the Chicago Infrastructure Trust in coordination with the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology, and the Chicago Park District. 

Among the benefits of upgrading to a smart lighting system is the ability to centrally monitor outages. These are currently addressed when 311 complaints are received from citizens. According to CDOT commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, her agency receives more than 100 calls per day to report lighting outages. 

RFQ responses are due to the Chicago Infrastructure Trust on 20 May. A pre-submission conference and networking session will be held on 3 May at the Malcolm X College Conference Center.